Results tagged ‘ Manny Delcarmen ’

Skeptics and True Believers

Skepticism and analysis surround every team as the second week of the season comes to an end. I guess I’m here to join the party–mainly for analysis, not for skepticism. It’s easy to analyze halfway through the season, but only two weeks into the season seems a little rash, doesn’t it? Is it appropriate to analyze, criticize, and skepticize (yes, made up word) already? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s appropriate to offer some analysis because the Red Sox have made some easily preventable mistakes that have led to run scoring. And even though it’s early on, there are some serious, and unfortunately controversial issues that need to be addressed. It may be the beginning of the season, but every game counts. These games count as much as they do in September. Each game is of vital importance as each team tries to avoid the obstacles on the road to the postseason. I don’t agree with those who say, “It’s the beginning of the season, they’re just adjusting.” That’s what Spring Training is for. Ideally, teams should work out their kinks during Spring Training. Inevitably, obstacles will arise during the regular season, so I’m here to try and work those out. 

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Let’s tackle the obvious topic first: David Ortiz. I think he has felt under pressure to perform since the first game of the season. Because of the dismal numbers he put up last season, all reporters ever asked him about during the Spring was his rebound. It is easy to tell how insecure about this situation he is. He snapped at reporters the second day of the season; he got ejected from a game for arguing about a strike; and it is easy to spot the frustrated grimace on his face each time he strikes out. I don’t blame him for feeling pressure, but I’m surprised about how much it’s getting to him. 
I won’t ignore the few hits that he has gotten: some have been solid contact, but others were pure luck. He even picked up the golden sombrero one game where he struck out four times: that’s the problem. He strikes out, and for the most time, he strikes out looking. I’m no hitting guru, so I’m not here to talk mechanics. The fact of the matter is that having him in our lineup is ineffective, and at times, detrimental. So why does Terry Francona put him in the lineup day after day? I think that part of it comes from seniority. Maybe Terry Francona thinks that maybe Big Papi is just going to get out of his funk because of what he has done in the past. But this is the third year in a row that this has been going on. As much as it pains me to say this, he is done. 
I’m sure it will be tough to sit him, but it is necessary. It is important to put the best lineup out there, and putting Big Papi in there does not get the job done. I like the idea of platooning Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida at that spot. Hermida has proved himself to be a fantastic pickup coming off the bench for Jacoby Ellsbury while he is injured. I can see him hitting a lot of doubles off the Green Monster. 
Issue number two: The Bullpen. 

Last year, the bullpen was considered our strongest asset. This year, it has been one of the weakest. I don’t think that the loss of Takashi Saito or Billy Wagner really affects that; however, the loss of Justin Masterson does. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m going to say. Bring up Michael Bowden! We need a long-term middle relief pitcher; especially if our starters are done after the fifth inning because they throw 30 pitches in an inning or two. The Red Sox obviously expect to use him as a middle reliever, so what I don’t understand is why they’re still treating him as a starter in Pawtucket. I think that for a pitcher to be completely effective, they have to know their role (no matter how good they are). Just look how good Justin Masterson is doing with Cleveland now that they have explicitly deemed him a starter. I have no doubt that Bowden has the ability to flourish in either role, but he will be more effective once they tell him what his role actually is so that he doesn’t have to keep switching. 
Ramon Ramirez has been struggling so far, so I really hope that he finds his stuff because he was the unsung hero of last year. Manny Delcarmen still struggles to be consistent, but he has the ability to go multiple innings, which is important. I prefer him over Scott Atchinson anyway. I think that Robert Manuel, now pitching in Pawtucket, could be really effective in the bullpen if he was given a chance.
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I know Daniel Bard is very good, but the Red Sox need to use him a little more sparingly. The poor guy has been used so much already this season. He has a wicked slider, but I’d like to see him add a changeup to his repertoire because the radar gun is almost always 90 mph or above, and having that speed constantly will almost surely lead to giving up more home runs. 
My final issue with the bullpen includes Victor Martinez as well. When it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, all he ever calls are fastballs. Papelbon also has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, so I think that it’s important that he incorporates those as well to avoid meltdowns. I’m sure you all remember his most infamous blown save, and all Victor Martinez called was fastball, after, fastball, after fastball. 
Issue Number 3: Throwing people out
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Neither Victor Martinez nor Jason Varitek have the ability to throw runners out, and every team knows it. Victor obviously needs to work on his mechanics considering all of his throws are high and to the right. This could create a serious problem. First of all, because the runners can steal so easily, the possibility of inning ending double plays are eliminated, which means that our pitchers will have to work longer, and that we might have to use our bullpen earlier. 
Also, pitching from the stretch is a tough thing for lots of pitchers. I especially noticed that with Clay Buchholz during the Spring, and even he has admitted that it’s something he needs to work on. The pitchers obviously don’t want the runners to steal, so they might feel added pressure to get the ball to the plate quicker. This situation could have disastrous consequences. It is important that the pitchers don’t think about anything but hitting their spots. 
If this becomes a serious problem, the Red Sox do have some catching talent in the minors (with arms) in both Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito. Luis is definitely someone to get excited about, but he still needs some seasoning. Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is in Pawtucket, and I think he is ready to go. 
Issue Number 4: Leaving runners on
Some bats have been quiet (Big Papi), some have been loud (Dustin Pedroia), but the Red Sox have left so many runners on, but I think there is an easy solution that Terry Francona hasn’t seen yet because he is an American League manager: small ball. 
Because the Red Sox focused on improving defense during the offseason, they aren’t full of the 30-40 HR power bats. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t offensively sophisticated. They have the ability to score a lot of runs this season, but it won’t come from lots of long balls. Rarely, if ever, do you see the Red Sox lay down a solid bunt. Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t leave as many runners on if they started sacrificially advancing runners more often. I LOVE this kind of baseball; I find it to be the most exciting, and I think that it is a method that the Red Sox must begin to incorporate. 
Those are the biggest issues that I see so far. The defense hasn’t been as spotless as expected, but I think that these acquisitions will pay off in the long run (despite some costly errors early on). Perhaps they’re still adjusting the the eccentricities of Fenway. It’s the big errors that stand out, not the rest of the times that they make the often spectacular play. The last issue I notice (though it hasn’t made much of a signifiant impact) is that sometimes, Adrian Beltre simply swings at terrible pitches. He has been hitting really well thus far though, so I’m not complaining yet. 
Amidst all of my criticisms and analyses, I do have some praise (some of which I have already mentioned): 
-Dustin Pedroia is off to a monstrous start. Contrary to popular belief, he can hit the high inside fastball! 
-Jeremy Hermida has been an extremely valuable asset off the bench. I think he will flourish in Fenway Park. 
-Daniel Bard has been a workhorse. 
-Josh Beckett’s 75 mph curveball his a thing of beauty. I’m so glad we signed him to a 4 year deal. 
-Jacoby Ellsbury was really catching on fire before that unfortunate collision between him and Beltre that has sidelined him since. I really hope that he heals soon, because I really like having him in the leadoff spot. 
I may be skeptical, but I’m a true believer in this Red Sox squad. 
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One more thing before I settle down to watch the final game of what has been a frustrating series against the Rays so far. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the 2010 MLB season, and the first in Rockies history. Thanks to the twittersphere, I was clued in, and I was able to watch the final three outs of the bottom of the ninth inning. Of course, MLBTV froze up right as Brian McCann hit the ball to second, but I heard it, and that’s just as special. He has been compared to Pedro Martinez, and considering the velocity he had on his fastball so late into the game (and after so many pitches), I have no doubt. As I watched the bottom of the ninth inning, I could feel my heart beating quicker with each out, and my hands shaking  more and more before each pitch was thrown. 
April 17th was an incredible day to be a baseball fan. Tim Lincecum had three hits and three RBIs. The Pirates walked off for the second game in a row thanks to Garrett Jones. The Mets vs Cardinals game went into the 20th inning. The Mets scored both of their runs on sacrifice flies. And Ubaldo Jimenez stunned the Braves lineup. This is what we live for 

The Pursuit of Happiness

I didn’t think Spring Training could get any more intimate than City of Palms Park. Autographs are more of a commodity than they are during the regular season, and no matter where you sit (from my experience, at least), you’ve got a pretty nice view. I thought that way until I decided to take a left on Edison Avenue rather than a right, and I was headed down to the Players’ Development Complex. 

I could have just gone to the ballpark: making vain attempts at getting autographs, and getting the “give me a second” finger from the more renowned stars. I had been pretty comfortable with doing that in the past: I knew the best places to get autographs, and even if I only got a couple, it was still fun talking to the fans I was with. I decided to step out of the box when I went down to the complex, and do some exploring.
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I didn’t really know what to expect down at the complex. I had only been there once before when it was the common practice to go down there and watch the workouts. There were hundreds of fans, but it had been an incredible day nonetheless. This time, the only people walking around the complex when I arrived were the players. I was armed with a batch of delicious oreo cupcakes that I thought the players, staff, and security guards might appreciate considering it had probably been weeks since they have had homemade goods. 
It didn’t take long for me to feel right at home at the complex: as soon as I walked through the gate and onto the premises, Dustin Richardson gave me a warm welcome. He asked how I was doing, and he even asked me about this website, which he mentioned he had checked out. He was interested in my cupcakes, but declined on one until later. 
There was a practice on every field, so I strolled around taking it all in. I don’t know why, but I felt it would have been weird to take pictures. It just didn’t feel right; I felt like it would have been invasive. 
I sat down on the bleachers and watched some of the Double AA guys take batting practice. Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, Lars Andreson, and Ryan Khoury were among the guys taking swings. I talked to Khoury for a quick second, who remembered me from last time, and he also declined on a cupcake until later. I also caught up with Lars Anderson when he was done, and I’m sure you can guess the first words out of his mouth: “Hey, I like the glasses!” 
We had a bit more time to talk, so I finally told him my name so he would know me as someone other than glasses girl. I also ran into Casey Kelly for a quick second, and I complimented him on his fantastic start against the Rays earlier in the week. 
Then I had the chance to meet Stolmy Pimentel, a highly ranked pitching prospect in the organization. I had a nice time talking to him, and his favorite pitcher is Erwin Santana. I also had the chance to meet Juan Apodaca (his brother, Luis, plays for the Rockies). He was really nice as well, and his favorite catcher is Pudge Rodriguez. 
There was a big bus in the parking lot for the Single A guys, and I noticed Pete Hissey getting on. He was kind enough to stay and talk for a second. I mentioned to him how impressed I had been with him when he had come up, and I gave him one of my cards. 
Ryan Khoury told me that the icing on the cupcake that I gave him was fantastic. Robert Manuel thought they were muffins, but hey, close enough. I also had the chance to talk to Gil Velazquez, who remembered both me and my father from last time. He is rehabbing his broken thumb right now. As I said goodbye to Ryan after talking to him for a bit, I told him I’d be in Portland during July and August, but instead of telling him that I hoped I would see him there, I told him that I hoped that I wouldn’t see him there (because hopefully he’d be at the next level). 
Towards the end of my day there, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike, Kim, and their adorable daughter Elizabeth. They are from Greenville, SC, and it was a pleasure meeting them! They go to nearly every game in Greenville, and they are great baseball fans. 
We left with about fifteen minutes to game time, and let me tell you something, we had the most incredible seats in the world. We were in the first row behind the Red Sox dugout, thanks to John Ruzanski, a security guard in both Fort Myers and in Pawtucket. John is such a great guy, and hopefully I’ll see him over the sumer in Pawtucket. 
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The field was even more breathtakingly beautiful from these seats. John Lackey looked pretty good in his final start of the Spring. It was pretty cool to have seen him in his first start in a Red Sox uniform, and his final tuneup before it counts. After allowing a second inning home run to Jim Thome, Lackey pitched a pretty decent game. Manny Delcarmen, on the other hand, struggled. He lacked both his command and his control, and he hit two batters in his 1.2 innings. Scott Schoeneweis picked up the win, and he looked really solid in his outing. 
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It was my projects who made the difference in this game. They always make me proud. I had seen Ryan Kalish earlier at the complex, so he must have been a last minute call-up. It was so great to see him there though, and he had a nice bloop single. The ladies sitting behind me gave Nate Spears a great nickname: the Nate-er-ator! The Nate-er-ator had a tie-breaking RBI triple.
Since it was Spring Break, my dad and I were able to go to two games in a row, and we spent the night in Fort Myers. That didn’t mean there wasn’t an early wake up call though. City of Palms Park may open at 10:30, but the complex opens even earlier. How could I not go back after the day I had had there? 
The coffee provided at our hotel tasted like brown water, so we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts before heading to the complex. We arrived so early that players were still walking out. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave: a security guard for the Sea Dogs. It was great talking with him. 
As I continued to walk in, Ryan Dent asked why there were no cupcakes today. I watched the Pawtucket Red Sox warm up on their field, and I ran into Kris Johnson. He will be starting the season in Pawtucket, and we are both on a quest to make sure we spell analysis correctly in the future. I also told him that I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I was there. 
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Brock Huntzinger was pitching in a Single A game that day, and we talked for a bit. He is from Indiana, and has been with the organization since 2007. He was a really nice guy, and I look forward to watching him during the year. He had to take the picture since I was too short.
Then I had the chance to meet Derrik Gibson, and we walked across the complex talking. I found out he is from Delaware, which is where my mother was born, and I still have lots of cousins over there. It was great to talk to him, and I told him that he is a project. 
I ran into Dustin again, and I had a nice chat with him walking across the complex. I told him that if I had it my way, he’d be in Boston right now, but I really liked what he had to say. Instead of just saying, something like, “Yeah, I should be in Boston”, he said that he still had stuff to work on in Pawtucket. That really showed me how meticulous he is being with his approach. Still, I told him I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I’ll be there. I also caught up with Michael Bowden a bit more extensively,and it was great talking with him. Like I’ve said before, he will be up in Boston real soon, potentially even by the time I’m in Boston. He said if he wasn’t that he would be in the stands like last time.
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Then I had the pleasure of meeting Cesare Angeloni, and he showed me how to throw a splitter. He is from Philadelphia, so he grew up a big Phillies fan. He played in the Gulf Coast League and in Lowell last year. He’s really nice, and I look forward to watching that splitter this year. 
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Finally, I ran into Pete Hissey again. He told me that if he wasn’t playing baseball, he probably would have gone to law school. He is primarily an outfielder because he is left handed, and left handed guys can’t play the infield (I had never even thought of that!!). 
With all these guys I’ve met, I’m making a couple additions to the projects. Add Derrik Gibson, Ryan Khoury, Pete Hissey, Cesare Angeloni, Ryne Miller, Adam Mills, and Stolmy Pimentel to the list. 
Then it was time for the final grapefruit league game of the season. I’m sure a bunch of the players are sick of Florida, but the ending of spring training is bittersweet for me. I’ve had an unforgettable time down here. 
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After a shaky first inning, Clay Buchholz pitched a fantastic game. His only problem in the first inning was that he was getting a bit distracted by the runners. It was not only great seeing him, but also meeting his wife, Lindsey. She is so nice, and I wish her and Clay nothing but the best. 
It was great to see a bases clearing double from Jason Varitek (and from the same, incredible seats as well). It was also great to see Reddick get a hit to finish off an incredible spring. Kevin Youkilis even threw me a ball! Sitting behind the dugout, you can hear a lot more things: like the profanities coming out of Dustin Pedroia’s mouth as he comes back into the dugout after getting out. Too bad he hasn’t signed my salsa yet.   
As I bid farewell to Spring Training, I have to give a couple of shout outs. First and foremost, to Merrill, a season ticket holder for both spring training and the regular season. He has been helping us out with tickets since 2008, and he is such a nice guy to watch a ball game with. Another big shout out to Tom, a security guard at the park who helps out the handicapped people. It was great seeing him all Spring. 
I have one more thing before I go. They say that Spring Training statistics don’t matter, but I have some stats of my own: 
Total miles traveled: 1860
Trips made over to Fort Myers: 6 
Hours spent traveling: 30 
Games attended: 6 (including the B game that followed the game on March 13)
Hours spent watching games in person: approx. 17
Autographs: 54
Conversations with prospects: 21 
The pursuit of happiness is priceless. 

Seatless Spring Training Crusade: Orioles vs Red Sox 3/20/10

Driving two-and-a-half hours to a game that I did not have tickets for was actually familiar territory. Last year, during Spring Training, my mother and I drove up to Jupiter, FL to catch a Red Sox vs Marlins Spring Training game. I bargained for the tickets myself, and I probably paid twice the actual price. You can read about that day here

The main difference between that game and the one I went to yesterday was that my mother and I actually had somewhere to go had that game not worked out. Her parents live in Stuart, which is only about 20 minutes away from Jupiter, so if the game did not work out, we would have just gone up there earlier than planned. 
The closest family I have to Fort Myers is my Uncle Jim (a Red Sox fan, of course!), who lives in Venice Beach, FL. We had no backup plan. It was either get tickets (which meant buying tickets from overcharging scalpers since the game was sold out) or dejectedly go home. 
My friend Marissa Goldstein accompanied my father and I to what was our third Spring Training game of the Grapefruit League season. I was so happy that I could finally take her to a baseball game after all she and her family have done for me. She lives in Miami, but she is originally from Boston, and she visits her dad up there every summer. For the past three summers, I have spent a week with her and her father, Larry, up in Boston. 
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It was through her family’s generosity that I was able to experience my first time at Fenway Park (which I should extensively describe sometime, now that I think about it)–and with great seats too. We literally sat seven rows behind the Red Sox batters’ box. Larry, Marissa, and I also experienced our first time on the Green Monster in the summer of 2007, and that was an experience that I’ll never forget. It was also through her father’s generosity that I was able to go to Pawtucket last summer and interview Dan Hoard, Steve Hyder, and Michael Bowden. I owe so much to them, so the least I could have done was to take Marissa to her first Spring Training game. 
Marissa, of all of my friends, knows what going to a baseball game with me entails. I will let her explain that when she guest blogs and writes “10 reasons never to go to a baseball game with Elizabeth.” She received nothing less than the full Spring Training experience. We left my house at 8 am, arrived at the park by 10:30, and we were looking for tickets. 
The first scalper we encountered was asking for more than twice the price for bleacher and reserved seats. We decided to try our luck somewhere else. With scalpers, you are never in a position of power. I am a decent bargainer, but when it comes to tickets I am easily manipulated. 
My father got in line to see what the box office had, and Marissa and I were going to go down the block to see what other scalpers were offering. Before we had taken three steps, my father called us back. A man had three standing room only tickets that he was selling for the fair price of $12. None of us had had standing room tickets before, but we decided to take the chance so that we could get into the stadium quicker. 
Marissa and I went down to the dugout. I decided that it would be best if we stood at opposite ends of the dugout, so that there was a higher probability of getting some signatures. Since many of the non-roster invitees had already been cut, acquiring a multitude of autographs was a tough endeavor. 
Jeremy Hermida ran in from the field to get his bat for batting practice. He waved to me when I called his name, and I asked him if he would sign. He said he would after batting practice. “Oh great,” I thought despondently, “That’s basically code for: ‘I’m not coming back,'”
I guess I judged him a little too harshly. Believe me, I know that baseball players have jobs to do, but this is Spring Training. It’s the only time of year that the players can get somewhat close to the fans. I know signing autographs is just a nice bonus, but sometimes they forget that we pay their salaries. 
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Jeremy was true to his word, and he came back, and signed my ball first. I told him that I remembered watching his first Major League at-bat: a grand slam. He smiled when I mentioned it. “First pitch?” I asked as he was signing my ball. He responded, but unfortunately, I couldn’t hear amongst all of the “JEREMY” calls of the fans. 
Pedroia stopped to sign for a second, just not in front of the dugout. My Dustin Pedroia salsa has yet to be signed. I always wonder how I’m going to throw that glass container of stale salsa over the dugout, but I’ll find a way. As Jacoby jogged back into the dugout, he waved to me. I may not have gotten his signature, but a wave was good enough. As the Orioles were taking BP, Tug Hulett appeared in the dugout, and once again signed for everyone who wanted an autograph. I got his autograph for the second time this Spring, and I still can’t believe how good he is about signing autographs. 
Jacoby signed for a couple of people before heading out to stretch, but he was the only regular who did. I noticed Angel Sanchez, a non-roster invitee still in camp, so I called to him and he signed for me. A lot of players from minor league camp had been called up for the day, so I did not recognize a lot of the numbers. Even the numbers that I did recognize were different players. 76 was not Jose Iglesias, 79 was not Dustin Richardson, 82 was not Adam Mills, 92 was not Ryan Kalish, and 97 was not Kyle Weiland. 
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Not having an actual seat at a baseball game was a very different experience. Most of the standing spots along the wall had already been taken, so we tried to stand along the handicapped railing even though there was a sign that clearly read “Please do not stand along the railing.” We were shooed away almost immediately. We were forced to split up. 
After the second inning, we noticed a bunch of empty seats around home plate, so I decided to inquire. Those seats were reserved for scouts. I was a little bit offended because I like to consider myself an amateur scout. So we went up to the upper bowl, and found some empty seats up there. My dad found a seat behind home plate with some empty seats next to him, but we weren’t sure if people were sitting there or not. 
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I don’t like to settle for seats though. So I called my dad to see if seats were still available next to him, and they were. So we snuck down, pretended we had been in the bathroom (for like, five innings). We were right behind home plate. The view was fantastic. I could see into the Red Sox dugout, and I could see the pitchers’ motions whether they were right handed or left handed. We never got kicked out. 
Wakefield pitched five, scoreless innings of two-hit ball. Looks pretty nice on paper, right? However, personally, I did not think that he had his best stuff. I know the majority of his pitches he pitched for strikes, but he bounced more than one of them in there, which is not something typical of Wake. Granted, he hit most of his spots, but he would miss by a lot when he didn’t hit them. Obviously, he had a great outing (albeit against what was basically the Orioles’ minor league squad), but the fact that he bounced more than one pitch in concerned me a bit. 
Adrian Beltre reached first on a dropped third strike, which is something that you don’t see everyday. I have seen some really cool plays this spring: a triple play last weekend, and Beltre reaching on a dropped third strike this weekend. He swung at a terrible, wild pitch, but I guess that’s OK as long as he gets on base. Beltre also made a really nice play at third by tagging a guy out. Not only does he always know where the play is going to be, but he also knows which play is the best to make (if there is more than one guy on base). He is going to be a very valuable defensive asset. The guys sitting next to me (not sure if they had tickets) commented that Beltre should perform offensively as well considering that Fenway is much more conducive to hitters than Safeco Field is. 
Both Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro connected for their first home runs of the Spring, which was great to see. The minor league call-up who impressed me the most was Peter Hissey. He connected for two line drives into center field, one of which produced two RBIs. He played in Single A Greenville last year, and I am unsure of where he will play this year. I was very impressed with him, and he will be one of my projects in progress; definitely a guy to keep your eyes on. Aaron Bates, Marissa’s first project, also had two hits, and played some nice defense at first.
Manny Delcarmen relieved Wakefield and pitched one inning of scoreless relief. There has been some speculation about him because his clocks out at around 90-91 mph rather than his usual 95. This is obviously a result from his shoulder problems that hindered his performance during the second half of last season. I think that this is only a matter of building up his arm strength, which is what Spring Training is all about.
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Brian Shouse had a nice outing, and his delivery continues to fascinate me. It’s very different, but it looks good as long as he gets outs. Fernando Cabrera also pitched an inning of relief, and I was pretty impressed. He was up at Fenway last September, so don’t be surprised if you see him again during the course of this season. Joe Nelson, the man with the Vulcan pitch, was very shaky at first putting two men on without recording an out, but he was able to finish the game with a strikeout and without allowing any runs. 
Towards the end of the game, I noticed Michael Bowden was leaning on the railing in the dugout. After Nelson had recorded an out in the ninth, Marissa and I decided to head over towards the dugout to see if I could talk to him for a second after the game. 
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After Nelson struck the last guy out, Marissa and I started calling to him. He waved briefly as he went out to high five all of the guys. On his way back in we called to him again, and his face lit up with recognition when he saw me. The conversation went something along the lines of this: 
“Hi! How are you?” he said. “I’m great, thanks, yourself?” I replied. 
“I’m pretty good. It’s so good to see you!” 
“You’ve been doing so well this Spring!”
“Thank you! How’s your writing going?” I could not believe he remembered me, let alone that I was an aspiring writer. 
“Pretty good! Did you ever check my blog out?” 
“Yeah I did! I really liked it!” Wow, I could not believe that he had read it. 
“You know, everything you had to say about pitching really changed my perspective on it. It really helped me out”
“Oh, good! I’m glad it did!” 
“So thank you very much” 
“You’re welcome! It was great to see you!” “It was great seeing you too!” 
I was so happy that he remembered me. It was not just a “Oh, hey I remember you” wave sort of deal. He leaned over the dugout to talk to me for a bit. I had actually thought that he may have been annoyed when I sat down and talked to him throughout the game in Pawtucket. The next night, when the security guard discouraged me from talking to the pitchers in the stands, I thought that maybe Michael had said something to him. 
Apparently not. I was so happy that I had a chance to talk with Michael again. I know that he struggled at Fenway last year (which was NOT his fault), but this year he is fighting for the bullpen spot. I know that I may be a bit partial, but I truly think that he deserves the it. I think that he would have a great, positive impact because he has the same versatility that Masterson had: the ability to be both a starting pitcher, and a reliever. I will always be supportive of him, no matter what happens. 

Spring Training Odyssey: Pirates vs Red Sox 3/13/10

You guys will be proud of me (or maybe disappointed): I did not trespass onto “private” property, nor did I climb fences nor did I open doors that said “authorized personnel only”. That’s not to say the day wasn’t filled with adventures, stories, and a farmer’s tan. My agenda was much more similar to what you’re used to: autograph hunting. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am not one of those autograph sellers; I am merely a collector. For me, there is a story behind every autograph, and a story behind the baseball that the autograph is on. 

The gates open two-and-a-half hours before the game, and it takes two-and-a-half hours to get to the park. If you do the math right, we had to leave at 8 a.m. to arrive when the gates opened. We parked about a block away from the park outside of a church; the money was benefitting the Salvation Army. We were the first car in the parking lot. 
My normal spot (or should I say, last year’s spot), which was at the corner of this lower level area right next to the dugout was already completely full of fans. I guess I should not have been too shocked considering it was a sold-out game on a Saturday. Hope was not lost though, so I parked myself right behind the dugout. The weather was beautiful, much better than Friday’s, which caused rainouts all across Florida and attacked my car. The sun was shining, and I had of course overestimated my skin’s immunity to sunburns. 
One of my favorite parts about getting autographs is the fans you meet. I had the pleasure of meeting Kip, Julie, and their son Zack. They were down from Massachusetts to see a couple of Red Sox games. We were side-by-side identifying players’ numbers and calling their names. 
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The first autograph of the day was from Mike Cameron. He signed for a lot of people before his turn in the cages. His signature is a work of art. He is surely one of the nicest guys on the team, and he has a big characteristic smile that is indicative of his personality. 
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Then, Marco Scutaro came jogging in, and he signed for about three people. He was in a rush, so it was really nice that he signed. 
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Then I noticed Tug Hulett all the way at the end of the dugout. So I employed my vocal abilities and called to him. He came right over and signed for everyone who wanted a signature. Then he really went beyond his call of duty and literally signed for every single fan down the line in that lower level area. When he came back, he continued to sign for people along the dugout and he even threw bubble gum to a couple of fans. I had never seen anything like it! I told him that I awarded him with the good guy award. 
I spotted Darnell McDonald in the dugout, so I called to him, and he signed for a few people. I also spotted Gil Velazquez in the dugout, so he signed for a few people too. 
Then my sunglasses buddy, Lars Anderson, came back into the dugout after stretches, and after signing for some fans down the line. I knew that he was going to come over because as he was signing down the line, I called his name and he waved. I think it was then that he recognized me because I didn’t even have to say anything at the dugout and he remembered me. Of course we talked about my sunglasses! I told him we could trade, or that he could just have the glasses. As he was walking back into the dugout after he had finished signing, I offered one more time, and he came back up smiling and said that it was OK. 
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The game was about to start, but I wasn’t ready to go back to my seat just yet. One of my friends, Colleen, was at the game, so I finally got the chance to meet her! We became friends on Facebook through this site, actually. Colleen is a fantastic Red Sox fan who made the long trek across the state with her family to see the game. It was so great to meet her, and I hope we can talk for longer next time. Baseball really does bring people together. 
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Clay Buchholz was the starting pitcher, and he looked as confident as I had ever seen him. There was a big difference in his presence on the mound from last year to this year. He truly proved himself during the second half of the season last year, and I think that he belongs in the rotation. His first start of the Spring was a little bit shaky, but like I have said, that is completely normal and to be expected. That was all out of his system, and he had a good, dominant demeanor on the mound, and he simply exuded confidence. He focused on his fastball and changeup, but he also worked on his slider and curveball. He hit his spots for the most part, but you could still notice that he would get a bit discouraged if he walked someone. 
Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Boof Bonser, Brian Shouse, and Michael Bowden also got their work in. Papelbon and Delcarmen looked solid, Boof’s only hiccup was the leadoff home run that he gave up, and Brian Shouse had a nice inning of work. 
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To me, Michael Bowden is at the stage that Clay Buchholz was at last Spring. I don’t think that he fully trusts himself yet, so he is not completely confident. It’s not like he had a bad outing (he only gave up one run), but you could tell that he was struggling a bit. He was missing low, he was more often behind in the count, and he was getting frustrated with men on. He has an interesting delivery that seems to work for him, but he really doesn’t use his legs. I feel like pitchers get a lot of power from those leg kicks, and his kick is more like a step. Then again, he has never had a big leg kick, and when you’re a pitcher, you do what works for you. When I IMG_3680.JPG
Then I walked over to where the pitchers were warming up. Daniel Bard, Robert Manuel, and Casey Kelly were warming up. “Hey, Casey, did you ever tell Kris Johnson how to spell analysis?” I asked. He smiled, laughed, and said, “Yeah, I did!” I then proceeded to thank him for arranging to pitch on Saturdays. 
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Kris Johnson and Kyle Weiland emerged from the bullpen area to warm up. “Hey Kris, have we learned how to spell analysis yet?” I asked. He smiled a bit and said, “Nope”. Kyle asked how I was doing before they started to warm up. After they finished, Kris tossed me the ball. 
The “B” game was a totally different atmosphere. Fans were invited to stay, but only about 200 did. There was not assigned seating, so my father and I sat right behind the dugout. It was really quiet, so you could really hear the echo of the ball being caught, or the crack of the bat against the ball. The scoreboard was off, the concessions were closed–there wasn’t even an umpire. The scene was serene and sacred: I was attending a special sermon at my church, the church of baseball. 
Hideki Okajima, Fernando Cabrera and Daniel Bard looked solid in their outings. Bard has a nice Papelbon-esque stare. Ramon Ramirez pitched well, but he gave up a home run to Nate Spears. 
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Let me talk about Nate Spears for a second. He may not be one of the non-roster invitees this Spring, but I believe that he will be next year. He was fantastic on defense, and he certainly demonstrated power behind the plate. Keep your eye on him during the year.
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Casey Kelly pitched, and he looked real good. He was working quickly and effectively, and he was consistently getting ahead in the count. He also displayed a fantastic breaking ball.  
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One of my favorite moments of that B game was when catching prospect Luis Exposito hit a home run off of Kelly. Like I have said, Exposito has a very powerful bat, and he also has a gun for an arm. I think he has the potential to throw out a lot of runners. 
Robert Manuel pitched and he got ahead of the count, had good pacing and good placement. He pitched excellently. 
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My buddy Kris came in, and his only problem was that he left a couple of pitches up. Other than that, he looked really good. 
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Then Kyle Weiland came in, and I really liked what I saw from him. I like the way he keeps his glove tucked in for his delivery. He knows how to use the corners, he hit his spots, and he exhibited a good fastball. His only problem was that he looked a little uncomfortable pitching from the stretch. 
After the B game, I was able to get three autographs. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who played in the game last Saturday signed. 
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Ryan Khoury was kind enough to sign, and he even posed for a picture with me. I told him that I had seen him in Portland, and that I was excited to see him this year as well. 
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I was also able to get Luis Exposito’s signature, and he posed for a picture as well. We talked about Twitter.  We were the last car to leave. 
Before I end, I need to address some very serious news that the Red Sox released Saturday night. The Red Sox’s top position-player prospect, Ryan Westmoreland, was diagnosed with cavernous malformation in his brain, and will be having brain surgery on Tuesday. This is especially hard for me to hear because I have become somewhat close with him. It is an unprecedented event like this one that makes you realize that there are things beyond baseball. We realize that regardless of whom we root for, we are baseball fans, and we come together to support Ryan. This was out of his control, and all we can do is keep him in our thoughts and prayers. There is not a lot of news out there, so I do not know how soon he will be back on the diamond, but that should not be in any of our minds right now, especially not his. He needs to focus on getting healthy again before he thinks about playing baseball. He has my full support (as he always will), and I truly admire him for his courage. I will always be a fan of his no matter what, and I wish him the best of luck. I actually heard about this via Twitter on my way back from the game. Five minutes after finding out about this, I saw a shooting star. I think you all know what I wished for, and I think I made it on behalf of Major League Baseball fans everywhere. 

Spring Training Adventures: Twins vs Red Sox 3/6/2010

I think that I’ve developed a new mantra for the Spring, and maybe a new mantra for life in general: It’s not my fault if it’s open. With the kind of industry that I want to go into, you have to be a little gutsy, and you can’t take no for an answer. “Authorized personnel only”? Please, that term is subjective. If a door is open, I’m going to walk through it. If a fence is half open and half closed, I’m going to sneak through it. And if it’s closed, then I’m going to climb over it. If I can find a way to “trespass”, then I deserve to! (I do respect boundaries though, especially baseball boundaries. I know how sacred this game is). 

You could not have asked for better baseball weather than the kind of weather that was at City of Palms Park. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the sun was shining amidst a cool breeze: it was perfect. 
As many of you know, I typically have quite the agenda for Spring Training games: arrive when the gates open, collect autographs until the game starts, and then not moving until the game is over. This time was no exception, it’s just that the agenda was a little bit different this time. Instead of going to get autographs, I went to the players’ development complex again to interview one of the Red Sox’s top outfield prospects, Ryan Westmoreland. Little did I know that they had early morning physicals, so I ended up missing him. That’s OK though, there is always next weekend. 
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Walking around the empty players’ development complex was a cool experience itself. It was a ghost town. It was a completely different atmosphere compared to the weekend before. Walking around reminded me of this scene from my favorite book, Shoeless Joe. Archie Gram, J.D. Salinger and Ray Kinsella all decide to head down to the empty Minnesota ballpark. I know that this players’ development complex isn’t exactly a ballpark, but there are still five baseball fields and bleachers. 
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There was something “both eerie and holy” walking around the empty fields. It was “more like a church than a church.” Baseball is a sacred entity to me, and I had its synagogue all to myself. The orange dirt on the field and the green of the grass were especially brilliant. The empty complex was like “the inside of a pyramid”. I was “an archeologist exploring new territory.” There was an audible silence without the fans. I could hear the wind whistling, and I could hear the grass against my shoes. I finally felt it: “the thrill of the grass”
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No players were in sight, but I went into the office area just in case. Guess who I saw again? Sarge! The same guy who was there when I snuck into both clubhouses the week before. He remembered me and we had a nice chat. I swear that guy is either going to be putting me in jail or bailing me out. Before we left, I ran into the international scouting coordinator, Fernando Tamayo. I talked to him for a bit, and told him about my whole project program. The funniest part was that he actually graduated from my high school. I guess it is a small world. 
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We arrived at the game about 45 minutes before the first pitch, so I really had no chance to get autographs. I didn’t have my spot, and I was too far away from the players who were stretching. It’s always nice to watch them warm up though, and it was really cool to see John Lackey walk out to warm up for the first time in a Red Sox uniform. 
We had seats down the right field line, so we could see into the Red Sox dugout. It was a little bit hard to see home plate, so judging whether the ball was a breaking ball or a slider was harder than usual. It was a fantastic ball game though. 
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John Lackey’s first pitch in a Red Sox uniform was a strike. His outing was certainly the best of all the starters so far this spring. He already had that game day mentality. I had noticed with some of the other starters like Beckett and Lester so far this spring that they took a little while to get back into that kind of midseason mentality, and I think that’s okay. We should not be overanalyzing their every pitch. These are practice games for them: they are trying out new pitches and new techniques, and they aren’t going to be perfect. 
Nevertheless, Lackey was very impressive in his Grapefruit League and Red Sox debut. Obviously, he is focusing on remaining healthy throughout the Spring to be ready for Opening Day since he has had some problems with that in the past. He got ahead in the count for the most part, and even if he was behind in the count he didn’t have any problems. 
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Michael Bowden, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, pitched after Lackey. Bowden has definitely realized that if he wants to make the Major League roster, he’ll have to be a relief pitcher for the time being, and I think that he has become more open to that. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: he could have the Justin Masterson role of this year, and Masterson’s versatility was a very important component for the Red Sox. Bowden pitched well from the stretch, and overall he had a real nice outing. Manny Delcarmen followed, and he also pitched well. 
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Then it was Brian Shouse’s turn. He has the submarine sidearm delivery, and not much velocity. He got into some trouble, but managed to escape with one unearned run. 
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Joe Nelson got racked a little bit. He’ll always have my respect though for the Vulcan pitch. Yes, Vulcan as in Star Trek. I was never a true Trekkie, I’ve always been a diehard Star Wars fanatic, but Star Trek is still legit. Nelson may have the Vulcan grip, but he did not have the Vulcan mentality. Vulcans do not have feelings, they are all about making the logical choice. It looked like Nelson was getting a little mental because he was getting hit (he also had a wild pitch), but if he can master the Vulcan mentality in the same way that he’s mastered the Vulcan grip, then I think he will certainly be able to live long and prosper. 
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Junichi Tazawa was the final pitcher of the day. I absolutely love his delivery, and he worked well even when he was behind in the count. Some of you may remember him from Spring Training last year, but if not, he is definitely a guy to keep your eye on. 
Many of you know that I have a bit of a problem with calling grown men who are twice my height ‘babies’. This mainly applies to the minor league prospects, but it’s not like I mean it as an insult; coming from me, it’s the highest of compliments. The game I was at was a split squad game (there was another game going on in Port Charlotte against the Rays), so I was lucky enough to see some guys from the minor leagues who were called up for the day. Babies? Zygotes? Embryos? Projects of the future? I’m not sure yet, but I certainly enjoyed watching them play. These guys were Jeremy Hazelbaker, Matt Sheely, Nate Spears, and Jason Place. 
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In his first at-bat of the Spring, Jeremy Hazelbaker was walked, and he did a nice job in right field. I was also really impressed with Matt Sheely’s arm, and his and Nate Spears’ speed. Since these guys aren’t technically non-roster invitees, they don’t really have a chance to consistently impress just quite yet. But mark my words, some of these guys will be back next year as non-roster invitees, or even on the 40-man roster next spring. 
Here are some other things that I noticed from the batters: Bill Hall has a really wide stance, and he needs some more plate discipline. Gil Velazquez has been doing well in clutch situations, and he is a great baserunner and utility infielder. Angel Sanchez has a nice drag bunt technique that I would like to see more of this spring. I really liked Tug Hulett’s aggressiveness at the plate when he pounced on the first pitch he saw of the Spring and launched it over the right field wall for a three run homer. The Red Sox have been batting Mike Cameron at the top of the lineup in his two games, so I’m wondering where he is going to bat when the regular season comes around. 
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One person I have been especially impressed with in Spring Training is catching prospect Luis Exposito. He made this incredible catch right by the Red Sox dugout, and he also has a really nice arm for throwing runners out at second (even though he didn’t get the opportunity to do so this game). When he hits the ball, he makes solid contact. I watched him during batting practice last Saturday, and he was belting the ball over the fence and into the other field. He is even a pretty good baserunner, so he has it all! 
I was really glad that I had found the notebook I was taking notes in because it was the same notebook that I had taken notes at the Portland Sea Dogs game that I had attended over the summer. Here are some more notes on some of the players you’re seeing in Spring Training: 
-Adam Mills was the starter. He didn’t have that much speed… his fastball clocked out mid to upper eighties. What I really liked about him though was that he worked quickly and he let his defense do the work. He has quick innings. 
-At the game I was at, Ryan Kalish had actually reached base in 18 straight games. He hit a two run homer at the game, and I noticed some serious power. 
-Even Matt Sheely was at the game as a pinch hitter, and he demonstrated some good speed. 
A couple of other notes from the first week of Spring Training: First of all, I don’t think that we can get to hyped up over the numbers. We have to remember that these numbers don’t count and that these are practice games. Everyone is easing back into the baseball mentality so that they can be ready for Opening Day. Pitchers are working on adding a new pitch to their arsenal, and batters might be trying out new stances. 
I have been really impressed by Josh Reddick, and pitchers Casey Kelly, Kyle Weiland, and Felix Doubront. We have plenty of more Spring Training games coming our way, and I’ll be back at City of Palms Park next Saturday. 

They Break Your Heart…

As soon as the game ended, I wanted to come on here and write everything that I was feeling. It would have been the most impulsive, scapegoating article you may have ever read. I tend to forget that the emotions following the end of the season (especially a bad end) come in waves. 

At first, I masochistically sat in my room and cried. I could not believe we had lost that game. It didn’t seem possible; I was so sure of a victory. Even when the Angels were right on our tails, I was thinking: “Hey, our closer is in. There are two outs and two strikes. We got this!”. That thought went through my head twice. Then Vladmir Guerrero shattered that thought and replaced it with a single emotion: disbelief. 
Anyway, I felt it wasn’t proper to write when I was crying simply because I could barely see the screen and plus, no one is really coherent when they’re in that state of mind. Then I transitioned to anger, which blinded me for a little while because I was angry at only Jonathan Papelbon, and that’s not fair. I was scapegoating him for the entire series, not just the game, and that’s really not fair. 
Finally, the empty feeling pervades, and that’s the one that sticks. The Red Sox season is over, and without them, well my life is kind of empty. This feeling of emptiness was accompanied with disbelief again, and heartbreak: the same old song and dance. So I feel like I’ve done myself, and you guys a favor by not writing about this until today. 
I tend to scapegoat a lot when the Red Sox lose. Normally, I blame myself for choosing the wrong couch cushion to sit on, or something along those lines. And what some would call “obsessive compulsive disorder” severely augments during the playoffs. 
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I’m sure many of you can guess whom I decided to scapegoat during Game 1: CB Bucknor, the first base umpire–I was absolutely livid. However, regardless of how erroneous his calls were, it didn’t significantly effect the outcome of the game. The offense was dead, practically immobile; we were shutout for the first time since the 1995 ALDS. Our bats simply did not show up that day, similar to the absence of our bats during the first few weeks following the All-Star break. 
I went on to blame the Yankees for choosing Wednesday night instead of Thursday night to begin their playoff crusade. Obviously, they wanted to sabotage us by giving us an extra day off so that we would be rusty. I do think that the Yankees had a similar mentality in choosing which day to begin on, but I don’t think it was as intricately planned as I thought it was. Nevertheless, we were rusty. We hadn’t played a game since Sunday, so there wasn’t a lot of momentum going into the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome of Game 1, it is still ironic and cruel humor to have an umpire whose last name is ‘Bucknor’ umpiring first base. 
The beginning of Game 2 rendered me hopeful when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a triple, and Victor Martinez drove him in. That turned out to be the most amount of scoring we would be doing for that game. Another night in which the lackluster Red Sox offense barely did anything. Both Beckett and Lester had decent outings, but they were out dueled by the stellar pitching from Lackey and Weaver. 
So what was wrong with the Red Sox? We had gotten ourselves in to a do or die situation. Not completely unfamiliar territory, but not the most pleasant to be in either. What had been the remedy in the years past when the Red Sox had their backs against the wall in say 2004 or 2007? To be honest, I think players only meetings were a significant aspect in rejuvenating the team. 
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As far as I know, there were no players only meetings this year. But think about who led those players only meetings in years past: Jason Varitek, our captain. It’s no wonder there were no meetings this year while our captain was sitting on the bench. When Terry Francona took him out of the last game of the season to a standing ovation at Fenway Park, I did not know that it may have been the last time I would have ever seen Varitek in a Red Sox uniform. 
The Victor Martinez pickup was brilliant; it was the perfect remedy when our offense was lackluster after the All-Star break, and I think he was a major player in helping the Red Sox get to the postseason. However, it seems to me like we kicked Jason Varitek to the curb. 
I know I lobbied relentlessly for his return in the offseason, and there hasn’t been a single moment this season in which I have regretted that. Sure his offensive numbers are subpar, but as I’ve said countless times, his mere presence on the field is invaluable. I know Victor Martinez’s bat is one of the most formidable in all of Major League Baseball, but we can’t just throw our captain under the bus because of his weak offensive numbers. We didn’t even do that to Big Papi during his horrendous slump. 
Take a look at our pitchers’ second half numbers. Guys like Josh Beckett, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen (among others) struggled the second half of the season. By no means do I want to blame their numbers on Victor Martinez, but I do think that familiarity with a catcher has a significant impact on their numbers. With a guy like Jason Varitek, a man who calls the game like no other (who else has four no-hitters on their resume?), pitchers don’t even have to think. Jason Varitek probably tells them when to breathe and when to blink, but he slowly drifted out of the picture by the end of the season. 
He didn’t even see a minute of postseason action–a time when the comfort of the pitchers is essential to success. Varitek is the true leader of the Red Sox, so I wonder how the team feels when they see their captain on the bench. I’m not saying bench Victor Martinez, but I know that there is another lineup where both Varitek and Martinez are present. If we were sitting Varitek because of his lack of offense, than I think it is perfectly justifiable to sit Big Papi. 
One more thing before I progress to the truly heartbreaking game. What about respect? Did the Red Sox treat Jimmie Foxx, Carl Yastrzemski, or Jim Rice like this? I don’t think so. I think we have seen Jason Varitek’s last moment in a Red Sox uniform. 
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I tried to change this up a little for Game 3. I realized that the Manny Ramirez statue I had made in seventh grade was still in my room, so I launched it into my backyard. Then, another brilliant idea crossed my mind: a hunger strike! What if I was to refuse food until the Red Sox scored? I thought that Kevin Youkilis’ shot (that ended up being foul) signified my lunch, but I was wrong–and I was getting hungry. Jacoby Ellsbury’s spectacular catch almost prompted me to sneak a pretzel, but I refused. Luckily, Dustin Pedroia’s two RBI double allowed me to eat. I thought that the hunger strike was brilliant, and I was already planning on doing it again the next day during Game 4 when the Red Sox were still flying high on a 5-1 lead. 
I forgot Yogi Berra’s famous aphorism: “It ain’t over til it’s over”. I was so proud of my babies/projects that I forgot that Papelbon is human. Clay Buchholz blew me away in his
postseason debut… the fact that he performed the way that he did as a rookie is astounding. Not to mention the fact that Daniel Bard got out of a bases loaded jam with no outs with minimal damage. 
I was so sure we had that game in the bag… just like in years past when Red Sox fans were positive that they had the game won. It was heartbreaking to watch the win slip through our fingers. It was more than just a sweep. In 2005 when the Red Sox got swept by the White Sox, they lost Game 3 3-0. But we had this game. We could have pushed it to Game 4. But as we all know, they break your heart. 
We can’t just blame Jonathan Papelbon–it was the offense that failed to score runs in the first two games as well. So as Red Sox fans, we suck it up. The wound will remain open, but we blink back the tears and look forward to next season. 

Aggravation to Rejuvenation

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This past week was not the most fun week to be a Red Sox fan (and I know Indians and Orioles fans are having a tough time too). The Sox didn’t exactly look like a team that had just clinched playoff berth with the way that the pitching was coming apart. In fact, they didn’t even clinch the wildcard with a win, they were merely graced with a Texas loss to secure their spot. 

The Yankees clinched the division on their home turf, against the Sox, which partially fulfills their goal of the 2009 season. With the additions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett, many predicted that the Yankees would win the division, though everyone knew not to count the Red Sox out with what seemed like the best pitching staff in baseball at the start of the season–in fact, many predicted the Red Sox to win it. 
Clinching the division on their home turf would have been satisfying enough, but clinching against the Red Sox? That must have made it even better for them, and I turned off ESPN as soon as Jacoby Ellsbury’s soft grounder to Mariano Rivera ended the ninth. 
This final season series sweep by the Yankees made the season series even. After the Red Sox won the first eight of the season, they either got swept, or lost the rest of the series. In what very well could be the American League Championship Series matchup, all Red Sox fans are hoping that we can pull it together, and make every game in that series unforgettable–all fights to the finish. And with the Red Sox and Yankees, it always is. 
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I was hoping for a bit of rejuvenation against the Blue Jays. I always like going into the playoffs with lots of momentum, and I wanted to secure a spot already! No such luck Monday night. Josh Beckett was scratched from his start with mild back spasms (but he is pitching tonight, so all is well). When I first heard the story, memories flooded back to me of Spring Training 2008. I was excited to finally see Beckett pitch, because I had never seen him live before (and I still have not). He was even warming up with Jason Varitek down in left field at City of Palms Park–but he didn’t make the start. Manny Delcarmen did, and Beckett started that season on the DL, and had a mediocre season according to his standards (as well as my high standards for him). Thankfully, these spasms are nothing to be concerned about. 
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I was very excited to see Michael Bowden take the mound, since he is my favorite pitching prospect. To say that he didn’t have the best night would be an understatement. He lasted only three innings and was tagged for seven runs. Bowden was obviously very disappointed in himself, but he made no excuses. He said that he could have been told five minutes before the game that he would be starting, and still this outcome would have remained inexcusable. I appreciate the fact that he didn’t make up excuses, and I won’t make up any for him either. 
The fact of the matter is though, that we can’t judge September call-ups simply by their one month of play, that would be unfair. Bowden was missing his spots, and he was getting behind in counts–something that can easily be fixed. Plus, he is not used to Victor Martinez, and practice makes perfect. I would like to see him follow a path similar to Clay Buchholz–because look how effective that extra time in the minors was for him: he is going to be a starting pitcher in our playoff rotation. 
In fact, if Bowden works really hard this winter (I am not sure if he will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League), I think that he could be a legitimate contender for a spot in the starting rotation for 2010. Dustin Richardson has impressed me, and I am very excited to see more of him next year in Spring Training. He is a legitimate contender to be a project next year, as is Fernando Cabrera. I think that what we have to remember is that it is a big transition from the minors to the majors, and it would be unfair to expect anyone to flawlessly make that transition. 
The last two games against the Blue Jays weren’t much better. The second game seemed like a recurring dream as Buchholz also gave up seven runs. And if it wasn’t for Joey Gathright in the third game, Halladay could have no-hit the Red Sox instead of just pitching a complete game shutout. 
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Speaking of Joey Gathright, I want to get to playoff rosters. We are less than a week way from what I like to consider the first day of “Soxtober”. While there are many “lock-ins” for the roster, there are still some spots that are up for grabs.
I would like the starting rotation to look like this:
1. Jon Lester
2. Clay Buchholz
3. Josh Beckett
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka
I am so proud of how far Clay Buchholz has come this season. I think that he has truly earned that spot. And who knew that Dice-K would come back and pitch as well as he has? Sometimes, it is worth giving people a second chance. 
As for the bullpen, Papelbon, Wagner, Okajima, Saito, Bard (whom I refer to as ‘Baby Bard’ on twitter), and Ramon Ramirez should be locks. With the way that Manny Delcarmen has been pitching as of late, his spot is no longer secure. 
The possibilities for that eleventh spot could range from guys like Byrd and Wakefield, to guys like Bowden, Cabrera and Richardson. I love Tim Wakefield, but I really don’t think that he is healthy enough to pitch in the playoffs. And even though the bird is the word, I don’t think that Paul Byrd has been consistent enough to earn a spot on the roster. And much as I like Bowden, I don’t think that he is ready for the postseason this season. Next season? I have no doubt. 
I know it may sound crazy, but I think it should be between Richardson, Cabrera and Delcarmen. 
As for position players, most of them are locked in. The main question marks are the utility infielder and the reserve outfielder. Alex Gonzalez was hit in the hand last night and he was forced to leave the game. Not good timing at all, and I think we’re all praying that he is not injured. I would like to see Gonzalez as the starting shortstop with Lowrie or Woodward as the  backup. 
So the question is: Lowrie or Woodwa
rd? This one is the toughest for me to figure out since we have seen so little of both of these guys this season. The second spot to fill is the reserve outfielder, and I think that Joey Gathright has the best shot because of his speed. Think Dave Roberts, 2004 and you’ll know why. 
I am working on playoff brackets this weekend, and what I think should be the roster, so I will do my best to get back to you guys by Tuesday as to who should make the roster. 

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!! 

Taking a Leave of Absence.

Hello friends, I just wanted to take the time to let you know that I will be unable to blog productively for three weeks. Normally it takes me a good two hours to write a good one, and I’ll barely have time. 

This leave of absence is not because I failed a drug test. I actually had my yearly physical this past week, and I am all healthy. No Performance Enhancing Drugs over here. Manny and A-Rod, on the other hand, were not as lucky. 
The reason behind this leave of absence is due to a summer program that I have attended the past three years: The Great Books Summer Program. I will be out at Stanford University reading some of the greatest, most obscure literature that one can imagine. I have attended the program at both Stanford University and Amherst college, and it has been a significant part of my life ever since I attended. Even though it is only for a short time period, I consider the friends I have made there to be some of my best friends. 
This program has always served as a huge inspiration for me. The people who work there are all genuinely kind human beings who tell me that if I’m going to dream at all, I need to dream big. My counselor last year, Kyle LeBell (who is going to Israel this summer to become a rabbi) told me that “I should get lost so I can find myself”. 
When I’m out there in Stanford, it’s like I’m in my own little bubble– separated from the outside world for three, glorious weeks. I pretty much experience a catharsis that renders me overly skeptical and miserable upon my return. My home away from home: 
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I am actually separated from my baseball bubble whilst in this summer bubble. I do not have access to a computer for a good three hours to watch a baseball game. While my father is able to send me some updates, it still is not the same. 
That means I won’t be seeing Jacoby’s out-of-this-world catches. No Pedroia scampering around the infield and hitting balls that are anywhere over the plate. No ‘Papi’ chants after he hits a home run. No Youuuuuuukilis/Drew back-to-back hits. No Jason Bay clutch, clutch, CLUTH hitting. No Jason Varitek wisdom. No double-taking at Mike Lowell’s plays at third base. I won’t be able to laugh/curse Nick Green at the same time for his base running skills, and I won’t be able to cringe when Julio Lugo gets a ground ball. I will probably miss Jed Lowrie’s return, as well as Jerry Remy’s. I will miss Eck’s language, and I will miss John Smoltz’s start. I need to stop this list. 
I regret not being able to get up my Yankees vs Red Sox blog in time too. I’ll just give you some highlights. 
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I was able to go on a tour of Fenway Park thanks to some very kind people. I was on the field during batting practice, and I was ridiculously close to the Yankees as they started warming up. 
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Can you imagine the thoughts running through my mind as people like Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez were within arms reach? Jail time doesn’t look too good on a resume though. 
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I met a couple of reporters, I’m sure you know who they are. They were very kind. 
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I went back up to the Green Monster, the view was breathtaking, as usual (and by usual, I mean the second time) 
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I got a picture with the metaphorical Fisk pole, and a picture of the actual Fisk pole. 
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I was a kid in a candy store walking through the Red Sox Hall of Fame. I especially loved the ‘Greatest Moments’ section. 
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I also saw the view from right field, and the new section that was added (under the Cumberland Farms sign). 
The game itself was glorious, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative. Luckily, a rain delay never ensued. I was soaked to the bone, and so was all my stuff, but you guys know me during rain delays. 
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I played with some of the modes on my camera, and I took some pretty cool pictures. The people behind me actually asked if I was a reporter. I told them I was up and coming. 
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Seeing a game live is always a treat for me, to say the least. What was even more of a treat was Big Papi’s home run! Manny Delcarmen didn’t help our cause too much, and I feared I would be seeing a loss. But the offense came through, and treated me to a win. 
I wish you all a nice three and a half weeks, and you can keep up with me on Twitter. I figured out I can send texts, so I’ll let you all know what I’m doing. 

The Competition Within the Starting Rotation

Friends, I have discovered something, and I feel the need to share it with you: The Boston Red Sox starting rotation is playing a game. 

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No, not cribbage, but Dustin Pedroia and Terry Francona play that almost everyday. Dustin always loses, and he doesn’t like losing; so I guess he takes it out on the field with his hits, diving plays, and sprawl/slides into first base.
The game that our starting rotation is playing is more of a competition: Who can screw up the most in one inning. Josh Beckett is in last place right now, he only gave up four runs in the fourth yesterday, and still came out with the lead. 
My sources have yet to get back to me, but I asked them if relinquishing the lead is in the rules. Apparently, Dice-K thought so. You all remember him giving up five runs in the first inning and relinquishing the lead. 
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Brad Penny is the winner oft his week’s edition of the game. He gave up seven runs in the second inning on Friday night. It looked pretty bleak after that, but the bottom of the second inning rekindled hope. Our offense has finally awakened. JD Drew and Jason Bay were definitely the highlights of that game. I mean, coming back from a 7-0 deficit? The last time we did that…
And our bullpen wasn’t half bad either, in fact, they were great! I love how Manny Delcarmen can go two or three innings, that is quite helpful. Ramon Ramirez picked up his first win, and Papelbon had a great ninth. Our poor bullpen has been working so hard lately. I think the game needs to end. Brad Penny is the winner. 
I was watching the Marlins game as well, and both games actually ended within seconds of each other. Both Papelbon and Lindstrom struck out their victims. 
The second game of the series, I was unable to watch. I actually went to the movies with my friends… yes… I went out during a baseball game. Crazy. Well, I wasn’t totally resourceless. I got periodic updates from my father on what was going on. 
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Kevin Youkilis had a monster game, I think he’s going to change that third place to first place for the MVP. Or at least he wants to. The guy almost hit for the cycle, and hasn’t that been done three times already this year? That’s pretty cool. I heard that Kubes of the Twins did it, and also Orlando Hudson (fantasy team.. yay!!) and Ian Kinsler did it also. 
Once again, this game is evidence that our offense is finally waking up. But my biggest fear is Big Papi. 
I really am wondering what is up with him. My father and I have speculated that his timing is all off, and he’s just not the formidable hitter he was of say, 2004. I miss that fear that he would instill in pitchers when he would come up in the ninth inning with a tied score. I want that to come back. 
I think I may need to ask Emily about this one, because she is going into sports psychology. You all know what happened with Manny last season, and I don’t really want to talk about it. 
But I think that most of us could tell that Papi and Manny were pretty much best friends. They were a fearsome 3-4 combo, and they would kind of keep each other going. 
Manny seems to be a selfish person, he doesn’t care about us Red Sox fans… believe me, we loved him too! But Papi is a very caring person, and us Red Sox fans care about him! I think his hitting drought can be partially blamed on the absence of Manny Ramirez. 
Papi has even mentioned that he would like to have some more protection, and 30 HR type of guy… but this year our offense is catered more towards small ball (or at least I think so). I have decided to make some lineup changes… well one. 
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Dustin Pedroia
3. JASON BAY 
4. Kevin Youkilis
5. JD Drew
6. Big Papi
7. Mike Lowell
8. Jason Varitek
9. NIck Green
I might try this because Jason Bay has been hitting really well lately, and I really like the Youkilis-Drew punch. If not, I would put Drew third, Youk fourth, Papi fifth, and keep Bay at sixth. I don’t really know though. 
The Red Sox game just started, and Jon Lester just struck out Brian Roberts. Jon, the competition between the rotation is over. 
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