Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World Series Theme Song

(Sung to the tune of the Gilligan's Island Theme Song)

Just sit right back and you'll hear of a game,
A playoff game for sure
That started with the threat of rain
Soon to be a downpour.

Bud Selig was commissioner,
Couldn't read the weather maps.
The fans in Philly they showed up
All wearing their rain caps, wearing their rain caps.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny park was tossed,
If not for the bravery of the grounds crew
The series would be lost, the series would be lost.

The rain and wind shut down that game and now who can we blame?
Bud Selig
The network too
The millionaires and their greed
Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon
They all ruined that game!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another MLB Embarrassment

Bud Selig continues to prove he's incapable of making decisions for the good of the sport, rather than for the good of today's finances. We've already belabored the topic of a whole generation of children who are getting no joy from baseball's postseason. They are off to bed when the drama happens, and wake up just to read a headline. Wow, pretty exciting.

Under Bud, the All Star Game has continually been evolving from a true spectacle of a game, to nothing but a spectacle. All aspects of it being an actual competitive game, rather than a circus show to parade baseball's heroes around, had disappeared steadily until 2002 when both teams basically ran out of pitchers and the game had to be stopped in a tie in extra innings. Desperate to breathe life back into the All Star Game, Selig pushed for the new rule that the All Star Game would determine home field advantage in the World Series. A creative solution, that should never have been necessary.

Now, rather than look at what every rational person knew was inevitable and simply postpone last night's Game 5, Selig was worried about the television implications with Fox rescheduling. Look, Selig, grow some stones would ya? Baseball is a hot commodity right now. Look at the weather forecast and think about how this will play out. How will this affect the glory of the game for fans to huddle in the rain, while players risk injury? There are no other baseball obligation to worry about. This is the last series of the year. He said it himself (after the fact), that they can wait until Thanksgiving if they have to.

So, DO IT! Look at the weather forecast and say, "the weather is miserable. This is not the stage for the glory of baseball to end this year on. We will wait a day or two until the clouds pass and resume action". If FOX TV has a problem with that, tell them, "Too Bad!". Tell them, "we are playing baseball in two nights. Deal with it!".

The end result is that MLB has screwed with history. The Phillies do not have a deep starting rotation. They had their only ace, Cole Hammels, on the mound in the series clinching game, which they fought for and deserved. Cole may have gone 7 or 8 innings and thrilled the world with a clutch game to secure a championship for his team. Now, he will be unable to continue as the starter in this game, and has to hand the torch to someone else, with a full 3 innings remaining in a tie ballgame.

MLB has essentially given the Rays a new chance. This is similar to stopping a boxing match in the middle of a round when one fighter is in trouble, toweling him off, giving him a swig of water, and resuming the round from neutral territory. The rhythm of the fighters is lost, the dance starts all over again.

This is just ridiculous and embarrassing. If you aren't outraged yet, imagine if this had been the Red Sox in the Phillies' position, with the only pitcher we felt fully confident in was Jon Lester, and the game got stopped and we had to resume with perhaps Tim Wakefield as the fill-in. Does that sound fun?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Playoff Game Times

When "your team" is in the playoffs, game times may be challenging but are never an obstacle. They could start at 2:00 AM, and you'd find a way to watch them. But, with my team, the Red Sox, out of the picture, my outside life and sanity begins to take more precedent, and the World Series is a fun thing to watch and be a part of, but not worth serious sacrifice.

In other words, why the hell do they need to run so late? I know - prime time. So tell me, does prime time cover the hours after 11:00 PM (All times are EST unless otherwise specified)? No. So, do they expect viewers and high priced ads after, let's say, midnight? Games are generally starting right around 8:00, but some at 8:30. The is the very beginning of prime time, and then the games run well after prime time. Throughout the entire season, east coast games started at 7:00 PM. We have two east cost team in the World Series. How about starting the games at 7:00, like we are used to? What about a game during hours that kids could watch?

The most exciting and thrilling part of a playoff game is the end, especially for a game 7. Nothing is more thrilling. But, if that ends at 12:30 in the morning, millions of people who would love to see it will miss out. I'd love to see the Phillies celebrating on the field after a stunning game 7 win in the 12th inning. But, guess what? I'll have been in bed long before. This is not "my team" and I have to work in the morning.

So, what about starting games at 7:00? They should end around 10:30-11:00. They would start prior to prime time, and cross right through it? What about the West Coast? Hmm, what do I look like, a programming genius? But, why skew east coast games? Why not let the game time favor the home team for each game?

Meanwhile, the series is all tied up at one game each. The Phillies had tremendous opportunities to win the second game, but they could not hit with runners in scoring position. Hmm, could be Rays pitching, because they did a similar thing to the Red Sox. The Phillies continually got the Rays against the ropes, but failed to land any damaging blows.

But, against the Dodgers, the Phillies looked vulnerable until they got home. So, don't be surprised the comforts of the home park help them light up the scoreboard. Looking for some real excitement and drama in this one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why You Should Root For Philly

With the World Series looming, and the Red Sox eliminated, baseball fans are now turning their attention to the World Series. But, if you have been cheering for the Red Sox all season, who should you support in the World Series? This is not always an easy question. You may have a secondary reason to support one of these teams. Maybe you have a friend who is a big supporter of one team and you now want to join in (or take the other side just to be a pain in the ass). Maybe you went to college in or near Philadelphia and have sympathy to them, or have an affinity to a player on one of the teams.

But, if you have no such secondary ties, and are wondering what to do, I am here to help.

My advise, is to simply root for the Phillies! I heard that. You just muttered, "another bitter Red Sox fan can't stand to see the team they lost to have more success than they did", or something to that effect, right? Well, I can see why you'd think that, but it is not true. As I have said before, the Rays were good all season, and deserve to be where they are. I harbor no ill will towards them (unlike our mortal enemies, the 'you-know-who' from 'you-know-where').

My reasons are more historic in nature, and lesson-building. Sometimes what is painful in the short term (like having a tooth pulled) is the best thing for the long term. If you are a parent, you'll understand the concept of not wanted to spoil your kids and make things too easy on them. Life is a struggle, and without struggling, we never learn how to succeed in life. When your child wants a new bicycle, do you run out and buy them one? When I was a teen in this situation, I was told that I could have a new ten-speed bike. All I had to do was earn the money and buy it. See what I am getting at?

Now, how does this relate to baseball? Being called "Champion" comes with struggle. Being a solid baseball community with undying support and loyalty to the home town nine takes years of work, hardship, and struggle. The Red Sox fan base understands this. The Red Sox have been in business since 1901 (as the Boston Americans who became the Red Sox in 1908). We endured 86 years of struggle starting after 1918, occasionally reaching the World Series, only to be denied the final victory. We had decades to grow, evolve and become part of the very fabric of the Red Sox. Our history has been built on generation after generation. The Red Sox, in part, defines who we are, and who we have been.

This is also true for the Philadelphia Phillies, who have been a team since 1883! They are also woven into the lives of generations of baseball fans. They also know the emptiness of forsaken years, and the frustration of years where the ultimate goal was within reach but slipped away unattained. They are now built on a foundation of rock. They have paid the price, and are due the reward. The Phillies have reached the World Series 5 times prior to this year, and have come away victorious only once, in 1980 when they defeated the Kansas City Royals. They are due.

The Rays, in contrast, were founded in 1998, over a century AFTER the Phillies. This is the very first generation that has been exposed to baseball in the Tampa Bay area. For many of them, they did not realize they had a team until this very October. They have not experienced any heartbreak whatsoever. "But, they have been a dismal team for 10 years, never winning more than 70 games prior to this year. How can you say they have not experienced heartbreak?", I hear you say.

It is true, they have experienced failure. But failure is not necessarily heartbreak. If I walk up to Cameron Diaz (presuming the restraining order had been removed) and ask her on a date, and she said no, that would not be heartbreak. That would be the expected result. On the other hand, if my wife of 16 years walked out on me, that would be true heartbreak. On the one hand, success was never a real possibility, an the other, success had seemed like it was a sure thing, and proven with the test of time.

The Rays, in the scheme of Baseball, are just children. They are cute, energetic, and bright. They make us proud, and show lots of promise. Like most children, they are idyllic and see the world as a wonderful place where good things are sure to come to them. They have not yet been beaten down by reality. Giving them the ultimate goal, so soon in their development, with so little effort, will only spoil them and avoid teaching them life's real lessons. This is like buying them a new car on their 16th birthday.

If we want to help the Rays, the best thing is to let them experience the hardship of life. Let them learn how elusive true success really is. Pull their fan base in and make them unite through trying times. The United States was never more close and united than after a tragedy, such as 9/11. Supporting each other and uniting in the face of tragedy may be necessary to build a strong nation. This could be the beginning of generations of Rays fans bonded in baseball.

Or, it could be short lived. An easy win over the Phillies could spoil them. They'll wander away, wondering why everyone else gets so worked up over these things. That wasn't so hard. Then, when the Rays have a bad season, no one will show. They will know this is not one of "those years", but those years will come. They will think baseball is about only showing up for the occasional "good year", and reveling in an easily attained title.

The Phillies need to correct that thinking. Let the Rays learn and grow and become ingrained in baseball, ingrained in their team. Let them grow into a true baseball town!

Convinced? Okay, let's go Phillies! Your nation's time is at hand. To battle!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pre-World Series Thoughts

Now that our beloved Red Sox have seen this incredibly fun season come to an end, what do you see ahead? Football? Hot stove talk? Rest and relaxation?

What you should be doing is getting ready for the World Series. This is not passing judgement, only presenting an observation. If you have no intention whatsoever of watching any of the World Series this year, then you are not a true baseball fan. The fact that you are reading this means you have an interest in the Red Sox, or are a family member who's wondering what I'm up to (hi Mom!), or both. Nothing wrong with that really, but baseball is so much more than just whether or not the team on Boston wins. Baseball is in our blood. It flows through our country, and marks the passage of time.

So think about that for yourself. Are you a fan of baseball, or just the Red Sox? When I was a kid, baseball was king. We knew almost every player throughout the league, thanks in large part to collecting baseball cards. Sure, we knew all about the Red Sox, our favorite team, but we knew history as well. If you asked me who my all time favorite player in history was, I would have answered Willy Mays, who never played for the Sox. We were enthralled with All Star Games and World Series contests, each one an official piece of American history. This week, another chapter in the history book will be written.

Will the Rays become the first team in U.S. professional sports history to go from dead last place to World Champions in one year? Will the 126 year old Phillies franchise add a second Championship banner to their beautiful new ballpark? Yes, one of those two events will take place. What players will make their mark in baseball lore? Which ones will exceed expectations, and which ones will crumble under pressure?

With your team out of it, yes, it is less personal, but in many ways that is easier. You do not need to raise your blood pressure, or pull your hair out. Just sit back and enjoy baseball at its highest level. Ponder the moves being made. Enjoy the beauty of each well executed play. Marvel at the precision of a pitcher and enjoy the crack of the bat when the batter wins the battle.

All of this is on our doorstep. So, are you a baseball fan? Then let's get it on.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Who's To Blame for the Red Sox Loss? You Are!

The Red Sox lost, for the second time in history, when they were faced with an opportunity to advance to the World Series (the other time was in 2003 against the Yankees). Back to back World Series appearances would have been incredible to see, but that did not happen. Why? Was it because Terry Francona stubbornly stuck with Jason Varitek? Was it because Big Papi lost his mojo? Was it the loss of key members of the offense, like Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell (MVP's of the last 2 Red Sox Championships)? Was it too much pressure for some of the new guys (Jason Bay, Mark Kotsay)?

I think the real blame lies with one of you fans out there. Yes, you know who I am talking about. We all have our lucky traditions that always ensure a Red Sox victory. It might be the shirt you wear while watching the games, it might be where you watch the game. Maybe, between each inning you hop around the couch on one foot while singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game".

Whatever it is, one of you did not stick with your tradition. Theo Epstein asked me to help him track you down, so make this easy on all of us and confess. Did you accidentally wash the socks you've worn throughout the series? What was it? These guys fought hard throughout these playoffs, and you go and forget your silly little tradition and now look what happened!

How about the game itself? Aside from the disgusting spitting going on out there, Matt Garza did a terrific job. Garza went 7 innings and only allowed 2 hits, one of them a first inning solo home run to Dustin Pedroia. When Pedroia hit that one, I thought Garza might be in for a long night. The problem was that he was afraid of the crowd. Garza came out with, what looked like, tissue crammed into each ear. I guess if you cannot mentally block out the crowd, you do it physically. What he needed to do was embrace the noise, which he did in the second inning, and rolled through the game after that.

You may be tempted to blame the Sox hitters, but, other than Pedroia's home run and Jason Bay's single, no one could put the bat on the ball. Batters were tentative and unsure. I've never seen so many check swings! Speaking of which, I flipped out when the home plate umpire called JD Drew out with bases loaded on a check swing. The ball was no where near the strike zone, and the check swing was borderline (Varitek later was given a ball for a worse check swing). At least check with the third base umpire! I hate seeing the umpire take the bat out of their hands, but at the same time, Drew did not know what to do with those pitches. Just wish he had another chance.

Also, what was with the mystery strike three on Mark Kotsay in the 9th inning? Clearly a ball, and replays showed it (even though the announcers glossed over that one). Yes, I'm unhappy about those calls, because each little thing matters at that stage of the game. But, that's not why they lost. They lost because the Rays stymied the Sox bats. The Sox pitched great; Jon Lester was terrific allowing only 3 runs in 7 innings. You cannot expect to win when you only score one run. That is the problem. The Rays' pitching did not succumb to the pressure. They shook it off, and pitched great. The umpires helped a bit, in the examples I cited, but that is all part of the game too.

It turned out to be a well done, well played, exciting series. The Rays had a great year, never let up, and managed to survive a classic Red Sox ALCS comeback. They deserve their place in the World Series. Now, get out there and make this an exciting WS for us, represent the American League well, and we'll be back to do it all again next year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Red Sox Smell Blood

I'm still a little confused. Are the Rays named after a fish, or a beam of light? They have a fish tank in center field full of Rays, and yet they have a sunshine sort of symbol on their jerseys. If they are fish, I might quip, "the tide is going out fast on the Rays' first post-season", or I might say "the sun is setting on the Rays' brilliant season", or something like that. Either way, I cannot help but hum a Queen song in my mind as I think about their plight; "Under Pressure".

I think the Red Sox have made it clear, once and for all, that it is simply a waste of time to count out a playoff team, even when their back is to the wall. You cannot say, "it looks like it is all over for the Red Sox this year", or anything like that. Instead, you need to say things like, "the Red Sox are down 3 games to 1, and are in a perfect position to make this a truly exciting playoff series".

Yes, I was very nervous about Terry Francona's move to start Josh Beckett in yesterday's game. I knew Beckett would battle like a gladiator, but there is only so much a wounded soldier can do. In the end, Beckett was no where near his 2007 post-season brilliance, but he did pitch well, relying on spotting his fastball, and mixing in the curve ball more than usual. The result was that he lasted 5 innings, only allowing 2 solo home runs. The bullpen gave him incredible support with 4 shoutout innings from Hideki Okajima (2 innings), Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon.

The Sox matched the Rays' solo home runs with 2 of their own, thanks to Kevin Youkilis and our very own captain, Jason Varitek. Tek had made us all groan in the second inning when the Sox looked like they were about to run Rays' starter, James Shields, out of the game. But runners at first and second with two outs, Varitek ended the inning with an easy fly out. The solo home run in the 6th inning made up for that nicely.

The Rays did not completely implode last night, but they look like they are feeling the pressure. The swagger has lost a touch of its swag, the head held high is drooping just a bit. This team has never faced this kind of heat. Playoffs are one thing, but getting bowled over in game 5 by an historic come-back team while standing directly in the bright hot light of the national media seems to be getting them nervous.

The largest crowd, by my estimation, ever to attend a Rays' home game was in the stands last night. 40,947 people came out and brought a real playoff atmosphere to the dome. I tip my hat to you all for that. Hopefully even more will turn out tonight. Regardless of the outcome, tonight's game will be a piece of baseball history. Either the Red Sox will have miraculously escaped, yet again, from the jaws of defeat, or the Rays will be on their way to their very first World Series.

Now, if the contest was to see who could spit the most times per inning, I'm afraid Jon Lester would have his work cut out for him. Matt Garza can spit with the very best players in history (just watch him tonight, and count how many times he spits in an inning). But, thankfully, spitting does not count, and a rested Lester should prove to be a hell of a challenge for the Rays tonight. My real concern is for Papelbon. He did a nice job last night, but his fastball was about 5 or 6 miles per hour slower than normal. I doubt that was intentional. If he was fatigued last night, he'll be more so tonight. If this game is close, I can't imagine being with an effective Papelbon. Keep you fingers crossed on that one.

Under Pressure!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jon Lester or Josh Beckett?

This is not a new topic here. Prior to the series, I wrote a discourse about how I would approach the Red Sox pitching rotation for the ALCS. My choice for the first four games matched Terry Francona's. For the final 3 games, I indicated that I would use the results, the series standing, and pitching performances of the first 4 games to guide the choices for the last three games.

I intended to use Josh Beckett in game 5, if he was sharp in game 2 and not in need of extra rest, otherwise I would go with Dice-K. Tito went with Dice-K.

For game 6, I wrote that I would use "Lester (if this is a Sox elimination game) / Dice-K (if this is a Sox clinching game)". Guess what? It is an elimination game. I stick by that. But, what I am missing is the inside, up close contact with the guys that Tito has. My thought is that pitching Lester today puts him on normal rest. The last game he pitched with extra rest, he was less sharp and lost (game 3). Beckett, on the other hand, is clearly not himself, and likely trying to fully heal that oblique pull (or the elbow is nagging him again). Either way, give him the extra day of rest to be ready for a game 7 showdown.

In the end, I have to say that I trust Francona. He wants to win more than you or I. If putting Beckett out there today and not tomorrow would hinder their chances, I don't believe he would do it. I have to conclude that the coaching staff feels Beckett is ready to go, and able to perform well. If they manage to win, we all will appreciate having Lester in game 7!

But, my only concern is that, IF Beckett is not truly ready, then he will have to come out early, and then we throw everybody and anybody out there. That's fine, but I'd rather do that in a final game 7, not having to worry about staffing one more game the very next day!

So, Tito, I'm trusting you here. Let's get this done.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rays Live True Cinderella Story in Dramatic Game 5 Loss

Yes, this is truly a Cinderella story. The King, Bud Selig, was throwing a huge party at Fenway Park, called the ALCS. The Rays wanted to go, but they had no superstars and no confidence that they should be there. So, their Fairy Godmother, played by Joe Maddon, showed up, and pulled out his magic wand. Joe convinced them they belonged there, and he cast a spell to make sure it stuck. He took a flopping Devil Ray out of the tank in Tropicana Field, and turned it into a plane to take them to Boston. Then, he cast spells on all of them.

He took Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross and turned them from mice into horses to pull the Rays on their journey. He took lizards named Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell and turned them onto footmen to guide and care for the Rays during the journey. Finally, he found a rat named Grant Balfour, and turned him into a coachman to lead the charge through the late innings.

As all Fairy Godmothers will tell you, these spells only last until (roughly) midnight, eastern standard time. Joe warned them of this, and they all promised they would remember.

But, at the party, they were having so much fun. They met an opposing starting pitcher named Dice-K Matsuzaka, who was famous and exotic. Everyone wanted to meet Dice-K, but under the Fairy Godmother's spell, Dice-K only had eyes for the Rays. They danced with Dice-k and had so much fun that they hit home runs and jumped out to a 5-0 lead after only 3 innings. Later, they met Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon and enjoyed playing with them too, scoring 2 more runs. They became so elated with their great fortune, that they lost all track of time.

The clock began chiming, the midnight warning blaring out. But, the Rays could not get out of Fenway yet, it was only the bottom of the 7th inning. Grant Balfour, as the coachman, grabbed the reins of the Rays' horse-drawn carraige and snapped them to lead the charge through the late innings and out of the ballpark. Suddenly, Balfour was surrounded by swirling sparkles and right before our eyes, he changed back into a rat. Dustin Pedroia smashed the rat with an RBI single to score Jed Lowrie from third base. Then, Big Papi clobbered the rat with a three run home run.

The score was now 7-4, and Joe Maddon knew he could not win with a rat, so he sent the footmen, Wheeler and Howell in to help. Wheeler was barely starting when the swirly sparkles swirled around him, transforming him back into a lizard. As a lizard, there was not much he could do when JD Drew crushed his offering for a two run home run and the score was now 7-6. He gave it one more try, only to watch as Mark Kotsay doubled and Coco Crisp toyed with him for 9 pitches before lacing a single to tie the game at 7!

Godmother Joe had one idea left before it was too late. The clock had chimed 11 times, but maybe he could still escape. Joe sent Howell in to save them, but Howell was already turning back into a lizard. Kevin Youkilis ripped a ball to third, and Evan Longoria tried to field it and throw to first, but in mid throw, he suddenly transformed back into a mouse. This horse was gone, and the ball sailed away from Carlos Pena at first base and Youk ended up on second. Then JD Drew stepped up and smashed a line drive to right field. Gabe Gross raced back to make the catch, but half way there, he too changed back from a horse into a mouse, and a mouse will never catch a JD Drew line drive. Nor can a mouse throw out Youkilis steaming home from second base.

Youkilis scored, and the Cinderella story was over. They forgot to watch the time, and the clock ran out. Their juggernaut turned back into a flopping Devil Ray, which is what is was all along.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fenway Park's Very Own Kazoo Guy

Anyone who has ever visited Fenway Park has come away with lasting memories of sight, smell, and sound. These sensations become an indelible part of the experience for us, and each one is unique to the individual who owns the memory. Who doesn't remember the awe they felt the first time they walked up that ramp and gazed out on the glorious green expanse of the infield, the light towers turning night into day, the electricity of the crowd filing in to their seats? Regulars to Fenway hold on tight to their favorite recollections; the announcer blaring out "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park", the vendors shouting as they weave through the aisles, the smell of steamed hot dogs, singing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch, and of course, listening to "Dirty Water" play after each Red Sox victory.

If you have been fortunate enough to sit near the right field bleachers, near section 43, hopefully you have been lucky enough to experience a unique character who makes each visit to the ball park just a little more special and interesting. This is not a staged actor sent out by Larry Lucchino. This is not a marketing gimmick. No, this is a regular Red Sox fan, just like you and me (well, almost). This is, Kazoo Guy!

The first time I saw Kazoo Guy was in the spring of 2004. The Red Sox had just scored a run, the crowd was on their feet cheering, and music was blaring from the speakers across Fenway Park. As the next batter began his walk out to the batter's box, the music ended and the crowd quieted and settled into their seats. Suddenly, off to our right, I heard a funny sound. I glanced over to see what it was. The sight came as a bit of a surprise.

Standing on his seat with his back to right field, was a man, looking about 50 years old, with greying hair and wearing a Red Sox shirt and hat. His hat was adorned with two actual red socks pinned to either side and hanging down to his shoulders, reminding me of a basset hound's ears. He had a kazoo that he was using to play a rally song and at each of three pauses in the song, the crowd around him followed his lead by pumping a fist into the air and yelling "HEY". After the third fist pump, he simply sat back down and went back to watching the game.

Kazoo Guy
(Photo Courtesy of Boston.Com)

My friends and I glanced at each other with smiles and shrugged our shoulders as if to say, "did you just see what I think I saw?". Later in the game the guy with the kazoo repeated his performance. We were already getting caught up in it and joined in the cheer this time. As the game went on, the pattern slowly became clear. Every time the Red Sox scored, this kazoo guy would lead us in a cheer. Everyone within ear shot loved it. This was immediately recorded in my memory as a favorite thing at Fenway Park. Over the next 5 years, we would see kazoo guy at nearly every game. In fact, as we would settle into our regular seats, it became a habit to glance over and confirm that Kazoo Guy was there.

Kazoo Guy became synonymous with Red Sox success. If the Red Sox were getting shut out, we might say to each other, "this is terrible, we haven't heard Kazoo Guy once all night". That's right, if the Sox don't score - no kazoo cheer. Rules are rules. But, who is this "Kazoo Guy"? What is his story? I had the pleasure of speaking with Kazoo Guy himself, and here's what I found out.

Kazoo Guy's real name is Bobby, and he just turned 53 this September. He grew up nearby, in South Boston, where he lives to this day. Like most of us, he grew up a big fan of the Red Sox and has been going to Fenway as often as possible since he was a kid. Bobby recalls how times were different years ago. In 1967, the challenge for kids was to try to sneak into Fenway Park and rush the gates when cops weren't looking. This might sound crazy today, but the technique got Bobby in to see game 7 of the 1967 World Series (among a few others). Yes, times were different back then. You were not allowed to bring your own cooler into the park, which is also true today, but there were ways around that then. In the seventies, Bobby recalls sneaking ropes into the park, then lowering the ropes down to the street from the bleacher seats where friends would be waiting to tie the ropes to coolers to be hauled up. Try that after 9/11!

Okay, Bobby is a true life-long Red Sox fan and the Red Sox are in his blood. But how did this whole kazoo thing start?

Let's start with the hat, which is simple enough. He invented the hat in the 90's as a sort of rally hat and would wear it primarily just to big games to show support for the hometown team. Once he added in the kazoo cheer, the hat became a permanent part of the show. For the kazoo cheer, we can thank Gary Glitter, and a little bit of fate.

Gary Glitter? That's right. The song that Bobby plays on the kazoo comes from Gary Glitter's classic song, "Rock & Roll, Part 2", sometimes referred to as "The Hey Song". (You can click the link to hear a clip, or better yet, you can hear the clip in the red Sox Songs widget on the right - don't worry - it's free and not a trick to get you to click on ads). Here's the story.

In the late 90's, Bobby had attended a parade, and at the parade, a float was tossing out kazoos. Bobby grabbed a couple, and stuck them in his jacket pocket. That was step one on the road to Kazoo Guy. The next aspect to the story, was that Gary Glitter was arrested and convicted of child pornography. Prior to this arrest, the "Hey Song" was a very popular rally cry played at sports arenas across the country, and a regular song at Fenway Park. But after the arrest, many venues, Fenway Park among them, ceased playing the song for understandable reasons. However, the fans missed the inspiring song that they had come to love.

Now, the picture should becoming more clear. One day, in the late 90's, Bobby is sitting in the bleachers, and the Red Sox score. Bobby is frustrated that they don't play "Rock & Roll Part 2" anymore, and notices the kazoo from the parade is still in his pocket. On a whim, he pulls out the kazoo, and while sitting in his seat, blares out his own rendition of the rally song, and continues to do so at big moments in the game. It turns out, the people around him like it! They encourage him to stand up on the chair and blare it out for everyone. He did, and Kazoo Guy was born.

In 2003, Bobby purchased 10th Man Plan tickets (like myself), and as a result, sits with the same people around him, and they've all come to love Kazoo Guy. Kids love him too, and he is often asked to pose for a photo or sign an autograph, which he always enjoys doing.

Kazoo Guy is now a permanent fixture for the regulars in section 43. A few years ago, a couple actually got married just prior to a game in section 43. Bobby was asked to play the wedding march for them on the kazoo. How perfect is that?

(Photo by Jere at A Red Sox Fan From Pinstripe Territory)

The Fenway Park ushers have come to accept him as part of the ball park as well. But, there was one time when a novice usher did not like the act, and started giving him a hard time. His posse was behind him and the section gave the usher a piece of their mind with a rousing boo. Luckily, before things got out of hand, the more experienced ushers pulled the new guy aside and straightened him out. Bobby has not been harassed by the ushers since.

It can be awkward when he sits away from his usual crowd though. You see, we all know what Kazoo Guy is all about. But, if he happens to sit in a different area, he's never quite sure what the new folks will make of him. Generally, he will feel out the crowd, and it usually does not take them long to catch on and join right in.

How much do we love Kazoo Guy? At a game this past September, Bobby got up on his seat to kick off another cheer following a Red Sox run. As the cheer was nearing the end, he saw a fan holding up something that said Kazoo on it. He thought to himself, "wow, now they're holding up a banner for me?". As the song ended, he saw that the person was Kelly, a section 43 regular, and the item she was holding up was not a banner. Kelly walked up to Bobby and presented him with a brand new white Red Sox home jersey. On the back is the number 43, representing their section, and above that, the word "Kazoo" is emblazoned where a player's last name would normally be.

That completes the journey. Bobby is now the un-official Kazoo Guy of Fenway Park. If you see Bobby, give him a wave, and let him know you appreciate what he has done to make Fenway Park an even better place to watch a game. Bobby wants to do one more thing for you too. Dennis Eckersley wore number 43 during the 8 years he played with the Red Sox. Bobby wants to convince the Eck to make a visit to section 43, and join in with the new #43, Kazoo Guy, in a Rock and Roll Part 2 cheer for the enjoyment of his Red Sox bleacher family. Eck, if you are listening, what do you say?

(Click on the photos to view them in larger size)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Flash - Tampa Bay is for Real!

I have been hearing the moaning, complaining, and second guessing from Red Sox fans growing louder and louder. You are frustrated, angry, and gnashing your teeth grasping for reasons why the Red Sox are ruining your October. I can answer that question pretty easily. The Rays are better than the Red Sox right now, at this moment in time, which is the only thing that matters. Did you ever notice how when one of your batters strikes out, it is his fault - he is a bum. It's not the pitcher who was masterful. When your guy hits a home run, he's a great hitter, but when they other guy hits a homer, it's because your pitcher stinks. In this case, you need to starting thinking the other way. We don't stink, they are just playing better.

As far as the Rays go, we are so used to them being a meaningless team that this transformation is difficult to embrace. But, you know the saying, "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck"? That is what we are dealing with here. The Rays took over first place in the AL East midway through the season. We all wondered when they would collapse, but they never did. They had injuries and kept winning. They never let go of first place. They faced off against the Red Sox, their only true threat this season, in Fenway Park in September, and they survived and held on to first place. They survived a temporary losing streak in early September, and retained first place. They ended the season in first place with most home wins of any team. They passed their first post-season test by walking over the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS.

This team is for real, get used to it. Their pitching is running on all cylinders right now. They are hitting well, running well, and playing excellent defense. They are good. They are better than the Red Sox right now. That's what we are seeing. All those strategies you are juggling in your mind won't help. Batting Papi 6th, sitting Varitek, pulling Beckett sooner, mixing things up, are all interesting, but futile.

So, you admit the Rays are a good team playing great ball right now, right? But, aren't the Red Sox a great team? Aren't they the defending World Champions? Technically, yes, but practically speaking, no.

This is not last year's Red Sox team. Last year's team had Manny Ramirez batting 4th and Mike Lowell batting 5th. Last year's Red Sox had Jacoby Ellsbury creating all kinds of problems for the opposition, this year he can't get on base. Last year's team had one of the best post-season starters in history (Curt Schilling) on the roster, and Josh Beckett pitching the best games of his career. This year is different. Schilling is not available, Beckett is obviously not 100% healed from an oblique strain, and that takes a huge 1-2 punch out of the starting rotation. Big Papi is struggling to hit, and from watching his swing, I am certain his wrist does not feel 100%.

So where does that leave us? Is it all over? Not yet. The Sox came back from an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in '04, and came back from a 1-3 deficit against the Indians last year. This is not over, and they won't give up. I think their chances are bleak, given everything described above, but they can still make this interesting. Here's why...

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches tomorrow night. He had a terrific outing in Game 1. The Sox are due to break out the bats, and they are at home, and don't like losing there. I think we can all envision this game being a tough battle, but the Sox could pull out a win. That would make it 2-3 in the series. So, we head back to Tampa Bay for Game 6. Personally, I'd be inclined to pitch Lester in Game 6. He has been brilliant up until his last game, during which he was good, but gave up 2 fatal home runs. Erase those home runs and it was a good outing. So, if Lester bears down and returns to ALDS form, they could win Game 6.

That would set up a Game 7 showdown, which is all we can ask for at this point. Beckett takes the mound, pops a few aspirin, and who knows? So, don't give up yet, but do know you are simply getting outplayed by a very good team right now. Give them some credit for that, as we regroup to take the battle back to them on Thursday. Time to get hot, and go on our own little 7 game winning streak!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Did Anyone Predict That One?

This is why they actually play the games on the field and not just in the newspapers. The Rays playing against the Red Sox in Fenway Park with Jon Lester on the mound? Who wouldn't predict a win for the Sox in that game. Unfortunately, two things went wrong. First, Lester had a bad third inning giving up two home runs accounting for all the runs Tampa Bay would need. The second thing that went wrong is that the Red Sox could not score. The result was a 9-1 loss allowing the Rays to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

If you are a Rays fan, that has to feel good. You know that the series will be returning to Tampa for game 6. You know that the Sox are sending out Tim Wakefield tonight and Wakefield has not pitched in a while, and has been knocked around by the Rays recently. A win tonight by the Rays would put the Sox down 3-1. No team could possibly come back from that, could they? Well, I suppose they could actually.

But, the loss last night certainly was not the plan for the Sox. The plan was to win that game, go up 2-1, and put some pressure on the Rays. Lester kept them in the game. When he left in the 6th inning the Sox were losing 5-0. At the time, it seemed like the Sox might have a chance to close that gap. Up until that point, the Sox had at least one runner on base in every inning and runners in scoring position twice. It seemed that it was just a matter of time until they plated a few runs.

The Sox, however, could not put together the hits in the right order to score. Early in the game, Pedroia, Kotsay, and Bay were getting hits, but no one was driving them in. Later in the game, the bottom of the order was getting on base, but the top was not hitting. The result was that only one run was scored, on a sacrifice fly by Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Sox need a big rally tonight. David Ortiz, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek are all hitless in this series. Tonight, that needs to change. Papi has to cause some damage and bring some power back to the meat of the order. Ellsbury has to get on base and create problems for the defense. Lowrie needs to drive in runs, like he has done so well in the regular season. Varitek needs a rest, and will get one tonight as Wakefield is pitching. he has looked rather inept at the plate, and I think a night or two off to clear his head is in order. Not sure what to do about Papi, but we sure need that bat to come to life.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sox and Rays Empty All Barrels

Sox fans are feeling a bit queasy as they disembark the roller coaster ride that was game two of the ALCS. The night started when all of us Sox fans wearing our best red shirts with the blue "B"'s on them them boarded the roller coaster car. The ride started out fun as we climbed high up that first hill, lifted by a Jason Bay two run double. But the hill did not last long as we came soaring back down the other side when Josh Beckett gave up a two run, game tying home run to Evan Longoria.

Back up in the third on a Dustin Pedroia solo home run, and back down again when BJ Upton matched the feat and Carl Crawford singled to score Longoria and give the Rays a 4-3 lead. This ride was a real thriller. When Cliff Floyd homered to extend the Rays' lead to 5-3, we thought the ride might be over. But three home runs by the Red Sox in the 5th inning, by Pedroia, Youkilis, and Bay, shot the Red Sox back into the lead.

The thrill was short lived when the Rays scored 3 run of their own in the bottom of the 5th to regain a 2 run lead. We were dizzy, stressed, and begging for the ride attendant to stop the thing. The Sox came back, tied the game, and the end was no where in sight. Into the wee hours of the morning we flew up the hills, down the slopes, around the bends.

Then came the 11th inning. The ride attendant decided to end it for us and sent Mike Timlin in, the final reliever on the roster. Timlin walked the first two batters he faced, and we saw the final bend in the ride approaching. A ground out sent the runners to second and third and Iwamura was intentionally walked as we felt the brakes on the roller coaster car begin to engage. Finally the car pulled up to the exit platform and BJ Upton himself escorted us off the car with a soft sacrifice fly.

Off to bed we all went, the Dramamine long ago worn off. As we slept we could still feel our bodies flying up the hills and soaring back down. It was a restless sleep, and during the night I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamed that the Red Sox were in the ALCS on the brink of a potential second straight World Series appearance. But in the dream, the Sox had lost last year's ALCS MVP. Josh Beckett, in the dream, was ineffective, lacked confidence in his fastball, and got burned with home runs whenever he went after a batter.

Then I woke up, and the dream had come true.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who Wins the Battle of the Fans, Red Sox or Rays?

Anyone who has watched (or attended) Red Sox games hosted in Tampa Bay has been shocked, awed, and even overwhelmed by the huge amount of Red Sox support in "enemy territory". It is a similar situation in Baltimore, but not to the level that it is in Tampa.

You've all read various articles about the lack of enthusiasm of the Rays fan base, and their late arrival to the show. According to Ballparks of Baseball, Tropicana Field has a seating capacity of 43,772. If that is true, get this. The publicized attendance for the first two ALDS playoff games in Tropicana Field were 35,041 and 35,257. More people attended a mid-September game against the Red Sox (September 17 - attended by 36,048). That means the first two playoff games ever for the Rays had approximately 8,000 empty seats!!!

2008 is the very first season that the Rays have made the playoffs, and did it as AL East Champions. I for one, and very impressed, and if I were in Florida, I'd be incredibly excited about playoff baseball meaning something in my own home town. Where are all the Rays fans? Perhaps there are only 35,000 fans in total, who knows?

Anyway, what I am curious to see tonight, is whether or not the influx of Red Sox fans to the game fills the park, and what the ratio of Red Sox to Rays fans is. Don't you think it would be incredibly embarrassing to get overwhelming cheering and support for the Red Sox that drowns out the local support for the Rays in their own park?

To be honest, I wish that would not happen. It's just not right. The Rays have done something incredible this year, and deserve strong home crowd support. They should not have to suffer through an enormous cheer going up when a Sox player (JD Drew tonight?) hits a home run, or when a Rays player strikes out to end an inning. Not on their own field. Until the Rays fans can muster enough support to sell out a home playoff game, they do not deserve the title.

I know there are good Rays fans out there (at least 30,000 or so). Get out there and support your team!

That all said, a brief moment of business. I'm looking forward to these first two games. Dice-K is strong, healthy and rested. No excuses. He needs to pitch well, keep them in the game, and hopefully get through at least 6 innings, if not 7. Then, the big question will be how Josh Beckett looks in game 2. If we see the Beckett of last year's playoffs, we'll be in good shape. If he pitches like he did in the ALDS, I'm worried. We need to win at least one of those two games, and then return to Boston for 3 straight. We've played the Rays well in Boston, and we would have a chance to turn up the pressure. Losing both in Florida would not be fatal, but would turn this into a slow tug of war as they even it up back at home.

Let's get it on!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Josh Beckett Watch - Game 1 Starter?

I mentioned, buried deep in yesterday's post, what I am watching for regarding Josh Beckett. According to the Red Sox, Josh's health is fine, and his recent oblique strain had nothing to do with his sub-par performance in the ALDS. Apparently, we are simply dealing with some rust.

So, here's the deal on how to see through this. Aside from the fact that Jon Lester is the heir apparent, Josh Beckett is still the "ace" of the Red Sox staff. You want to start your ace in game 1, that is a no-brainer. In this case, we don't need to debate whether or not our ace is really Jon Lester, because starting Lester on Friday in game 1 would be using him on short rest, which is unnecessary at this point, and foolish.

So, the answer is easy. You start Josh Beckett in game 1, unless he is hurting. For Josh, he'd be going on normal 4 days of rest, and if rust is the only concern, getting him out there sooner is better than giving him extra rest. So, if Beckett starts Game 1, the team believes he is fine. If he gets pushed off, maybe he is hurting.

But, we have to consider one more thing, namely Daisuke Matsuzaka. We need Dice-K in the ALCS, and he last pitched on Friday. Starting Dice-K in Game 1 would put him on 6 days rest, which is roughly the norm in Japan. Starting him in Game 2 extends that to 7 days rest, and Game 3 pushes him out to 9 days rest. That is simply too much; it is important to stay sharp. So, I think Dice-K has to pitch game 1 or 2.

There you have it. Josh Beckett and Dice-K are your Game 1 and Game 2 starters. Who goes first? I would guess Dice-K first and then Beckett. That serves two purposes. First, Beckett (who none of us believes is truly fine physically) gets the benefit of one extra day of rest. Second, Dice-K gets to start on 6 days rest, and not 7.

Now, you must be screaming, "what about Lester, the hero of the ALDS?". Don't worry, we've got that covered. Lester starts Game 3, in Boston. That works out quite well, with the only possible drawback being that he will be on 6 days rest. Lester has pitched a lot of innings this year, and I think that the extra rest would be good, he sure is not rusty. But there is more.

Jon Lester has had more success at home compared to on the road (11-1 at home with a 2.49 ERA compared to 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA on the road). So, starting him out at home is a good idea. Also, Lester is 3-0 against the Rays this year in 3 starts, and all three of those starts have come in Fenway Park. That's right, Lester has yet to pitch in Tampa Bay this year. That all should make you feel good about starting him at home in Game 3.

Finally, this allows Lester to be available to pitch in Game 6 on normal rest, or Game 7 on 5 days rest.

So, here is what I would do:

Game 1: Dice-K
Game 2: Beckett
Game 3: Lester
Game 4: Wakefield/Byrd

Game 4 I'd start Wakefield on a short leash. He has stymied the Rays in the past, and he's gotten beaten as well. Start him off, and see how his stuff looks. If he looks sharp, ride him, if not, send Byrd in before the roof collapses.

Now, what about Game 5, 6, and 7? You know, that completely depends on how things have turned out up to now. Is Beckett healthy with no issues? Is he pitching sharp? How about Dice-K? Also, what is the situation? Is the series even 2-2, or are we on the brink of elimination, or the brink of clinching? Is this an emergency or not? Because of all that, I'd wait until after Game 4 to write Game 5's starter in pen. But, for fun, let's say, hypothetically, that the series is even 2-2, and everyone is pitching well and healthy. Based on that, here's what we do...

Game 5: Beckett

Remember, the assumption is he's healthy and pitching well. That puts Beckett on normal rest, and hopefully gets the Sox a win and puts them up 3-2, on the brink of clinching. Now, if Beckett were hurting, this start would go to Dice-K.

But, Game 6 might depend on how Game 5 went. If the Sox won Game 5, pitch Dice-K in Game 6. Why? That puts Dice-K on 7 days rest, and if he is pitching well, he'll be strong and need the work. He also fared better this season on the road, and Game 6 would be in Tampa. Holding him until Game 7 would put him on 8 days rest - too much? Also, if Dice-K can win Game 6, the Sox clinch, and Lester is set up to pitch Game 1 of the World Series in Fenway. Gotta like that! If not, Lester is your guy on the mound in the final Game 7 showdown.

Now, if they lose Game 5 and are down 2-3 and on the brink of being eliminated, I might think differently, but maybe not. If Dice-K was very effective in Game 1, I might want to stick with the strategy, knowing I'd have Lester in Game 7. However, loser goes home, so you might put Lester in Game 6 on normal 4 days of rest to help ensure there will be a Game 7. Then, Game 7 has to go to Dice-K; you just roll the Dice! Of course, in Game 7, it would be all hands on deck, so if Dice-K gets in trouble, you bring in everybody you can.

So, you can see, beyond Game 4, you really have to wait and see how things have gone. Remember in 2004? Derek Lowe was not in the starting rotation, he was relegated to the bullpen for the playoffs. But, guess who started Game 7 of the ALCS? Yes, Derek Lowe. That wasn't the plan, but plans change as the series progresses.

So, a final recap:

Game 1: Dice-K
Game 2: Beckett
Game 3: Lester
Game 4: Wakefield/Byrd
Game 5: Beckett (if Beckett were hurting, it would be Dice-K)
Game 6: Lester (if this is a Sox elimination game) / Dice-K (if this is a Sox clinching game)
Game 7: Lester/Dice-K (depending who went in Game 6)

You can picture how this all changes if there is an injury. Then you are looking at Byrd or Wake taking one of those slots, like Lowe did in 2004.

More to come, including an introduction of a much loved Fenway character.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mistake-Prone Angels Can't Get it Done

You've heard that pitching and defense wins championships? The Angels brought their pitching to the ALDS, but not so much their defense. As the Angels learned, mistakes are incredibly costly in the post-season. Last night, in the bottom of the 5th inning, the Red Sox had runners at first and third with one out. Jacoby Ellbury hit a text book double play ground ball to Howie Kendrick at second base. A double play ends the inning, and keeps the game scoreless. However, Kendrick, perhaps worried about Ellsbury's speed, rushes the play, bobbles the ball, and only manages to get one out at first base, allowing Mark Kotsay to score from third base, and Jason Varitek to move up to second.

Dustin PedroiaTrue story. I'm watching the game by myself and as Dustin Pedroia steps up the the plate, hitless so far in the playoffs, I look him in the eye while adopting my best Vito Corleone voice and say to the television, "Pedroia, I told you one day you would owe me a favor. Today is that day. Do this for me." Moments later, I leapt off the couch as Dustin lofted a shot off the Green Monster, sending Varitek home to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. Kendrick's mistake turned a scoreless inning into a 2-0 lead for the Sox, much to the obvious dismay of his starting pitcher, John Lackey. Favor repaid, Dustin!

Jon LesterJon Lester was amazing, yet again. I am always concerned when a team faces the same pitcher twice in such a short span, but Varitek and Lester worked a plan that kept the Angels guessing. I had my eye on the pitch count, not wanting to go to the bullpen at all if possible. Lester had thrown 96 pitches through 6 innings. Not great. But, Lester breezed through the 7th on 13 pitches, bringing his count to 109. Mid-season, that would be all. Give the shoulder a rest, and get your 8th inning guy out there. But, this is the playoffs, and the bullpen was gassed. So, I was shocked that he did not come out to at least get the 8th inning going. Lester had just retired 8 straight batters, and had shut down the Angels all night. A pit of dread settled into what had been elation only moments before, as I saw Hideki Okajima come in to face the top of the Angels order.

Okajima got the first two outs, but walked Mark Teixeira. With the Angel's big righties coming up, Francona played the odds and brought in Justin Masterson. This worried me even more. Masterson tried to stay away from Guerrero too much, and somehow walked the free swinger. A wild pitch then put runners on 2nd and 3rd, all set up for Tori Hunter's single to right to tie the game at 2. Images of 2004 flashed through my mind, recalling the Red Sox finally exorcising their demons with a huge come from behind rally over their nemesis, the Yankees. Were we witnessing the same for the Angels? Was this the hit that would ignite them? (I thought it was funny later when Masterson, in discussing his contributions, claimed credit for setting up the situation for Lowrie to hit the game winner).

No. Why? Mistakes! Masterson, not being very effective, came back out for the 9th and promptly gave up a double to Kendry Morales. Francona left him out there, correctly guessing the next batter was bunting anyway. Sure enough, a perfect bunt sent Morales to third base with one out, and Manny Delcarmen came in for Masterson. Now it gets fun. The Angles, loving to put pressure on a defense (unfortunately for them, the Sox defense was not making mistakes), decided to go for one of the most exciting plays in baseball, the suicide squeeze.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the suicide squeeze, here's what happens. The batter is told to bunt to score the runner from third. With a bunt, the ball will be close to home plate, so the runner is heading directly at the ball, thus the "suicide" part. In order for this to work, the runner has to take off with the pitch to get as big of a jump as possible, also part of the "suicide". If the batter fails to lay down the bunt, the runner is dead. Well, that last sentence just gave away the ending. Delcarmen threw a nasty 96 mph fastball right into Erick Aybar's gut. Aybar would love to bunt towards first, but that pitch is impossible to do that with. Regardless, the play is on and the runner is on his way, so Aybar takes a swipe at it and misses. The runner, Morales, was dead meat, halfway down the third base line. Jason Varitek caught the pitch cleanly and charged down the third base line like a mother rhino protecting her young. After a fake throw to third, 'Tek dove towards Morales, tagged him cleanly and landed on his chest in the dirt. The ball, after the glove contacted the ground, skipped away, but too late. The tag had been applied, the bases were clear, the threat was erased. Man, talk about exciting playoff ball.

Jason VaritekNow I thought, maybe we can win this. Maybe the Angels are just too tense, too nervous, thinking too much about their own demons to win. Ninth inning. JD Drew strikes out - not his night to be a hero. Jason Bay then sends a shot down the right field line. Another Angels mistake. The right fielder, Reggie Willits, tries to be a hero and dives at the ball, but he never stood a chance. He landed on his face as the ball shot past. He did catch a break when the ball bounced up into the stands for a ground rule double. Had the ball stayed fair, he would have had a long run to chase it down, and Bay would surely have ended the series with an inside the park home run! But, alas, Bay was forced to stop at second base.

Up steps Mark Kotsay. Now, Mark's wife's grandmother has just passed away, and Mark is in Boston, fighting for his team, but missing the funeral. He has had a terrific night, making two terrific outfield-like defensive plays at first base, and scoring the first run of the game. This one felt right. Another true story. I looked to the sky and implored to his wife's grandmother. I said, "Grammy, you know he wanted to be there for you. Help him honor your memory, help him put some power into his bat". Sure enough, Grammy sends a jolt of spiritual energy shooting into the bat (you could see the blue flame on high-def), and Kotsay rips a shot down the 1st base line heading towards the corner, sure to score Bay from second easily. But, using angels to battle the Angels does not work. Mark Teixeira must have an angel of his own, because his body lunged with cobra-like speed to his left, and with his body fully stretched, the ball somehow snapped into his glove for out number two. Luckily the play happened so fast that Jason Bay had no time to take off from second.

Remember Hank Steinbrenner whining that the Yankees failure this year was all due to injury? All that money apparently cannot allow them to buy enough depth to overcome that. Hopefully he watched last night as the Sox moved ahead to the ALCS, even though they had to suffer through injuries. Mike Lowell has been officially put on the injured list and is out for the next series too. The starting shortstop, Julio Lugo, has been out for months and will miss the playoffs. JD Drew missed most of September, Josh Beckett was reduces to one start in the ALDS from an oblique injury. How'd that work with the Sox missing the 2007 ALCS MVP at full strength, and their starting left side of the infield out? It worked pretty well.

Jason Bay ScoresJed Lowrie, a minor league call-up, filling in at shortstop, and playing in his first post-season, stepped up to the plate in the 9th inning, two outs, and Jason Bay at second. Lowrie did not carry a bat to the plate. He carried a pen, and he used that pen to write his name on the pages of Red Sox lore. The Angles were still pumped up from Teixeira's terrific catch (finally, some clutch defense) when Lowrie's sharp ground ball found the hole between first and second base. Jason Bay was waved home, running faster with each step. In what took a split second to us mere mortals, must have lasted minutes to Bay. Like in those dreams when you are trying to run, but never seem to get closer, that's what home plate must have looked like to Bay. But, run he did, and as he approached, he dove with every ounce of power in his body, slapped the plate with his left hand, and flew into the arms of his new, proud, teammates.

I felt all along that, if the Sox were to have hopes of repeating, they'd have to go through the Angels at some point. I'm glad it was in a short 5 games series. The big 7 game series is looming now, and it is against our very own AL East Rays! Can you believe it?

I know, everyone is wondering, "is Josh Beckett hurting, or is he truly healthy, like they want us to believe?". Well, here is how you can tell. The first game of the ALCS is this Friday. Josh Beckett is the Red Sox ace (apologies to Lester who has become at least a co-ace). Beckett pitched on Sunday, and his next regular start on 4 days rest would be Friday. Having your ace start in the first game of a series is the best possible scenario. So, here's how you tell if Beckett is truly healthy. If he gets the start Friday, he's healthy (or has fooled the Sox medical staff). If he is not healthy, and would benefit from more rest and rehab, then he won't get the start. Simple as that.

We WinI love this time of year! What a series - thank you LAA Angels! You made this tough, fun, and incredibly entertaining. Head home, heads held high, and get ready to do it again next year. By the way, don't be foolish and let Teixeira get away - you need him.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Monday, October 6, 2008

No Angels in the Outfield

If you haven't noticed, there certainly are no "angels" in the outfield. The Angels beat the Red Sox last night in their 12th try in the 12th inning (hmm), and it was in spite of, not because of the outfield. In game 1, we saw a Jacoby Ellsbury drive result in an error-induced triple. Last night, a lazy, high fly ball dropped harmlessly in mid-center field with two outs. What should have been an inning-ending catch turned into a bases clearing 3 run triple. Maybe it is just Ellsbury knowing where their weak spots are.

Poor OutfieldingSo, I spent this weekend in the deep remote woods of Maine, well out of contact with the rest of mankind. When we finally re-emerged back into civilization, I was pleasantly shocked to learn the Sox won game two of the series thanks to a JD Drew 2 run home run in the ninth. "My God", I thought, "now the poor Angels have to face Josh Beckett in a must win playoff game". Well, we've seen it all season long, but no one in Red Sox Nation has been quite willing to fully admit it. The 2008 Josh Beckett is not the 2007 version.

Right from the first batter, it looked like Beckett was not on. He looked (to me) tentative with his fastball, and throwing more breaking pitches than usual. Some of those were terrific, but his game was not the same we saw in last year's playoffs. But, I give him credit for fighting and battling through it. But, when we saw Vladimir Guerrero actually draw a walk, you knew things were not good. But, the Angels have been unafraid of Beckett all season, and last night was no exception.

Josh BeckettYes, the Red Sox lost, but we all knew the streak of 11 straight playoff victories against the Angels had to come to an end eventually, right? We knew they had good pitching, and last night they out pitched the Sox. Yes, Angels starter, Joe Saunders, gave up 4 earned runs, just like Beckett, but three of those were unearned in my eyes, thanks to the outfield blunder mentioned earlier. Had they made that catch, the Sox lose 4-1, which is pretty much how the game played out.

With Dustin Pedroia, Big Papi, Jason Bay, and Mike Lowell all going hitless, the Sox were not going to do a whole lot of scoring. With the score tied in the ninth, and in extra innings, someone has to score. They came close in the 10th, loading the bases with a single and two walks, but Jed Lowrie's line drive to right center field did not find the gap, but found leather instead. Terry Francona threw every batter from the bench into the game, looking for lightning in one of those bottles, but all bottles were empty. Only Sean Casey remained on the bench. Of course, now we can all wonder what would have happened had Casey gone in, but there is not much point in that. That is simply one possible past that never took place.

Mike LowellSo, what next? First step, sit Mike Lowell down. He's obviously a valiant warrior who wants so badly to help us win, but in his current state, he cannot. He needs rest, and we need take him out of further harm's way. Next, get JD Drew back in right. He's a talented hitter who saved game two, and we need that bat in the game. Then, watch Jon Lester pitch in his favorite location, on the Fenway Park mound. The Sox need to lock this series down tonight, with their best pitcher, at home. If not, how comfortable do you feel about facing the Angels on the west coast with Dice-K on the mound? 50/50? We need to simply lock this one up, now that we still have the Angels on the ropes, and get a small rest before moving forward. One tip to Lester...cover first base! The Sox missed out on two putout opportunities due to Beckett being slow to first, and on one play, Youk killed himself to make a play solo, just to make sure of the out. Come on guys - fundamentals.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Observations After Red Sox ALDS Game 1 Victory

Game one actually played out much like I had expected, and hoped, it would. Jon Lester pitched a great game, but he did have me worried in the first inning. He was missing his spots, falling behind in the count, throwing too many first pitch balls, and walked a batter to load the bases with 2 outs. I was confident he'd get out of the jam (since there were two outs), but if this was how he was going to pitch the whole game, we were doomed.

Jon LesterThankfully, Lester and Varitek kept making adjustments, Lester's command got tighter, and his pitch selection worked incredibly well. As hoped, Lester kept the Angel's score down (only 1 unearned run), and got through 7 innings. I was initially surprised to see Justin Masterson become the first Sox pitcher out of the bullpen. But, Masterson's delivery can be tough on right handed batters. The Angels featured a stretch of right handed batters in the middle of the lineup, partly thanks to facing a lefty starter, and Masterson would be a good choice to confound them. You have to tip your hat to Masterson. His very first playoff appearance, facing the meat of the Angels lineup in the 8th inning of a 2-1 game; Mark Teixeira, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tori Hunter, right off the bat.

Well, Masterson survived, and probably boosted his confidence, but he did not dominate. Teixeira lofted a line drive that looked like a sure hit until Jacoby Ellsbury made a sensational diving catch to rob him of the hit. Then, Vlad lined a single to left, before making a huge base running error. With Vlad on first, Tori Hunter floated a Texas Leaguer over first base into no man's land. JD Drew charged in from right, Dustin Pedroia ran over from second, and Kevin Youkilis backpedaled from first base. Youk came the closest, but could not snare it. In a move that appeared to be half in frustration, Youk snatched the ball up in a second with his glove and turned toward the infield. His eyes must have lit up as he saw Vladimir lumbering to third base like a bison already riddled with arrows from an Indian hunting party. The throw arrived in time for Mike Lowell to do some stretching before making the tag. The gaff gave the Angels their second out, and Masterson quickly induced a ground ball to finish the scoreless inning.

The Red Sox are too well focused in the playoffs and will not let the Angels get away with mistakes like that. Reminded me of the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series - good team, but just could not put it together to score, and made dumb mistakes to keep themselves out of it.

Jonathan Papelbon did not disappoint in the 9th. He gave up a sharp single, but struck out three batters to seal the win.

Jason BayThe non-pitching stars of the game for Boston were Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Bay. Jason Bay, looking foolish in his first two at-bats, both strike outs, drove Youk (who had walked) home in the 6th with a 2 run home run. Bay followed that with a double in the 8th inning.

But, Jacoby Ellsbury brought it last night. The Angels approach was to leverage speed, aggressive base running, solid defense, and keep the pressure on the defense constantly. Well, Ellsbury must have been listening in to those strategy meetings! He lead of the game with a double, but got stranded at third base. Then in the 3rd inning, his speed prevented the Angels from turning an inning ending double play. With Ellsbury on first, Lackey was so worried about a steal that he ended up walking Pedrioa. Again, no run scored, but the pressure was being applied. The pressure continued in the 5th inning when Ellsbury bunted his way on base with two outs, and then easily stole second, only to be stranded again. Then in the 7th, with two outs, Ellsbury hit a triple to right center (that was ruled an error but shouldn't have). This time Big Papi stranded him.

Jacoby EllsburyEllsbury's pressure final caused the Angels to crumble in the 9th inning when he hit a single to drive in Jed Lowrie, and then stole second base for the second time. This inning, he was not stranded. Ellsbury advanced to 3rd on a Pedroia groundout, and scored on a David Ortiz single.

Mike Lowell and JD Drew, our two injury concerns, both played all 9 innings, surprisingly. Each time a ball was hit to Lowell, I cringed, then breathed a sigh of relief as each play turned out to be routine, and did not require any awkward bending, twisting, or diving. Neither player did very much, both going hitless in 4 bats. But, they both got the work in, both got a chance to improve their timing, and both got a test their injuries in a live game situation. I think JD Drew looks physically solid, and is likely to have an impact. Mike Lowell did nothing wrong, but he kind of looked like he could go down at any minute. Let's hope not.

So, the Sox are in the position they wanted. The Angels look down the road and see Josh Beckett, who is still a go, waiting to face them in game in Boston. That is a game they have to be worried about. A loss to Daisuke Matsuzaka tomorrow night would make game 3 against Beckett a potential series ending sweep. So, clearly tomorrow's game is a must win for the Angels. That puts additional pressure on a starting pitcher who has not pitched well in September and is trying to regain his dominance. Well, trial by fire tomorrow night.

The match up I'm looking forward to is Dice-K against Vladimir Guerrero. Dice-K like to keep the ball away from batters and has no problem risking a walk. Meanwhile, Vlad does not know the meaning of walk. He'll jump across home plate to attack a pitch. I am not sure Dice-K could walk him if he tried. Should be a fun match up. For Dice-K to keep the ball away from Guerrero's bat, who knows where he'll have to throw it.

The Sox were successful this year by different players stepping up, almost in a rotation, to have big games. Last night, some regular heroes were a bit quiet at the plate; Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and even Big Papi (9th inning ground ball was far short of his typical fireworks). So, I'd watch for them to have a bigger impact, as well as JD!

Final note - the Angels' middle of the order looks tough. Last night, each time those three came up (Teixeira, Guerero, and Hunter) at least TWO of them reached base, every time! in the first inning they went, single, fly out, walk. In the 3rd it was, strike out, reach on error, RBI single. In the 5th, single, single, ground out. Finally, in the 8th, they went, fly out (diving catch by Ellsbury), single, single (during which, Vlad got thrown out at 3rd). Dice-K, and the rest of the Sox pitching staff need to take heed. This is a dangerous threesome.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Playoffs Kickoff Today! WWRD?

WWRD (What Would Rooster Do)? Okay, this series is going to be tough. The Angels are the top team in the American, which is hard to argue given their 100-62 record. The addition of Mark Teixeira to the lineup has given them more offense, but they are still a team that likes to be aggressive on the base paths and put pressure on opposing defenses with frequent displays of small ball. Their pitching across the board, and been very good, particularly in the bullpen. So, where do we go from here?

Okay, first of all, the Sox do not want to let the Angels take control of the game with small ball. To do that, they need to keep the Angels off the bases. Jon Lester is an excellent option for the first game. Being a lefty, he can also keep a sharper eye on runners at first base. So, I think the strategy to focus on is defense. The Sox need to give Lester all the support they can. Mike Lowell is the Red Sox' best option at third base, but he is still hobbled. Unless the medical staff indicates he is near 100%, I'd sit Mike and reserve him for pinch hitting duty. We all saw Lowell come up lame when he had to field a slow grounder barehanded and make the quick throw to first. The Angels saw that too. They know he is vulnerable to a bunt. We do not want to open that door for them, nor do we want Lowell to re-aggravate the injury on the first inning of the first game.

Instead, play Jed Lowrie at third, with Alex Cora at shortstop. That is their best defense on the left side of the infield right now. That also allows Kevin Youkilis to play first, where he is having a gold glove caliber year. First base will be important, and Sean Casey and Mark Kotsay are only adequate backups there. Of course, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek round out the infield.

The question in the outfield is JD Drew. Drew claims he is 100% ready. The Sox definitely need some power in the batting order, and Drew is a very good outfielder, so I'd be inclined to use him in right. The only worry I have for Drew is his lack of playing time this September causing his timing to not be sharp yet. I am encouraged that he got two tune up games in before the season ended, but he did nothing special in those games. It is a bit of a chance, but we've seen the impact his bat can have in the post season.

So, obviously Jason Bay plays left field. Who is in center? That's easy, Jacoby Ellsbury. Coco Crisp went on a tear in early September, but has cooled off since then. From September 9th until the end of the season, Crisp only had 8 hits, batting .210 with 3 doubles, but no triples or home runs, and he also had no stolen bases. Contrast that with Ellsbury who ended the season with a 16 game hitting streak going back to September 10th. In that time, Ellsbury had 28 hits batting .389 with 2 home runs, 1 triple, 7 doubles, and 5 stolen bases. They are reasonably close defensively, so clearly the nod goes to Ellsbury.

Then, you manage the game situations. Crisp is now available to pinch run in late game situations, or to take over for Drew if Drew's back flares up. Sean Casey and Mark Kotsay are available to pinch hit in late innings with the game on the line, as well as Mike Lowell. If we are ahead in the game, keep the solid defense all the way. If we are tied or trailing, try firing those bigger guns to get the late inning lead.

Lastly, what about John Lackey, the Angels starter? I just can't get to worried about that somehow. Lackey has had a good year, but not a great year. This season he went 12-5 with a 3.75 ERA. That is good, but last year he had a 19-9 record with a 3.01 record. That is better. Last year the Sox rolled over Lackey in the playoffs. But, this year Lackey beat Boston twice in two starts. At home he went 7 innings and gave up 3 runs, and in Boston he went 9 innings giving up only 2 late game runs. And yet, in his last regular season start, he got destroyed by Texas giving up 10 earned runs in less than 3 innings.

So, which Lackey are we going to see? Who knows. But, I would be surprised if the Sox do not get to Lackey at least by the 6th inning. But, if you are concerned about Lackey, I'll support your concern with this tidbit. In 2008, only three Red Sox batters have gotten a hit off of Lackey, and one of those three is Manny Ramirez (who went 2 for 5). That's right. Dustin Pedroia is 3 for 6, and Kevin Youkilis is 2 for 7. No other Red Sox batter has a single hit against Lackey in 2008. Granted, Jason Bay, Jed Lowrie, and Coco Crisp have yet to face Lackey this year, so perhaps there is a surprise coming from one of them?

So, you are armed and ready. Nothing left for us to do but watch, cheer, and be fascinated by the unfolding events. The Red Sox have historically been part of some incredibly exciting and memorable playoff moments. The 1975 World Series. The 1986 comeback against the Angels in the ALCS, and the dramatic World Series loss to the Mets. The 1999 ALDS battle with Cleveland, the 2003 dramatic loss to the Yankees, and the 2004 incredible comeback for revenge. Even last year, we watched as the Sox, behind Josh Beckett, erased a 3-1 game deficit to the Indians to go on to win a second 21st century World Series. I don't necessarily expect another World Series this year, but I do expect some excitement.

Let the games begin!