July 2010


David Ortiz Topps 2004

What have we learned? We've learned to never, ever walk a guy to face David Ortiz.

I’ll set the scene for you.

It’s just before 8 p.m., and I’m on I-495 headed back to my luxurious studio apartment in New Bedford, listening to the end of Saturday’s Red Sox-Tigers game. The Sox are down 4-2, with one out in the ninth inning, and lefty Phil Coke is on the mound for Detroit.

Darnell McDonald is on first, and Jed Lowrie is called upon to pinch hit for Eric Patterson. Lowrie rips a double off the wall in center field, advancing McDonald to second base.

Now, with one out and first base open, Tigers manager Jim Leyland walks Kevin Youkilis, which does a couple of things. For the Tigers, it sets up a force out at every base and gives Leyland a favorable lefty-lefty matchup. For Boston, it puts the winning run on first base, and that lefty up to bat against Coke?

David Ortiz. Damn right.

Now, on paper, this isn’t the worst idea in the world. Ortiz had faced Coke 10 times leading up to this at bat, and he was 0-for-10 with one walk and three strike outs. But today, Ortiz was facing Coke the day after drilling a grand slam in the ninth to cut a 6-1 Tigers lead 6-5. He’s very much Big Papi, and I was getting visibly giddy to anyone who drove by me in the car.

According to the play-by-play, the first pitch was a ball. The second, also a ball. Coke threw a fastball on the outer half of the plate that Ortiz knicked for a foul. And then he drilled that motherfucker to left field. In the alley, three runs score, Sox win 5-4, and I’m losing my mind in the car, punching the roof, hopping up and down on the seat, and screaming. Screaming!

When the coverage cut to commerical, I quickly queued up my iPod to the Standells’ “Dirty Water.” And I cranked it. And I played it again when it finished.

I turned it back to hear the wrap-up show, and Red Sox radio man Dave O’Brien had this gem for the masses:

In the end, the Red Sox had David Ortiz and the Tigers didn’t.

David Ortiz. Big Papi. Damn right.

♦ ♦ ♦

With this win, the Red Sox find themselves in third place in the American League East, 7½ games behind the Yankees and 5½ behind the Rays. They’ve dealt with a string of injuries, a faltering bullpen, and, most ridiculously, charges of being boring.

This team is anything but boring. Missing Jacoby Ellsbury for most of the season, losing Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek for a good chunk of the summer and going without, at different points, Clay Buccholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the starting rotation. Through all that, that they’re only 5½ games out of a playoff spot is amazing, and the cast that has brought them this far has made for more than their share of excitement.

For example:

  • Ortiz: He was buried and left for dead, and is pulling his best Uma Thurman to terrorize the American League. As of this day, he’s looking at 22 home runs, 71 RBI and a .905 OPS. He’s a machine again, and if he let me, I’d kiss him on the mouth. You read that right.
  • Darnell McDonald: He’s played more games this year than his entire career combined, he hit a home run and a walk-off single in his first game, and he just keeps delivering big hit after big hit. I can’t think of an easier Sock to root for in recent memory.
  • Clay Buccholz: He’s come on this season like a big goofy Texas tornado. I love the guy.
  • Jed Lowrie: Seemingly back from Area 51, he’s been huge the past two weeks. He might have a starting spot in the infield waiting for him next season.
  • Jon Lester: Just nasty. Nasty!
  • Daniel Bard/Jonathan Papelbon: Their best one-two punch in the bullpen since they won the World Series in 2007.
  • Daniel Nava: He’s overrated now, but his debut was one to remember.
  • Billy Hall: He’s done everything but catch, play first and sell hot dogs.
  • Jason Varitek: Settling comfortably into a backup role, seems to hit a home run or a double every time he’s up.
  • Adrian Beltre: His one-knee home runs will never get old.

They are infuriating to watch at times, as they’ve blown their share of close games. They’ve also pulled out games they had no business winning, with a bizarre cast of characters contributing to this win. They’re the very definition of rag-tag, playing out of position, playing over their heads and coming together to keep this team in the race in the face of adversity.

They might not make the playoffs, but they’re definitely fun. And they’re anything but boring.

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John Lackey 2010 Topps with Red Sox

Awww. This hurts Angels fans' feelings.

John Lackey pitched in front of his old fans against his old team last night, and he was pretty solid. He went 7.1 innings, gave up two runs on two hits, struck out four, and most importantly, did enough to line up a 4-2 win for the Red Sox, who were facing Jered Weaver, one of the best pitchers in the American League this year.

Also notable, he was booed by the Angels fans.

I’m on record as stating that when a fan base does this, it’s borderline retarded. It was stupid when Red Sox fans booed Johnny Damon, it will be stupid when Cleveland fans boo LeBron James, and so on. Whether or not it’s stupid won’t ever change. But this doesn’t always happen. Pedro Martinez, during his return to Fenway Park with the Mets, was cheered. When Mike Lowell returned to Miami with the Red Sox for the first time, he was cheered. There are probably more examples of the athletes who were good guys in their first (or previous) city getting a warm welcome upon his return. Hell, Vladimir Gurerro was cheered when he returned to Anaheim with the Texas Rangers. It surprised me that Lackey didn’t receive that same response.

I was pointed to his Baseball Reference page by Jon Couture this afternoon, and the sponsor of the page really brought the insanity of this whole situation home:

Benedict Arnold: John Lackey won game 7 of the World Series as a rookie, and game one of the 2009 ALDS to begin a 3 game sweep. Then he betrayed the Angels for an 82 million dollar payout.

That’s … beautiful. It just ignores so many facts, is so stupid and displays such naivete and a lack of understanding of the entire process that I want to kiss the writer on the mouth.

Let’s recap, quickly. Here’s what John Lackey did from 2002-2009 as a member of the Angels:

  • Won 102 games.
  • Pitched in four postseasons.
  • Averaged 188 innings pitched per season (and 199 after his rookie season, where he didn’t pitch until June).
  • Averaged 162 strikeouts per season after 2003.
  • Shut down the Yankees and Red Sox in the playoffs in 2009.
  • Yes, won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie, which by my count is still the only championship trophy on their proverbial mantle.

After this, here’s what the Angels did in the offseason:

  • Tried to trade for Roy Halladay (but who wouldn’t at least try?).
  • Failed to offer Lackey a competitive contract. He then signed with the Red Sox, which was his right as a free agent, lest you forget.
  • Also lost Chone Figgins, who I guess is a lying murderous traitor, too.

Lackey took the high road for the most part, but did have a gem of a comment:

“That won’t be forgotten, for sure. No one wants to get booed like that. Scoreboard talks the loudest.”

It shouldn’t be forgotten. Angels fans, though the years, have built up a reputation as one of the kinder, happier, more accepting fan bases in the country — a West Coast St. Louis, if you will. But on this night, Angels fans revealed that they’re not any more accepting or special than anyone else — they’re just as stupid and gutless as the rest of us.

Andre Dawson 1994 Topps Gold

This is how I will always remember the Hawk, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I haven’t heard too many people refer to Andre Dawson as “former Red Sox outfielder Andre Dawson” this past weekend, and for good reason. Over two seasons in Boston, he only played in 196 games, spent only 20 of them in right field, and hit only 20 home runs to go with a .297 on base percentage. Yes, his first home run with the Sox was number 400 (when 400 home runs still meant something), and he was a good guy in the clubhouse — you can’t spin around without finding someone who notes what a great guy he was.

Rightfully so, he’s remembered for his time in Montreal and Chicago. He was a dynamic outfielder, he was fast, he hit for power, he was a leader and he took a bullet financially during the collusion era, agreeing to play for the Cubs for minimum wage so he could escape the concrete playing surface of Montreal’s Stade Olymique. His supporters will point to his gold gloves, his 438 home runs, his 314 stolen bases and his 12 knee surgeries as proof of his worthiness to the Hall. His detractors will call attention to his lifetime .323 on base percentage and his low walk totals as not being good enough for induction. I fall in with the former group, myself.

But, for me, I’m not going to his numbers or his power arm in right field when I reach into my own memory banks. He spent the best part of his career at a time when I didn’t have much contact with the National League outside of box scores, books and baseball cards. He came to the Red Sox after six great years with the Cubs, where he hit home runs no. 225 through 399. It was his favorite stretch of his career.

Boston was rough on Dawson. His knees were pretty much gone at this point, leaving him stuck at DH and in and out of the lineup. I can remember, more than once, watching as Dawson would hit an early-inning double and then immediately be lifted for a pinch-runner. He could still hit better than the alternatives available (Bob Zupcic? Carlos Quintana?), but not like he used to.

I remember feeling bad for him at times, watching him try to soldier on despite the fact that he wasn’t the same player that earned the Hall of Fame reputation, at least physically. But I liked him quite a bit. I watched how he interacted with guys like Mike Greenwell and Mo Vaughn in the dugout. I rooted for him every time he stiffly strode to the batter’s box, and cheered when he’d get on base.

I knew I was watching a great at the end of the line, playing for a team that wasn’t likely to make the playoffs. He couldn’t play every day at that point, and his run with the Sox ended with the 1994 strike. It couldn’t have been the route he envisioned when he signed with Boston in the winter of 1992.

But he played on, never seeming to complain outwardly, and that stuck with me. It wasn’t a great run, but I was glad I got to see as much of Dawson as I did, at a pivotal time for me as a baseball fan. I was 11 years old, just starting to move from casual to obsessed in fandom, and I spent that summer watching a classy hitter and a true professional. The Hawk who could gun down runners at the plate on a line was a bedtime story, but the Hawk who gritted his teeth through bad knees on a bad team was my reality.

Worthy or unworthy stats aside, I’m glad that player was inducted into the Hall of Fame yesterday.

Jed Lowrie 2009 Topps

How great was it to see Lowrie back at shortstop?

Despite the Sox’ loss to the Oakland A’s on Wednesday night (where Clay Buccholz made his return from the disabled list), I found something to be very, very excited about.

Jed Lowrie made his way back from the wilderness of the 60-day disabled list to start at short stop. And wouldn’t you know it, he had himself a nice little game — he went 1-for-2 at the plate with an RBI and two walks, was patient enough to see 26 pitches, and from what I was able to see, looked pretty comfortable at shortstop, giving Marco Scutaro a rare day off.

Lowrie first won me over when he came up and took over shortstop from Julio Lugo midway through 2008 and played pretty well, posting a .739 OPS over 81 games and solidifying the position in time for the playoffs. I had high hopes going into the 2009 season.

Then came the injuries, and ’09 became a lost year.

Lowrie started the season by breaking his wrist almost immediately, and was on the disabled list by April 13. He had surgery, tried to come back, and re-aggravated the injury, which kept him out of the lineup until rosters expanded to 40 by September. Of course, by then he’d lost his job to Alex Gonzalez (brought over from Cincinnati). He did manage to hit a grand slam on the last day of the year, though, when he came in to play third base for Kevin Youkilis. But his wrist still hadn’t totally healed, and he didn’t have a feel for the game yet.

In the off season, the Sox signed Scutaro to a two-year deal, brought in Adrian Beltre to play third and Bill Hall to roam the infield as a utility guy. Clearly, the team didn’t have too much faith that Lowrie would be able to contribute.

And sure enough, Lowrie was diagnosed with Mono before the start of the season, and it was back to the disabled list.

In light of injuries to Dustin Pedroia, most of the outfield and even Mike Lowell, that Lowrie is back and (possibly?) contributing is huge. And as a fan, I love it. I didn’t expect him to come back this soon, or at all, but he’s an easy guy to root for.

Today, the Red Sox traded a player-to-be-named-later for Seattle infielder Jack Hannahan, and ESPN’s Buster Olney thinks that it could signal the end of Lowrie’s days in Boston. Selfishly, I hope that’s not the case. But if it is, I’m glad that my last memory of him in Boston won’t be as just a listing of type under a roll call of the Sox’ injured.

But that’s getting ahead of things. Lowrie’s back, he’s healthy, and it looks like his career is back on track. For everyone involved, that’s fantastic.

Photo by Peter Pereira

Sporting fell on penalty kicks, but the event was a winner. Photo by Peter Pereira. (Click through for a full gallery)

I have never had the pleasure of seeing a football game in Europe, mostly due to the fact that I’ve never been to Europe.

But what I saw Tuesday night, though a preseason friendly, might as well have been a Champions League game.

Sporting CP, one of the Portuguese Liga’s Big Three and my dad’s favorite team, took on Celtic FC in Fenway Park at the inaugural “Football at Fenway” event, and I’m still at a loss at how to describe how fantastic this event truly was.

It’s hard to get good soccer in America on any sort of a consistent basis. Just the night before, I took in the New England Revolution in a SuperLiga match, and it was OK at best. I fully support MLS and the Revolution, but it’s so hard to enjoy a game in Gillette Stadium, with 10,000 people situated on one side of a 65,000 seat stadium. The atmosphere isn’t there, the fans outside of the Fort aren’t particularly rowdy, and it leaves everyone wanting more.

At Fenway, atmosphere was not an issue. The park itself always brings a cozy, awe-inspiring feeling, but add to that about 32,000 crazies decked out in green and white (the team lucked out with both sides featuring green and white stripes on their home kit; Sporting donned their black away shirts for the game), chanting, holding up scarves, screaming, drinking, and having a great time.

I sat in the Sporting supporter section, otherwise known as the right field bleachers during Red Sox games, with about five family members and a few thousand folks who live for nights like this.

Soccer, more than any other sport, thrives on emotion, and there was no denying its presence here. This was a night for the passionate. Celtic won on penalty kicks, which left us disappointed, but the prior two hours weren’t quickly forgotten or rendered irrelevant. On this night, it was a chance for thousands of fans, of both sides, to pay tribute to their heroes from across the pond, an acknowledgment of how much sports can mean even with so much distance between the club and the fan.

Both clubs paid their supporters back by playing one of the more spirited friendlies you’ll ever see. Well, hopefully you saw it. As weird as it was to see a soccer pitch laid out on the Fenway grass, the vibe from the stands wasn’t too far removed from the late September pennant push.

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