Thursday, July 31, 2008
Well this has gotten ugly fast, eh? The Boston Red Sox' 2008 season is going down faster than a line of coke at a party in Hollywood.
The Angels (67-40) embarrassed the Sox one last time at Fenway, 9-2 last night to sweep the series and take eight out of nine against Boston (61-48) this season.
Left-hander Joe Saunders (14-5) joined Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb and Aaron Cook as the only 14-game winners in MLB. Saunders went six innings, allowing two runs on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
Sox starter Josh Beckett (9-8) had a disastrous outing as he allowed eight runs (seven earned) on 11 hits in 5.1 innings with eight strikeouts and a walk.
Vlad Guerrero (2 hits, run, RBI) started it off with an RBI single in the fourth. Garret Anderson-who has absolutely killed the Sox this year-added a two-run single to make it 3-0 in the fourth. Anderson finished 4-for-5 with four RBIs.
Boston's only sign of life was provided by Coco Crisp as he knocked in Jason Varitek with a two-run homer over the monster in the fifth.
The Angels scored five runs in the sixth to knockout Beckett and the Sox. Anderson had a two-run bomb that just wrapped around Pesky's Pole. Jeff Mathis had an RBI double. Mathis scored on Jed Lowrie's error and Maicer Izturis knocked in Chone Figgins (3 hits, run, steal) with a sacrifice fly.
Torii Hunter (2 hits, 3 runs, RBI, walk) homered in the ninth off Justin Masterson.
Boston has today off and the Oakland A's come to town tomorrow night for a three-game set. Hopefully everyone can get away from Fenway for the day and try to regroup. The Red Sox are three games behind the Rays and only a game ahead of the Yankees.
Tampa Bay has yet to add a bat-which is imperative-but the Yankees have made two great trades in the last week. First they got Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady from the Pirates in exchange for four minor-leaguers and then yesterday they traded Kyle Farnsworth for Pudge Rodriguez. With those, they addressed a bunch of needs: lefty reliever, outfielder, catcher.
Today is baseball's trading deadline and the Manny Ramirez rumors have reached a fever pitch. Last night, there were reports that there was a three team deal that would send Manny to the Marlins and Pirates outfielder Jason Bay and reliever John Grabow to the Red Sox.
Despite Manny's latest verbal assaults yesterday, claiming that the Red Sox "don't deserve a player like me," I think they'll realize they can't get enough value in return and keep him around for the rest of the season. The question is if he's going to stay interested and not bail out on the team in the middle of a pennant race? In a perfect world, everything will work itself out and Manny will decide to play for Boston the rest of the season. Otherwise, pick up his option in the offseason and trade his ass.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The 2008 Red Sox are hitting a crossroads in the season as they lost to the Angels, 6-2 last night at Fenway.
Los Angeles (66-40) starter John Lackey (9-2)-formerly a complete bum against the Sox-came two outs away from throwing a no-hitter. Dustin Pedroia broke up the no-no and Kevin Youkilis followed that with a two-run bomb to make the score respectable but make no mistake about it: Boston (61-47) is reeling right now.
Lackey walked two and struck out four while throwing a manly 120 pitches.
The Angels got two in the third and fourth off Sox starter Clay Buchholz (2-6). Chone Figgins had an RBI single and Maicer Izturis walked with the bases loaded in the third. Garret Anderson hit a two-run homer to right in the fourth.
Howie Kendrick added a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Izturis reached on a bases loaded, infield single. Buchholz left after 6.1 innings, having allowed six runs on six hits with three walks and five strikeouts.
The loss, coupled with the Angels' acquisition yesterday of Mark Teixiera, quickly vaulted Los Angeles to frontrunner status in not only the American League but all of baseball.
You name it and the Angels have it now. Starting pitching? Yes. Bullpen? Yep. Good lineup with some pop? Yes sir. Manager? Sure. The AL West is all but wrapped up so we know the Angels will be playing in October.
The question is who will join them? The Rays, Red Sox and Yankees appear to be pretty much on the same level. All good teams that can get hot but each has a big weakness(es). The White Sox and Twins are in another heated race in the Central so it'll take some work for Boston to make the playoffs.
The pieces are there of course for the Sox, they simply need a little tinkering and some more arms in the bullpen. It would be a big mistake for management to stubbornly stick with exactly the same cast in the bullpen that they currently have. It seems like the latest Manny Ramirez melodrama has effected the rest of the team. There's no fire.
This could all change with a win tonight and the A's coming to town this weekend. The trade deadline is tomorrow and the Sox can't stand pact when teams around them (New York and Los Angeles) have gotten noticeably better through deals.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
After winning its sixth game in a row against the Red Sox last night (6 out of 7 this season), the Los Angeles Angels are looking pretty legit.
Their preference of small-ball has fallen apart in recent playoff history but they used the long ball to their advantage in last night's 7-5 win at Fenway.
Dice-K (11-2) went five innings, giving up six earned runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
The better Weaver-Jered (9-8)-was good enough to win. He lasted 5.2 innings, giving up three runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
Los Angeles (65-40) took a 1-0 lead in the second on Juan Rivera's sacrifice fly. Boston (61-46) came back with two in the fourth on Manny Ramirez's two-run single.
Everything fell apart for Matsuzaka and the Red Sox in the sixth as Casey Kotchman had a two-run homer, Torii Hunter hit a three-run blast and Jeff Mathis's squeeze made it 7-2 before the Sox could blink.
Jed Lowrie's ground-rule double to right scored David Ortiz (2 hits, 2 runs, walk), making it 7-3 Angels in the sixth. Jacoby Ellsbury came up later in the inning with the bases loaded and two outs but struck out on a pitch in the dirt against Angels rookie reliever Jose Arredondo.
Ellsbury came through in the eighth with an RBI single off Scot Shields, cutting the lead to three (7-4 Angels).
For yucks, Manny hit a bomb (reminiscent of his walk-off in the 2007 ALCS) in the ninth off Francisco Rodriguez. That was the only blemish though for K-Rod, who recorded his league-leading 44th save of the season.
Monday, July 28, 2008
After two bad losses (a pitcher's duel and blowout), spanning the baseball spectrum of emotions, the Boston Red Sox (61-45) finally responded last night with a 9-2 win over the New York Yankees (58-46) in the series finale at Fenway.
The teams endured a 52-minute rain delay and yet another chapter in the ongoing Manny Ramirez-"I should never open my mouth" autobiography tour. Earlier in the day, Manny admitted in a call to ESPNdeportes that he's tired of the Red Sox and if they can get something fair in return they should trade him by Thursday's trade deadline.
Normally I don't get into the drama with Manny, the Boston media and national media goes over this seemingly every day of the year. Still, enough is enough. I wouldn't say this is the final nail in the coffin for Ramirez in my mind but I'll admit that I'm completely sick and tired of all the bullshit. He'll most likely continue to rake (like last night) and maybe even lead the Red Sox to another World Series championship in the fall but after this season, it's time to bid him adieu.
The current ownership group has been hamstrung by Dan Duquette's regime that signed Manny to such an absurd eight-year deal back in the good old days (2000). Manny has done nothing but put up hall-of-fame numbers since he's been here and helped Boston win two World Series titles but like an ex-girlfriend or old friend from high school or college, eventually time runs out and situations change.
As for the game last night, the Boston bats finally looked comfortable in David Ortiz's third game back from the DL. Dustin Pedroia (2 hits, run, RBI) was moved to the leadoff spot and he continued to scorch the ball. Jacoby Ellsbury was relegated to the ninth spot but he temporarily found his stroke (3 hits, run) that has been missing for months.
Sox manager Terry Francona admitted that the ideal Sox lineup has Ellsbury leading off (with his ridiculous speed) but for now it's best to leave Pedroia there while Ellsbury hopefully heats up.
Back together hitting third and fourth, Ortiz (2 hits, 2 runs, 3 RBIS) and Ramirez (3 hits, 2 runs, 2 RBIs) showed a national audience that when healthy they're still the best duo in baseball.
Jon Lester has officially taken over the role of Red Sox stopper for the season. Following five Red Sox losses, Lester has won four games and had a no-decision in the other (which Boston won). The guy is simply getting it done.
He improved to 9-3 and while he gave up nine hits in seven innings, he struck out eight and only walked one.
Yankees starter Sidney Ponson (6-2), who somehow had been great lately, showed his true form last night, giving up seven runs on ten hits in four innings.
Manny doubled home Kevin Youkilis in the first and Mike Lowell knocked in Ortiz and Manny with a two-run single, putting the Sox up 3-0 in the first.
Pedroia had a sacrifice fly in the second and Jason Varitek's RBI double in the third gave Boston a 5-0 lead.
Ortiz crushed a two-run shot to right in the fourth, his first homer in the majors since May 31.
The Yankees got their two runs in the fifth but it could have been much worse. Derek Jeter had an RBI on a jam-shot single that stayed fair down the third base line. Then Bobby Abreu walked with the bases full. A-Rod grounded out with the bases loaded and no outs, Xavier Nady popped out and Robinson Cano grounded out to end the threat.
Ortiz added a sac. fly in the sixth before Manny capped the scoring with another RBI, this time on a single.
Basically the only thing to come out of this series (besides the Manny garbage) was the Red Sox' dire need of a reliever. Saturday's painful loss highlighted the real lack of a dependable arm in the bullpen outside of Papelbon.
Boston is one game behind Tampa Bay and two ahead of New York. The Angels come to Fenway tonight to begin a three-game set.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
It took 12 innings but the Red Sox left Seattle with a three-game sweep after outlasting the Mariners, 6-3, yesterday afternoon at Safeco Field.
Manny Ramirez sat out with a "sore knee" so the Sox (60-43) had to juggle the lineup while facing Seattle (38-63) ace Felix Hernandez.
King Felix was good, not great as the patient Sox waited him out and forced him to throw 108 pitches in six innings. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits with five walks and six strikeouts.
Clay Buchholz pleasantly surprised Red Sox fans, nearly matching Hernandez's outing. Buchholz lasted 5.1 innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.
Another even more important revelation for Boston's postseason hopes was the debut of Justin Masterson in the role of reliever.
Coming in with two men on and one out in the sixth, Masterson struck out Kenji Johjima (who's having a brutal season) and Bryan LaHair (the pride of Worcester) to end the threat. Masterson then proceeded to have 1-2-3 innings in the seventh and eighth. Yes sir.
Hideki Okajima got the first two outs in the ninth and then Manny Delcarmen bailed him out by getting out of the inning and also pitching a clean 10th.
For the third game in a row, Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless frame (this time the 11th) but he received the win after Craig Hansen recorded his second career save in the 12th.
Up three runs and starting the inning, Hansen couldn't asked for a much easier situation then facing the light-hitting Mariners yet two hits and a walk loaded the bases before Jose Vidro (the potential winning run) grounded out to second.
The Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third when Kevin Youkilis (2 hits, 2 runs) knocked in two with a single.
Raul Ibanez came back with a solo homer in the fourth, cutting it to 2-1 Boston.
In the sixth, Coco Crisp walked with the bases loaded, 3-1 Red Sox. Vidro (3 hits, 2 RBIs, walk) tied it up with a two-run bomb which ended the day for Buchholz.
Seattle had a great chance to end it in the 11th when they had runners at first and third with one out but Johjima was the goat, grounding into a double play against Papelbon.
Mike Lowell (2 hits, 2 runs, RBI) knocked in two Sox in the 12th with a single and Sean Casey followed with an RBI single of his own to give Boston the three-run cushion that it turns out was critical to Hansen.
Dustin Pedroia had two hits, a run and walk while J.D. Drew walked three times and scored a run.
The West Coast trip to start the second half wasn't the disaster that it looked like it could be after facing the Angels; the Red Sox did exactly what they had to do in Seattle and now have a day off today before facing the Yankees tomorrow night in a three-game set at Fenway.
True to their recent second half form, the Yankees are red-hot, winning six straight and 10 overall at Yankee Stadium. Josh Beckett faces Joba Chamberlain tomorrow night in what should be an outstanding pitching duel. Adding fuel to the usual Sox-Yankees hype, David Ortiz will make his return after missing nearly two months of action.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
So far so good in the Emerald City as the Red Sox took game two vs. the Mariners, 4-2, last night at Safeco Field.
Another outstanding start by a Boston (59-43) pitcher was the story. Dice-K breezed through seven scoreless innings before the Mariners (38-62) scored twice in the eighth to make it competitive.
Matsuzaka (11-1) was economical with his pitches (throwing 99 total) and lasted 7.1 innings, giving up five hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
Since winning the MVP at the All-Star game last week, J.D. Drew had been M.I.A. until last night. He drove in the first two Sox runs with a solo homer off Seattle knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (2-5) in the first and a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Drew also had a single and a walk.
Mike Lowell (2 hits, walk) doubled in Dustin Pedroia in the fifth to make it 3-0 before Jed Lowrie (hit) knocked in Manny Ramirez with a sac fly of his own.
The Mariners cut it to 4-2 in the eighth with an RBI double by Ichiro (2 walks) and an RBI single by Jose Lopez that scored Ichiro.
Hideki Okajima was put into an important situation-for the first time in ages-and he got two outs to quiet the Seattle rally in the eighth.
Jonathan Papelbon had a 1-2-3 ninth for his 30th save. He's the first Red Sox closer to record three consecutive thirty save seasons. He now has career 102 saves, third in Boston history behind the late Dick Radatz (104) and Bob Stanley (132).
A sweep will be tough to complete as the Sox have to face Mariners ace Felix Hernandez this afternoon in the series finale. Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz will try to give his team some additional momentum as they head home to face the Yankees and Angels.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Winning is a wonderful thing, no? After a terrible weekend against the Angels (three straight losses), the Sox found themselves in the Pacific Northwest, knocking off the pathetic Mariners (38-61), 4-0, last night.
In no particular order, the four main ingredients to the Sox' inconsistent play has been 1) Jacoby Ellsbury's huge slump as the leadoff hitter, 2) Boston has been terrible on the road all season, 3) they desperately need David Ortiz back in the lineup and the 4) the bullpen outside of Papelbon is a funhouse of surprises (most of which are bad).
For one night at least, Jon Lester made everything right for the Red Sox (58-43). He gave his team 7.1 scoreless innings before handing it over to Papelbon.
Lester (8-3) allowed eight hits, no walks and six strikeouts. His ERA was lowered to 3.20. Without getting all Baseball Prospectus/Tim Kurkjian on you, I'd submit that Lester has been better than any other Sox starter this season (gasp!). Sure, Dice-K has sexier numbers but he's had a couple clunkers and missed time on the DL. Lester has made every scheduled start and quickly established himself as one of the top young arms in the game.
Manny Ramirez had three hits but would you believe that Jason Varitek woke up from his two-month long dirt nap and cranked a two-run home run in the fifth off Jarrod Washburn?
Varitek had another hit and a walk. The other guest star at the bottom of the lineup was rookie Jed Lowrie. He had a two-run single in the eighth which accounted for the other scoring. He also added another hit and a walk.
I was high on the rookie when he made his debut early in the season. I was on vacation in Alaska last week when Julio Lugo got hurt but needless to say, I'm happy to see the rookie get another chance.
I don't root for players on my teams to get hurt but Lugo was pushing it. Let's never mention him again, agreed?
Papelbon came on with one out in the eighth and the bases loaded but he hadn't worked since the All-Star game. He induced a ground ball on his second pitch of the eighth and had a clean ninth to earn his 29th save.
With the Yankees coming to town this weekend, it's vital that the Sox take care of this inferior team. Boston is 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay and 3 ahead of the Yanks. If you must know, the Red Sox lead the Wild Card race by two games over the Twins.
As I learned in 2002 after the Patriots won the Super Bowl-the first local team to win a championship when I wasn't wearing diapers-no matter how much you want a team to keep exactly the same personnel, it ain't happening partner.
When you do a franchise in Madden or season in any other video game, there's some shuffling in your roster automatically so what makes you think that professional athletes (and their agents) with oversized egos will settle for a hometown discount?
Sometimes you can see the writing on the wall (re: Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe), other times you wish a certain player didn't depending on who you talk to, either bang Manny's wife or underaged girls (re: Orlando Cabrera) while others simply chase a dollar sign (re: Deion Branch and Ty Law).
With this firmly implanted in your mind, it should come as no surprise that the 2008-2009 Celtics will look a little different. Going into the off-season, the two most important potential free agents were James Posey and Eddie House, in that order of relevance.
Predictably, the Celts front office wouldn't budge past a three-year offer to Posey and the veteran, two-time champion choose to get a four-year deal in New Orleans.
Posey has to look out for himself and his family foremost and I am too old to begrudge him that. He wanted more security and the challenge of helping another team that is on the cusp of really making some noise in the Western Conference. Makes sense to me.
Yesterday, the C's resigned House and Tony Allen to two-year deals. I'm happy for House, who has seemingly been on every team in the NBA short of the Oklahoma City Thunder (stupid name, huh?). As for Allen, ugh. The only time Tony Allen showed any potential was during the Celtics' awful year two seasons ago. He was playing the best basketball of his life and he blew out his knee, trying to make a dunk after a foul had been called. I can't think of a better way to sum up Tony Allen.
Management is sticking by him, for some reason, but who knows what to expect from him? Especially if he's in a packed Chicago nightclub. How'd that trial end up by the way? Must have missed that one. I hope I'm wrong but I don't think Tony Allen will ever do anything notable in the NBA from here on out. He's athletic enough and a solid defender so he'll probably always be cashing a check for the next 6-8 years but that's about it.
Losing Posey is the bigger issue, the guy was one of the keys to the great regular season and championship. He stepped his game up in the biggest contests. During the season, in 24.6 minutes a game he averaged 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and .97 steals while shooting 38% on threes and 80% from the line.
He is the definition of a winner. In the 2008 Finals, he scored 8.7 points a game, grabbed 3.8 rebounds and 1.33 steals. Most memorably, he was a huge part of the Game 4 comeback as he had 18 points. He was what the Lakers lacked, a tough, physical player that was willing to get dirty and dive on the floor.
Thanks Posey, good luck with the Hornets.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Since David Ortiz injured his wrist on May 31, the Red Sox have played over .500 but it's clear to see that they lack a certain punch in their lineup, particularly late in games.
Ortiz is the most clutch hitter in baseball so it's no surprise that Boston continues to lose close games without him.
Yesterday afternoon, the Angels defeated the Sox, 4-2, in a game that Boston led, gave away then had a chance to take back before falling short.
Josh Beckett (9-6) went the distance and was lights out, except for the seventh inning. Beckett gave up all four runs in the seventh. For the afternoon, he gave up nine hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
Angels (59-38) all-star Joe Saunders didn't pick up the win but he gave his team a quality start: 6.2 innings, six hits, two runs, three walks and a strikeout. He turned it over to the normally lights out Angels bullpen and they didn't disappoint the home crowd.
Rookie Jose Arredono improved to 4-0, after recording just one out. The Sox (57-42) had set-up whiz Scot Shields on the ropes, ditto for the immortal K-Rod in the ninth, but each time Los Angeles escaped without allowing any runs.
Boston scored its only two runs of the game in the second as Manny Ramirez doubled, followed by Kevin Youkilis's 17th home run (career high) of the season.
Vladimir Guerrero opened the seventh with a solo shot off Beckett and pinch hitter Erick Aybar came through with the hit of the game-a bases clearing triple. The Sox played it by the book, walking Howie Kendrick with one out and runners on first and third to get to Aybar. Unfortunately, the utilityman ripped a grounder down the line in right past Youkilis.
In the eighth, Boston loaded the bases with rookie Jed Lowrie coming to the plate. Shields walked two in the inning but he quickly regained his control, whiffing Lowrie on three pitches. Thanks for playing.
With one out in the ninth, Dustin Pedroia (2 hits) singled to right before J.D. Drew worked a walk. Just like they'd prefer, Manny and Mike Lowell came up with the chance to tie it up or put the Sox ahead. Didn't happen though as Manny popped to second and Lowell flew out on the first pitch to left.
K-Rod now has 39 saves and is well on his way to breaking Bobby Thigpen's record of 57.
Tim Wakefield pitches against Jon Garland this afternoon as Boston tries to avoid the sweep.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
With Scott Boras and Theo Epstein sitting separately in baller seats behind home plate, the Boston Red Sox started the second half of the season with a whimper as the Los Angeles Angels thumped them, 11-3 in Disneyland last night.
Making his second start since returning from Pawtucket, young righty Clay Buchholz once again looked like a college freshman at a party: lost and in over his head. Blessed with great stuff, Buchholz is struggling at the moment to find consistency on the mound.
The Angels (58-38) scored three in the first and touched Buchholz up for eight runs (four earned). Clay (2-5) lasted 4.2 innings, giving up eight hits, two walks and two strikeouts. It was a good sign when he had quick second and third innings but the fifth inning ended his night early.
Shortstop Alex Cora's error with two outs in the fifth didn't help Buchholz as it extended the inning, allowing the Angels to score the four runs. Anaheim added three more in the sixth to wrap it up.
With David Ortiz doing his thing at Pawtucket-a homer in two consecutive games-Boston's (57-41) lineup looked shaky at best against John Lackey, who is normally batting practice against the Sox.
Boston tied it at three with two in the second on Kevin Youkilis' two-run homer and one in the fourth on Manny Ramirez's solo shot. After that, Lackey (7-2) shut them down and lasted seven innings. Lackey gave up five hits, walked two and struck out six.
Manny and Dustin Pedroia each finished with two hits apiece. For the Angels, Casey Kotchman, Maicer Izturis and Vlad Guerrero all had two hits, Los Angeles totalled 14 as a team.
Before the game, Garret Anderson took a time machine back to somewhere between 2000-2003. As a result, he went 4-for-5 with a homer, two runs and five RBIs.
The beautiful thing about baseball is that as ugly as last night was, things could completely change today. And if not, I will stubbornly hold onto the fact that the Sox have won nine straight over the Angels in the playoffs. The Angels look like they'll be in October once again but with Vlad looking somewhat human for once, you can't tell me this team is any different from the 2004 or 2007 versions, with slight tweaks.
Monday, July 7, 2008
The script was altered from Saturday afternoon but the end result was the same last night at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox let another game get away that they had in their pocket.
New York won 5-4 in 10 innings last night as rookie Brett Gardner (2 hits, run, RBI, stolen base) grounded a single up the middle off Jonathan Papelbon (3-3) which scored Robinson Cano (2 hits, 2 RBIs) with the winning run.
Boston (52-39) was up 3-1 after five innings and 4-2 going into the bottom of the seventh but the bullpen once again couldn't hold the lead.
Cano tied it up in the seventh with a two-run triple off Javier Lopez.
Tim Wakefield and Joba Chamberlain had nearly identical lines. Wakefield went 6.1 innings, giving up three runs on four hits, a walk and five strikeouts. Joba went six innings, allowing three runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts.
A-Rod had a solo homer to left in the second off Wakefield and Derek Jeter had an RBI single in the sixth which scored Gardner.
Kevin Youkilis (2 hits) scored on Joba's wild pitch in the fifth and Dustin Pedroia came through with a clutch two-run single which put the Sox up 3-1 at the time.
Kevin Cash extended Boston's lead to 4-2 in the seventh with an RBI double plating Julio Lugo.
Manny Delcarmen got four outs without allowing a hit while Hideki Okajima pitched a scoreless ninth.
Cano singled to start the 10th vs. Papelbon and moved over on a bunt by Melky Cabrera. After striking Wilson Betemit out, Gardner had a great at-bat (spoiling a bunch of two-strike pitches) before shooting one up the middle past Papelbon and a diving Alex Cora (at shortstop).
Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless eighth for New York before Mariano Rivera (3-3) had two scoreless innings.
The Red Sox finished 3-7 on a pretty bad road trip. They didn't play well against an average team in Houston, ran into a red-hot team at the wrong time (Tampa Bay), and won the first two in the Bronx before choking away the last two.
Things don't get easier as the hottest team in baseball (winners of 17 of their last 20), the Minnesota Twins, comes to Fenway for three games starting tonight.
It might be a sport of elitist, out-of-touch millionaires but once in a while, a tennis match goes to another level and becomes one of the greatest sporting events you've ever seen.
Such was the case yesterday in the Wimbledon gentleman's final as Rafael Nadal, the pride of Spain, outlasted five-time defending champion Roger Federer of Switzerland, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7.
The 4-hour, 48-minute marathon lived up to the hype and then some, as the English crowd patiently waited through three rain delays to see some of the best tennis they could ever imagine.
At 26-years-old, Federer has been nearly invincible the last few years. 22-year-old Nadal is the master of clay at the French Open but with his win on the grass of the All-England club, he can stake a claim as the world's top player at the moment.
Federer is still at the top of his game, as his ridiculous comeback attests to, the difference is that Nadal has closed the gap to the point where they're equal for all intents and purposes.
Each player has his strengths. Federer has a hard serve and his shot-making is amazing. Nadal is in top shape and can chase down any shot while also putting more top-spin on his shots than any other player on tour.
The next big event on the tennis circuit is the US Open which is at the end of August in Flushing Meadows, NY. Hopefully Nadal and Federer can roll through their matches and meet up once again in another final. Odds are it won't be as good as yesterday but with those two, you can never be sure.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Down 2-1, bases loaded with no outs in the top of the ninth. Yankee Stadium, Mariano Rivera on the mound. That's a dream scenario for somebody (anybody) to step up for the Boston Red Sox but with the last three positional players you'd want up in that spot, the Yankees escaped 2-1 with a win yesterday afternoon that you'd have to see to believe.
Coco Crisp meekly struck out for the first out in the ninth, Jason Varitek popped out and Julio Lugo fittingly ended it with another strikeout.
After taking the first two games of the series, a win yesterday would have been beautiful as the Yankees are quickly fading into oblivion in the AL East.
New York (46-42) got a fine start from Mike Mussina (11-6). The Moose went six scoreless innings, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out five before leaving with "dizziness." The Yankees' bat boys Cheech and Chong were seen outside Hank Steinbrenner's office after the game.
Melky Cabrera had an RBI single in the second with the bases loaded and then rookie Brett Gardner hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth, scoring Wilson Betemit.
After J.D. Drew (2 hits) singled to open the ninth and Manny Ramirez was hit for the third time in the game, Mike Lowell knocked in Drew with an RBI single.
Sox (52-38) rookie Justin Masterson pitched well but once again he didn't have luck or much help from Boston's offense.
Masterson (4-3) also lasted six innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
Javier Lopez-who has been Boston's best reliever in the last month-had a clean seventh and Mike Timlin had a 1-2-3 eighth.
The Yanks got scoreless innings from the unlikely combination of Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth.
If nothing else, the immortal Rivera (23 saves) had to throw 25 pitches, making him less than 100% going into tonight's series finale.
Tim Wakefield goes up against Joba Chamberlain. I look forward to watching Joba, the next big thing, be worked over by a patient Sox offense that will make him throw say 100 pitches in 4.2 innings.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Nothing will quite get you in the holiday mood for drowning your sorrows at the nearest Fourth of July party like watching your favorite team be exposed by an up-and-coming contender.
Down 4-1 going into the seventh, the Rays rallied for six runs in the inning, before holding off Boston 7-6, last night at the Trop.
Tampa Bay (52-32, the best record in baseball) swept the three-game series against the Red Sox and last night was the real kick to the groin. Boston has now lost five games in a row.
Lil' Dustin Pedroia did everything he could do to keep his team in the game but it wasn't enough. The second-year second baseman was 4 for 5 with three runs and two RBIs. He actually fell a single shy of the cycle and he had two doubles. J.D. Drew was 2 for 4 with a triple, run, RBI and walk.
A pitcher's duel between Dice-K and Scott Kazmir never really materialized as both struggled with high pitch counts early in the game.
Dice-K went five innings, giving up one run on two hits with five walks and five strikeouts.
Kazmir also only lasted five, allowing four runs on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
The biggest area where the Red Sox (50-37) were exposed over the past three games was in the middle relief department. With Hideki Okajima struggling, we currently don't have a bonafide 8th inning guy (which is extremely important) and therefore everything short of Jonathan Papelbon (who didn't even pitch in the series) is a mess.
Surprisingly, Okajima had a scoreless sixth last night (with two strikeouts). His ineffectiveness must be contagious though as it popped up in Manny Delcarmen (3 runs, 3 hits, no outs) and Craig Hansen (1-3; 3 runs, 1 hit, 2 walks, no outs), who completely butchered the seventh.
On the other side, Tampa's trio of Trevor Miller (scoreless sixth), Gary Glover (1-2; 1 run, 1 hit, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 5 outs) and Dan Wheeler (3rd save; 1 run, 1 hit, 1 strikeout, 4 outs) weren't spectacular but they did enough to win.
Rookie Evan Longoria was the Rays' hitting star, going 3 for 4 with three RBIs and a run. Carl Crawford had three hits and Jason Bartlett added two hits, two RBIs and a run.
Pedroia hit a solo homer in the first inning to put Boston up 1-0 but Longoria came back with an RBI single in the bottom of the first.
Manny Ramirez knocked in Pedroia with a ground out in the third, putting the Sox up 2-1.
Boston added two more runs in the fifth as Drew's triple plated Pedroia and Drew scored on a Kazmir wild pitch.
The Rays seventh was ridiculous as the Sox simply couldn't get an out. Akinori Iwamura reached on an infield single while Bartlett scored. Carlos Pena walked with the bases loaded. Longoria doubled, plating Crawford and B.J. Upton. Finally, Bartlett singled to center, scoring Pena and Longoria.
Bidding to reach the cycle in his fifth at bat, Pedroia instead drove in Julio Lugo with an RBI double.
Kevin Youkilis looked like the hero in the ninth when he drove a ball hard and deep to center but Upton tracked it down. Manny scored on the sacrifice fly but the Sox ran themselves into an out. For some reason, twice in a row Terry Francona had Mike Lowell running from first with strikeout machine Jason Varitek (who's currently in the worst slump of his career) at the plate. After fouling it off the first time, Varitek swung and missed before Lowell was out at second by some distance. I guess it really doesn't matter though, since Varitek was caught looking later in the at bat to end the game.
For once the Sox go to the Bronx and the hype isn't sickening. It probably has something to do with the Fourth being tomorrow. Nothing puts people over the edge like planning a holiday, particularly with family. I don't know if you've heard but it's the the most important day of our lives.
Jon Lester is facing Andy Pettitte tonight. Barring a sweep by either team, this series won't determine much. It will be nice to see the Yankees, it seems like forever since they last played and it's timely as A-Rod is at the center of another tabloid cyclone (his rumored affair with Madonna).
Happy Fourth of July, Go Sox!
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
The baseball world is quickly taking notice as the Tampa Bay Rays once again knocked off the Boston Red Sox, 3-1 last night at Tropicana Field.
Boston has now lost four straight games and it looks to salvage something from Tampa before heading to New York for four (not three like I said) games with the Yankees.
Is there a better top three of a rotation than Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza? If you asked me after last night, I'd say probably not. Following up Shields' fine performance Monday, Garza was great last night.
The young right-hander went to 7-4 after seven innings. He gave up one unearned run on five hits with three strikeouts. Reliever J.P. Howell struck out two of the three men he faced (he walked the other) and substitute closer Grant Balfour recorded four outs for his second save of the season. Troy Percival was placed on the DL after last night's game.
Boston's (50-36) offense continued to scuffle without Ortiz. It doesn't help that Jacoby Ellsbury has been slumping big time, same goes for Manny. And Jason Varitek? He pinch hit and struck out twice last night, the captain is currently enduring the worst slump of his career.
Tampa Bay (51-32) and the Red Sox both had six hits but the Rays made those count a little more.
Tim Wakefield (5-6) pitched well but didn't get any run support. Wake went seven innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
Carl Crawford scored on a Wakefield wild pitch in the first, putting Tampa up 1-0.
Boston tied it with some aggressive play of their own. Ellsbury had reached on an error, stole second (his 35th steal of the season) and eventually scored on J.D. Drew's sacrifice fly.
Underrated Rays catcher Dioner Navarro pushed his team back ahead, 2-1, with an RBI single which plated Evan Langoria in the fourth.
Navarro struck again in the eighth when he knocked in Carlos Pena with another RBI single, this time off Sox reliever Craig Hanson.
Alex Cora reached base with a two-out double in the ninth off Balfour (three strikeouts) but struck out Varitek on a high fastball (which is still Tek's big hole in the strike zone).
Dice-K matches up with Kazmir tonight as the Rays look to sweep the Sox. So far in the 11 games between the teams this season, the home team is unbeaten. Boston is 6-0 against Tampa Bay at Fenway and Tampa is 5-0 at the Trop.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
How long will it take people to realize that the Tampa Bay Rays are legit? Maybe one of the reasons that casual fans hold onto false beliefs for so long is because baseball has such a marathon of a season.
I can't tell you how many times recently, guys have told me, "the Yankees will make a run and Tampa will come back to earth." This is based on the last few seasons when the Yankees had slow starts but the Bombers heat up with the summer weather. Ain't happening this season folks. The Yanks still have no pitching (starting or middle relief) and their once-potent offense is starting to show the wrinkles of its age.
The Orioles? A .500 team, nothing more or less. Toronto? Great pitching, pathetic hitting so ditto about .500. Boston is a cut above those three teams but for the first time in its history, Tampa Bay is right next to the Red Sox. Make no mistake, the Rays have a very good shot at making the playoffs. I might be wrong but you'd have to be a Luddite not to see the progress being made in Retirement Country.
Last night was the beginning of probably the most important series in Tampa Bay's history and the Rays delivered with a 5-4 over the Red Sox in a game that they would have lost in any previous season.
Down 5-2 going into the ninth, Boston (50-35) scored twice and had the tying run on third when Julio Lugo (a symbol of Tampa Bay's shitty past) lined out to short to end it.
With one out in the ninth, Tampa Bay (50-32) had two terrible instances of bad luck as Brandon Moss's pop-up to right hit a catwalk and fell for an RBI double. Jason Varitek cut it to 5-4 in the next at-bat as he hit a sacrifice fly which scored Kevin Youkilis. As he tried to cover third on the throw, Rays closer Troy Percival appeared to tweak his hamstring (an injury that put him on the DL earlier in the season). No problem. Young lefty J.P. Howell came in to retire Lugo and record his second save of the season.
The Rays always had control of this game as B.J. Upton led off the home half of the first with a home run off Red Sox starter Justin Masterson.
Masterson has been good but he might have made his last start for the Sox for a while as Clay Buchholz has regained his control in Pawtucket. Last night, Masterson (4-2) lasted six innings, giving up four runs on five hits with five walks and five strikeouts.
Tampa Bay starter James Shields improved to 6-5 after 6.1 solid innings of work. He allowed two runs on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
Boston tied it in the fourth when the scorching Mike Lowell (3 for 4, run, RBI) knocked in Dustin Pedroia with an RBI single.
The Rays responded with two in the fourth as Gabe Gross hit a two-run bomb. Tampa Bay padded its lead with another run in the fifth on Carlos Pena's RBI double.
J.D. Drew hit a solo shot in the sixth, keeping it within striking distance for the Sox (4-2 Rays).
The one last run Tampa Bay added in the seventh proved to be the difference. Jonny Gomes grounded into a fielder's choice with the bases loaded.
Tim Wakefield (who always pitches great indoors, especially at the Trop) takes the ball for the Sox tonight against the Rays' Matt Garza. It's a big week for the Red Sox as they have three at the Trop, followed by three in the Bronx.