Friday, April 28, 2006

Smoke on the Horizon

There are probably very few Sox fans out there who aren’t a little concerned with the team right about now.

With a brutal 15-3 blowout against Cleveland last night, Boston has managed to drop 5 of their last 7 games, losing the past two series against Toronto and Cleveland. Wakefield has suffered two of those losses, again getting no run support from his anemic offense, and Beckett only needed one inning to set a new personal record by giving up his first-ever grand slam.

Fans are probably not so concerned with pitching, though. Even though he gave up nine runs, Beckett still managed to strike out six Indians in his 3.2 innings of work last night. Wakefield has been pitching the ball very well, and its only a matter of time before his new personal catcher Josh Bard figures out how to keep that knuckleball from the backstop every other pitch. Schilling has looked every bit his 2004 self, and then some. Clement helped salvage the series in Toronto with final game win, and with Wells on the DL (and hopefully on his way out of Boston for good), we just may have a better chance of landing Clemens for half a season.

It’s the offense that’s been offensive lately. While everyone knows new shortstop Alex Gonzalez was more a defensive acquisition than offensive one, his .200 batting average so far is making Alex Cora look like a viable option. And believe me, its hard work to make Sox fans yearn to see Cora in the lineup.

There’s been an even bigger black hole of offensive production from the center field spot ever since Crisp went down with a broken finger. Sox have tried platoons of Adam Stern, Dustan Mohr, and more recently, Willie Harris, and gotten a pitiful .143 average between the three of them for their efforts. Coco’s return date of May 15 can’t come soon enough.

Youkilis has done an outstanding job in the leadoff spot in Coco’s absence, but his bat is desperately needed in the bottom of the order. Once pitchers get past Nixon in the 5 spot, they can practically go on cruise control for the next four batters. Only Wily Mo’s recent prowess at the plate has been giving them any pause as they burn through our 6 through 9 hitters.

And that’s not all, folks. Varitek hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate so far this season, and his .250 average is proof positive that he’s not himself yet. Even Loretta, billed as an on-base guy with great bat control, has been slowly sinking closer to the .200 mark, a delineation previously reserved for our shortstops.

That black cloud over Fenway doesn’t overshadow the one on the horizon, either. May brings a tough schedule for Boston, highlighted by eight games against the division rival Yankees. Though plagued with pitching woes of their own, New York has climbed back to pull within one game of the Red Sox. The AL East juggernauts will meet for the first time on Monday, and it’s a total crapshoot as to who will hold the higher ground when that two-game series begins. Boston travels to Tampa Bay for the weekend where they’ll be facing Kazmir, always a thorn in their side, and New York hosts the Blue Jays, where hopefully Halladay can continue his success against the Yankees.

The next two weeks are pivotal for Boston, and will truly test their mettle. If they can hold their ground through five games against New York, a series with Baltimore and one with Texas, Crisp will be back to give this team more leadoff speed, defensive prowess, and a fresh bat.

Speaking of the Yankees, Monday will mark the return of Johnny Damon to Fenway Park. Though I was one of the fans calling for his head on a stick when I first heard he signed with our hated division rivals, I’ve since calmed my opinion and learned to simply appreciate the time he spent on the Red Sox and his contribution to the 2004 World Series Championship. I’d much rather see him in a Boston uniform, but I refuse to boo him now that he’s wearing pinstripes. He accomplished too much in the city, gave his heart and soul to the team (and his head, thanks to Damian Jackson), and deserves nothing less than a standing ovation when he steps to the plate in the top of the first inning.

Hopefully Boston agrees with me. Damon was an icon for the Red Sox, and the poster child for the Band of Idiots that ended the 86-year drought. How can you boo a resume like that?

Cheers to you, Johnny. Its great to see you again.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 25, 1976

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of one of baseball’s most patriotic acts that still receives deserved recognition.

Rick Monday, then an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, was warming up between innings at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976. Two men jumped out of the left field stands and ran to centerfield (apparently, security wasn’t quite so quick to respond as they are today). Monday noticed they weren’t the usual drunken fan streaking the field; rather, they seemed purposed as they were carrying things with them.

It wasn’t long before their intentions were clear. They unfurled an American Flag on the center field grass and proceeded to douse it with lighter fluid. This was all Monday needed to see, as he quickly sprinted towards the men. Before they could get a match lit and ignite the flag, Monday swooped in and snatched Old Glory from the men and high-tailed it to the dugout (he stated afterwards he was unsure if the flag was on fire or not).

Monday was eventually presented that very flag as a gift of appreciation for his efforts of patriotism, and it hangs in his home to this day. Though he didn’t make it big as a ballplayer, Monday left a unforgettable mark on the game that day. His act was less a political statement, as the men who attempted to burn the symbol of America, and more a message of respect that applies even today. In fact, Monday still receives letters from people thanking him for his heroic actions that fateful day.

Hats off to you, Monday. May we all continue to learn from your example.

It was a horrid weekend in Canada, where the Sox dropped two of three to the Blue Jays, including a gut-wrenching 11-inning loss on Friday with Beckett on the mound. Cruising with a 6-2 lead, Beckett plunks Aaron Hill to lead off the eighth inning, most like retaliation from an earlier beaning of Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and promptly gives up a two-run blast to the next batter, cutting the lead to 6-4. Vernon Wells steps up and delivers another long ball, and now the Sox lead is down to one. Enter the usually reliable Mike Timlin. Usually. Troy Glaus takes him deep to tie the game. Four runs for the Jays in the bottom of the eighth inning, costing Beckett his win, and eventually the game for the Sox.

Some people will blame Beckett for the collapse, saying there was no reason to retaliate by plunking the Toronto batter. It didn’t appear as though Gonzalez was hit intentionally, especially not to load the bases with Youkilis on deck. Besides, a weak hitter like Gonzalez is exactly who you want to pitch to in that situation, beings as close to an automatic out as you can get in the Sox lineup.

Perhaps Beckett just wanted to show his team he’s not afraid to stand up for them, to fight back when provoked. He was sitting on a nice cushion of a four-run lead at that point, so what not a better time to give the Jays a little shove back into their place? I have to chalk it up to simple bad luck that it fell apart like it did after that play, hardly the fault of the young ace. I love Beckett’s fire and passion on the hill, and hope he keeps that drive with him throughout the season.

Now the Sox are in Cleveland, taking on a pesky Indians squad. I’m saddened that Coco Crisp is still on the DL with his fractured finger (until May 15 now) and unable to take the field against his former team. Indians fans seem like a good bunch, and I’m sure he would have received a well-deserved ovation for the time he spent there.

Manny announced his presence to his former team with authority in the Sox win last night, going 3-for-4 with a decisive 3-run homer in the eighth that put the Sox up for good. Manny is starting to rip the ball lately, driving three home runs and raising his once-anemic average to a more suitable .300. That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief from the Red Sox Nation. Manny had a sluggish start last year, and never fully recovered at the plate. Let’s hope his current trend of being patient, getting good swings and hitting the snot out of the ball continues.

Has Charlie Sheen joined the Red Sox? Nah, that’s just Jonathan Papelbon showing off his new ‘do. Boston’s new ace closer was sporting a Wild Thing-meets-Taxi Driver hairstyle in Toronto over the weekend, and had all of the Red Sox Nation in stitches over the apparent rookie hazing.

However, turns out the new style was the result of a bet with teammate Kevin Youkilis. The weird part is that Papelbon WON the bet, and still walked away with the funny new fro. Beings that Youkilis has been shaving his head for the past couple years, I really don’t want to imagine what he had to shave for the bet.

The Red Sox have a new “sideline reporter” for their home games this season. Tina Cervasio can been seen throughout NESN broadcasts of Sox games in Fenway, giving quick stand-ups from the stands inbetween innings and pitches, as well as post-game interviews with players and coaches. I was lucky enough to attend college with Mrs. Cervasio, and can attest that she is just as energetic and eager as she appears on television. She always had a broad, bright smile for people when we shared a classroom, and that trait seems to have carried over wonderfully to her broadcasting career.

Unfortunately, Tina has been getting ripped by some Sox fans for her performance so far this season. Statheads on, who can be rather snobbish about their fanboy stances at times, have taken to discussing her efforts on their message boards, relentlessly bashing her for asking less-than-insightful questions and stumbling through her stand-ups. Even ESPN’s Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, took a moment in a recent article to hurl some insults her way (which were kinda funny, I have to admit).

My message: cut her some slack. The sideline reporter at a baseball game is useless enough as is, adding little to the game besides irritating breaks in the action that force viewers to watch a small split-screen of the game when the reporter is going through their stand-up. Cervasio isn’t the first reporter to fill that role for the Sox, and she won’t be the last. She’s just doing the job she was given, and doing it to the best of her ability. She may have some moments when she stumbles, but who doesn’t? Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, Sox television announcers, have tripped and laughed their way through broadcasts more than once, in their time. It’s not such a big deal if the new reporter does it, too.

Good luck to ya, Tina. Boston’s a tough nut to crack, but keep beaming that grin and we’ll all come around.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare a Run?

Can’t a knuckleballer catch a break? If his name is Tim Wakefield, apparently not.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays dropped the Sox 5-1 last night, ending Boston’s four-game win streak, not to mention sending them on a nine-game road trip on a sour note. The loss only drops the Sox to 11-5, still good enough for a 1.5-game lead over second-place Baltimore. Its just the situation of the loss that, well, pretty much sucks.

The past few seasons, Wakefield has owned the Rays, going 13-1 in recent decisions, his last loss dating way back to 1999. So when he took the hill in last night’s game, practically everyone was expecting a home sweep of the Rays. They never seemed able to catch up to Wake’s fluttering money pitch, and the record shows that.

But Wake’s hit some lean times so far this season when it comes to run support from his teammates. If you disregard his first start of the season, a 3.2 inning 7-run shellacking at the hands of Texas, Wakefield has posted a 1.56 ERA over this last three starts, including a complete game where he only allowed two earned runs.

Unfortunately, that complete game ended in a loss for Wake, as Boston’s offense was held to five hits and no runs. In fact, in three of Wake’s four starts this season, he’s received a mere one run of offensive support. For a pitcher who normally gets at least five runs per game from his teammates, the recent .33 runs per game must be hard to swallow.

So why did Boston’s offense abandon their pitcher last night? Apparently, Wakefield wasn’t the only one facing a team he’s had great success against.

Scott Kazmir, the Ray’s 22-year-old lefty phenom, has posted a 3-1 record and 2.64 ERA against Boston in his short time in the majors, with those three wins all coming in Fenway. Kazmir seems to have Boston’s number, his only loss to them coming last season after allowing three runs over six innings. It was his offense that abandoned him that day, only getting one run for his efforts.

But not last night. Wakefield kept the game close, giving up three runs, but that would prove to be enough. Tavarez served up a Landsdown shot to Gomez, his second of the night, on the first pitch he threw, and surrendered another run off consecutive doubles before heading to the clubhouse for the night.

The Sox now start a nine-game road trip that will take them to Toronto (7-7), Cleveland (9-7) and Tampa Bay (8-8). The Sox return to Fenway on Monday, May 1st, for a quick two-game series against …

The Yankees.

I have to throw a quick shout-out to 48-year-old Julio Franco, who became the oldest player in MLB history to hit a home run. His two-run shot in the 8th helped lift the Mets past the Padres 7-2. Franco, a 24-year journeyman veteran of the big leagues, is probably best known (at least by me) for his batting stance: he holds his hands high and points the barrel of the bat right at the pitcher. Though never really in my good graces, especially after his years with the Braves, its pretty damn impressive that he’s still around and driving the ball just two years away from the big 5-0. Way to hang, Julio.

Kaz Matsui, Mets second baseman, put up an impressive record last night as well. He became the first player since Ken Griffey Jr. (1997-1999) to hit a home run in his first at-bat of the season three years in a row. And last night, he did it in style: the former Japanese All-Star scampered around the bases for an inside-the-park home run after his drive to right field glanced off the glove of Padre Brian Giles. Giles has a pretty good arm, so you know Matsui was haulin’ ass.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Best record in baseball: What every fan of MLB wants to hear about their team.

At 11-4, the Red Sox not only have the best record in the AL East and a 2.5-game lead over second-place Baltimore, they also have the best record in the majors. Considering many people were predicting hard goings for the Sox early in the season due to the influx of new players at key positions, that ain’t too shabby.

That’s why you just have to love this year’s Red Sox team. We lost some big cogs in the machinery from the past few seasons (Damon, Mueller, Martinez, Lowe, shortstops, etc), and yet Boston still tops the AL East early in the season.

There were concerns over how some of these players, coming from small-market cities, would handle playing in a high-pressure town like Boston. However, not only have the newbies managed to adapt to the pressure, its seems like they are thriving on it. Just look at ‘em: Coco off to a hot start before his injury; Lowell’s bat has been coming alive; the defense of Stern, Gonzalez, and Loretta; Beckett and Papelbon pitching like aces.

Though I have faith in Sox, just as I do every year, I also don’t expect them to keep this pace up throughout the season, just as I don’t every year. They’re out to an amazing start so far, there’s no doubt about that. But things happen throughout the year that derail a team from time to time. Injuries to key players, slumps from big hitters, a few bad outings from ace pitchers.

Wait, injuries to key players? Like star center-fielder Crisp and pitcher Wells? They seem to have handled that well.

Slumps from big hitters? Like Manny’s .214 batting average early on? Still won 11 games regardless, and Manny’s starting to break out of it already, pumping his average up while driving the ball hard. Only a matter of time before his shots start leaving the yard.

A few bad outings from ace pitchers? Like Clement’s stinker last week? And Wakefield’s tough couple starts? Both bounced back beautifully from horrible outings to post a W. When Clement, an easy lock for 16+ wins a season, is your number three pitcher, you’re not in bad shape at all.

So looks like the Sox have been in the midst of three major setbacks already this season, and still managed to come out on top. How? This squad has done wonders with the replacements in the dugout and bullpen.

Adam Stern has flashed some serious leather in the outfield in Coco’s absence, making a beautiful game-ending catch and crashing into the Monster chasing one down. He’s a beast.

Strikeout artist Wily Mo must be hanging out with Ortiz and Manny in the dugout, because he’s starting to be more selective at the plate. Hell, he even eased up on his swing one game and went to the opposite field for a hit. I swear!

Minor-leaguer Lenny DiNardo pitched a GEM on Patriot’s Day, stepping up to fill in for the injured David Wells. His 2-run performance kept the Sox in the game, setting up Loretta’s 9th-inning heroics.

And those are just the fill-ins! Our regulars have played some serious ball along the way as well. Loretta and Gonzalez have provided sick defense up the middle, and did you know Youkilis is batting over .350? How about Ortiz mashing the ball out of Fenway at an incredible clip? Schilling looks like he found the fountain of youth, and Nixon, coming back after a brief injury, is hitting almost .380!

So, maybe I CAN have faith they’ll keep this up for most of the season. Maybe I don’t have to wait for the post All-Star break swoon, where the Yankees seem to creep up out of the basement to reclaim the throne. Maybe this new blood and rejuvenation the Sox seem to have found is the real deal.

Whatever the case, the Sox have hit the ground running, and show no signs of looking back.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Patriot’s Day in Boston is a day rich in historical tradition. First observed back in 1894, this holiday commemorates the battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, a battle which gave birth to Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride. To this day, parades and celebrations help mark the beginning of the American Revolutionary War and America’s march to freedom. The city practically shuts down, as many businesses and schools consider it a legitimate holiday despite the fact few outside of New England have ever heard of it.

It’s also a day with deep-rooted sports-related traditions as well. Every Patriot’s Day (celebrated on the third Monday in April), the Red Sox play what is probably the earliest local start time for a professional baseball game in recent history, taking the field at 11:00 AM. To add to this hallowed sporting event, the Boston Marathon’s route runs right by the stadium, allowing Sox fans to pile into the streets after the game to cheer on those brave souls that tackle the 26-mile course. Patriot’s Day is truly day that fanatics of history and sports alike can come together and celebrate with the entire city.

And what a spectacle it was! I was lucky enough to be the recipient of tickets to the Sox game, and was able to witness the event first hand. It’s a comical mixture of sports, drinking, mayhem, and unlikely comradery. The city is alive with activity, with thousands of people piling into the downtown area to see the marathon, walk the Freedom Trail, attend the Sox game, or just to be in the general vicinity of these events.

I was ecstatic to attend my first Sox game of the season, along with my first Patriot’s Day celebration. I’ve heard its quite an experience to just be in the city on this day, much less at the Sox game. I even unsuccessfully tried to find someone to simply go to the stadium with me and watch the game at a local bar. To get tickets to the game at the last minute? Stoked.

The game was fantastic. With Wells now officially on the DL with a bum knee, Sox called up minor-leaguer Lenny DiNardo to man the 6th spot in Boston’s rotation. An occasional reliever and spot-starter for the Sox over the past two seasons, DiNardo kept the game from becoming a blowout, holding Seattle to 2 runs over five innings. Boston’s offense matched those runs one-for-one with a solo shot from Ortiz (a blast that bounced off the top of the wall in dead-center) and a rare run-scoring double from utility infielder Alex Cora.

Crazy Carl Everett, still the recipient of a barrage of boos from the Fenway Faithful, silenced the crowd in the 6th with a two-run shot that bounced off Pesky’s Pole in right. In the bottom of that same frame, however, Ortiz once again showed fans why he’s worth every penny of his new contract (and then some), when he launched a two-run homer to right to knot the game at four apiece.

The fireworks for the day came in the bottom of the ninth. Down 6-5, Kevin Youkilis stepped to the plate with two outs. Facing a pitcher’s count of 1-2, Youkilis drove a hot shot to second for what almost was the third out of the game. Almost. Not known for his speed, Youkilis hustled down the line and just beat the throw by less than half a step.

That was all the leeway the Sox needed. Mark Loretta, newcomer to Boston this season, drive a 2-0 pitch over the Green Monster for his first hit of the day, first home run in a Sox uniform, and quite possibly the first walk-off homer of his baseball career.

He couldn’t have picked a better time to string together such an impressive list of firsts.

The stadium erupted the minute the ball left the bat and didn’t let up until long after the players left the field. Everyone seemed to feel the ball off Loretta’s bat, and knew it would travel beyond the Monster in left. The energy in that moment was amazing; the stands were a sea of motion as people jumped around and high-fived anyone within reach. The roar quickly grew from anticipation to assurance to the pinnacle of exuberance, the sound resonating throughout the stadium, surrounding streets, and probably the whole city of Boston.

Those marathoners must have loved the gauntlet going by Fenway. They must have gotten an extra boost from the masses that piled onto the sidewalks to cheer them on, undoubtedly pumped beyond belief after just watching the Sox complete an amazing last-ditch comeback. It was probably the most lively, loud and encouraging crowd ever to assemble along a marathon route.

I consider myself to be truly lucky to have been in attendance in yesterday’s game. Hell, I consider myself lucky to visit Fenway for ANY game, but yesterday was special. It was a day when the whole city of Boston commemorates the beginning of American Freedom. It was a day when the city’s beloved baseball team took the field in front of 36,000+ fans either enjoying a day off or playing hooky. It was a day when the world of two sports, on far ends of the spectrum from one another, came together in brotherhood, excitement, and patriotism. These things are rare to come by alone, much less all at once as it was yesterday. It was more than a thrill to be there; it was an honor.

So, thanks to the American Patriots who fought for our freedom on this day back in 1775. Thanks to the New England states who mark the occasion with this holiday. Thanks to the City of Boston for holding an event as prestigious as the Boston Marathon has become over the years. And thanks to the Red Sox for providing such an incredible, exhilarating victory to celebrate.

Nixon had a huge day in his first game back after tweaking his troublesome groin muscle, going 3 for 4 with two doubles and two runs scored. He’s made some great contributions to the team over the years both offensively and defensively, so its nice to see his name back in the lineup, especially in what looks to be his last season in Boston. With the acquisition of Wily Mo this season, it seems that Theo and Co. will allow Nixon to test the free-agent waters due to his high salary and injury issues. As sad as I will be to see him go, it’s probably a necessary evil to make room for some younger players (Pena, Mohr, Stern). I’m hoping Nixon has a monster year with little time spent on the DL and lands a contract worthy of this hard-nosed ballplayer. Long Live Trot!

Friday, April 14, 2006

First-Place Pitching Woes?

Boston’s starting rotation is probably the best its been in years. We were so stacked with starting pitching in spring training, we were able to trade away a great arm in Bronson Arroyo for more offense. I figured the last thing we needed to worry about was getting quality innings from the front 5, much less facing early blowouts.

But by the second inning of last night’s game, Matt Clement had already solidified a two-game losing streak for the Red Sox. Even after his offense staked him to a one-run lead in the first, he couldn’t find the plate in the top of the second, and paid for it. With the bases juiced, Vernon Wells lofted a long fly ball to dead center, the farthest part of the ballpark, for a four-run four-bagger and a quick 6-1 lead for the Jays.

To say this was discouraging is a colossal understatement, especially considering the performance David Wells put forth in Wednesday’s game. Two horrific starts in a row by starting pitchers, both of which are veterans in the league and considered staff aces at one point in their careers. In fact, all three Sox losses so far this year have come at the expense of bad starting pitching in early innings, the first of which was Wakefield’s forgettable appearance in Texas.

Here’s the difference in those starts, though: whereas the Wakefield and Clement losses are more than likely the case of a rare bad outing, Wells had just come off the disabled list and, as is speculated by many a Sox fan, may have rushed back to the starting rotation in order to meet performance clauses in his contract (Wells’ contract is structured around the amount of starts he makes per year).

Wake and Clement went through a normal spring training regimen, and were ready for their starting roles for the regular season. Clement pitched a 7-inning gem his first time out, and Wakefield rebounded nicely from the Texas game by going 6 innings in beating Baltimore. These guys are ready.

Wells? Not so much. Without even going into the obvious lack of physical shape this guy has obtained over his career, Wells had knee surgery in the offseason, which shortened his spring training significantly. His rehabilitation was obviously not complete, getting smacked around in a Triple-A start before joining the Red Sox for his ill-fated first start.

And it isn’t completely Wells’ fault for rushing back. I’m curious as to why the front office didn’t step in and suggest Wells make another rehab start or two in the minors before testing his knee on the big stage. Theo is on top of everything that goes on with that team, so you know he was well aware of the problems Wells had with a minor-league lineup. Yet he was welcomed back to the rotation with open arms, and promptly served up a lopsided loss.

Shame on you, David Wells, for risking the Sox winning streak. Shame on you for taking the hill before you were ready. Shame on you for putting the best interests of your Bank Account above those of your team and the City of Boson.

And shame on the front office for letting the loudmouth get away with it all.

There were some highlights to the game last night, though. David Ortiz smacked his fourth home run of the season, once again wrapping a two-run shot around Pesky’s Pole in right field. Seeing him rake the long ball and scamper down to first is a beautiful sight for Sox fans, and I hope Ortiz continues to torment opposing pitchers the way he has since joining the Sox. Now if Manny could only find his power swing again, all would be right in the Red Sox Nation.

Kevin Youkilis continues to impress me. I’ve been rooting for this guy to get some regular playing time so we could get a good look at how good a batter he is, and last night we witnesses a great example of just that.

Ninth inning of last night’s game, Youkilis is at the plate with runners at first and second, two outs, the score an 8-3 deficit. Youk doesn’t push, doesn’t rush, doesn’t try to do too much with the at-bat, just advance some runners and keep the game going. He fouls off a few VERY tough pitches inside, lets some corner-nibblers go by for balls, and battled for a full count. Next pitch, he rips a shot to left-center that rolls to the wall for a double, scoring both runners. Now the game is 8-5, making Ortiz the tying run (after Loretta doubled and scored Youk).

Youkilis stayed focused the whole game, not backing off for a second even though the Sox were all but out of the game by the ninth. He hung in there, and helped put the Red Sox in the position to win the game. Ortiz flied out to deep right to secure the loss, but what a dramatic ending anyway.

What’s the last thing a Sox fan wants to hear? “Now batting for Alex Gonzalez … Alex Cora!” See? Every Sox fan who read that last sentence just cringed in disgust. Talk about a no-win situation! That’s like substituting Sleepless in Seattle with You’ve Got Mail. Sure, they may be different, but both make you painfully aware you will never get those two hours of your life back.

And yes, I am horrified that I have used not one, but two chic-flick references in my blog now. In the same damn sentence to boot. I have already self-imposed a ban on my Man Card.

New CoolFlo helmets have been invading MLB this season. Has anyone else noticed these? They have interesting (read: ugly as all hell) ridges and vents on the top and sides of the helmet. Some teams have even taken to using these ridges as an outline for a two-tone color scheme (Mets), which just comes out looking overly-futuristic.

Thankfully, not all teams in the majors have adopted the new helmet style, including my beloved Red Sox. I would say that teams rich in tradition have led the way in bucking the trend, like the Sox and Yankees, but the Cubs have also taken to using the new design, so there goes that theory.

And what’s the purpose of the new helmet, anyway? Was there something wrong with the traditional batting helmets? Were they really THAT much hotter that more vents were needed? Did they create THAT much drag on runners that aerodynamics just had to be incorporated?

Selig was behind this, wasn’t he? That bastard.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Around the Diamond

Even though he’s currently on the DL, Coco Crisp signed a contract extension with Boston that will keep him in a Sox uniform through 2010. Even though we’ve only seen Crisp in 4 games so far this season, he’s been impressing fans, teammates and front office alike with his defense in the field, bat at the plate, and speed everywhere he goes. And at 26, Crisp still has many good years ahead of him.

No word yet on the dollar amounts behind the deal, but I’m betting it’s a far cry from the $12 million Damon’s getting.

If Pedro Martinez even gets within 3 feet of Guillen with a pitch in tonight’s Mets-Nationals matchup, the fireworks are gonna fly. After the beanball game in New York last week, both teams have behaved themselves, mostly for fear of suspension from the league. But tonight, Pedro is back on the hill, and he’s going to do his best to keep his Mets in first place. If Guillen is hanging over the plate just a hair, he’s getting plunked.

On a side note, keep your eye on Nationals manager Frank Robinson if anyone on his team does get beaned. His relentless badgering of the umpires in last week’s fiasco ranked very high on the Unintentional Comedy Scale (pardon the blatent ripoff of Bill Simmons). When he blows a gasket like that, I fully expect him to simply start to wander into the outfield, muttering to himself and waving his arms like a madman.

As I mentioned before, Bronson Arroyo belted his second home run of the season yesterday. On the scoreboard, that’s a run differential of +2. Also mentioned was Wily Mo’s Canseco-esque assist of a home run in right field, which plated two runs. Since those runs were for the opposite team, that’s a -2 for Wily. That gives Bronson a +4 advantage over Wily Mo so far. Think Arroyo can play right field?

Game Notes

David Wells is a load. I never did like the guy in a Sox uniform. He's a loudmouth, a sloppy fat mess on the mound, and an ex-Yankee to boot. The 15 wins he scraped out last season for the Sox could easily have been found elsewhere. I just don't like him.

He's managed to dig the Sox into a 5-0 hole after only two innings of work. Three of those runs came on homers, one of which left Fenway completely. Now the Sox might have to go to their bullpen, in the third inning, to finish out the game. I'm SO glad we brought him off the DL for this start. SO glad he could start the Sox out in the hole, and help deplete our bullpen for the rest of the homestand. Thanks Wells. You fatass.

On the bright side, Wily Mo just HAMMERED a ball to left. Unfortunately, it just hooked foul, but it was one hell of a shot. If he ever finds his stride here in Boston, cars on the Mass Pike had better stock up on windshield insurance.

Dustan Mohr, a minor-league centerfielder the Sox called up in place of the injured Nixon, is sporting number 18 in the game tonight. Its nice to see that jersey back on the field so soon, should help fans get over the loss of Damon. But then, having Crisp out there on a regular basis is all we really need to say, "Johnny who?"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Opening Day at Fenway

Okay, I’ve been trying to be good about writing these blog entries while I’m at work (month-old new job, nonetheless), but today it’s simply unavoidable. The home opener for the Red Sox started at 2:00, and since I can’t stream audio OR video for the occasion, I closely followed the action on GameCast, as well as my favorite Red Sox message board. There’s no way I was missing out completely on this grand occasion.

(I took notes as the game went along, and tried to past-tense this entry the best I could afterwards, so please bear with me if there’s any nasty logic or tense jumps.)

Though I already love Beckett after his strong 7-inning win in Texas to open the season, I wish he didn’t take lessons from Schilling on how to give up first-inning runs. I know sometimes the offense needs a little motivation to get going, I’d just rather that motivation not be in the form of cheap runs. Walking in a run is never acceptable, especially from as good a pitcher as Beckett. I’m going to chalk that one up to opening-day jitters.

All was not lost, tough. Becket battled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam by getting Glaus to ground into a double play. The Sox rallied back in the bottom of the second on a few key doubles from Lowell, Stern and Youkilis, plating 4 runs in the wall-ball onslaught. There’s just so many great things with that last sentence, I don’t know where to begin.

Let’s go in order. Lowell, whom many thought was beyond his prime and would be a hindrance both in the field and at the plate, put together a beautiful 4-4 day with three doubles. Though this was by far his best game in a Sox uniform so far, the hits he’s had before have been timely.

Adam Stern, the Canadian manning center field in the absence of Crisp, has been talking Sox fans back from the ledge in his past two starts. The young callup has shown good defense (even dating back to the World Baseball Classic in his Canuck uniform), and his .333 batting average may land him the leadoff spot in the lineup in favor of the cement-footed Youkilis. Though I’m sure all Sox fans in the nation are eagerly awaiting the return of Crisp, Stern is helping us pass the time with much less anxiety.

And Youk, he’s still my boy. I love that he’s going to get some serious playing time this season, whether at first or third. He rakes the ball at the plate, and has an amazing eye and patience.

Beckett went on cruise control after that first inning, allowing only one run on three hits through 7 innings. I can’t wait to get home and watch this game, with Beckett screaming and pumping his fist after mowing down the Jays all game. Baseball is back in Boston, baby.

Our free-swinging platooner Wily Mo came into the game in the 5th, replacing Trot Nixon in right field. Going merely on what I’ve read on message boards, Trot made an awkward dive for a ball in the first inning, where he must have tweaked one of many sore weak muscles. I love the guy, don’t get me wrong, but for some reason its hard for him to stay healthy.

In the “no surprise there” department, Wily Mo swung at the first pitch he saw in the game and flied out. In his last at-bat, three pitches, three swings, three misses. Will someone please tell this guy to watch one for once? Just one pitch for a change?

Speaking of strikeouts, Manny had a rough day at the plate. An 0-4 day with two K’s to his name. His average is looking dangerously similar to his slow start of the 2005 season.

I have to give Kudos to Keith Foulke, who seems to be taking his loss of the Closer role in stride. The new system of Foulke in the 8th, Papelbon in the 9th is working wonders, and no one has heard a peep from the Sox. Its pretty evident why this new system is here to stay for a while, though: Foulke gave up a 2-run shot in the 8th, while Papelbon closed out the win with a 1-2-3 9th. That brings Papelbon’s ERA this season to ZERO. Not one earned run so far. Now THAT’S a closer.

So Opening Day at Fenway is in the books, and the Sox are sitting atop the AL East with a 6-1 record. Starting pitching looks tough, the bullpen is doing its job, and our offense has shown some pop thus far. Not a bad way to break in a newly-renovated Fenway Park.

Let’s just hope Boomer’s return to the mound is a successful one tomorrow and he keeps the streak alive. You never know what you’re going to get with his first few starts of the season.

The Yankees had some trouble with the Royals in today’s game. Wang couldn’t hold on to an early 4-1 lead, with Kansas City taking a 7-4 advantage late in the game. Tanyon Sturtze, the cheap-shot artist who choke-holded Nixon in the Brawl Game in 2004, relieved Wang in the seventh and promptly gave up a solo shot to Shane Costa. Jeter rallied them back, however, with a 3-run homer for a 9-7 lead, and Rivera closed it out for the win. Let’s hope the Royals bullpen shakes off today’s debacle and at least takes one from the Yanks. As much as I enjoy seeing them in the cellar, I’m certain it won’t last for too long.

Bronson Arroyo has done it again. In just his second start of the season, Captain Cornrows has belted another home run, bringing his season total to two. Just for the record, that’s just as many as Big Papi and Manny. Combined.

Post game update: After I got home, I had a chance to watch some highlights from today's game at Fenway, and I have a few comments that couldn't go un-added.

I'll get the bad out of the way first. I need to retract the dig on Foulke for giving up a two-run homer in today's game. He actually gave up a long fly-ball out that Wily Mo batted over the right-field fence for a homer. The ball was in his glove, he continued a good step and a half backwards, and lost the ball when he ran into the fence. Probably a tough catch, especially the way that fence seems to be at the perfect back-wrenching height, but still a catchable ball. I suddenly fear both Wily Mo's offense AND defense. Or severe lack thereof, as the case may be.

On a good note, did you see that double play turned by Gonzalez? Sick! As much as I hate his Mendoza-line batting average, his quickness and skill on the field makes up for a lot. Loretta managed to get a glove on a bullet shot headed for the outfield, but it was too far over his head, batting it behind second base. Out of nowhere, Gonzalez swoops in, snares the hop, steps on second and fires to first to complete the innng-ending double play. How I missed having such a fleet-footed, slick-fielding shortstop out there for the Sox! Reminds me of the days of OCab.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Good Times, Bad Times

Monday brings many mixed emotions for this Red Sox fan, with great news and an unfortunate turn of events weighing heavy on my mind.

First, the bad. Coco Crisp, the Red Sox new centerfielder who’s been making a big splash with the team so far this season, managed to break his finger when he got caught trying to nab third base against the Orioles. He knew he was dead to rights, tried to slide and pull up at the same time, and ended up tumbling over a few feet away from third. That tumble snapped his left index finger, and will land him a 15-day stint on the DL.

Is this why Sox teams of past never valued speed much? Is it because it comes back to bite you in the ass in the end? Was management on to something with their less-than-fleet-of-foot squads of the 80s?

I hope not. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen anyone round the bases as fast as Crisp has this season for the Sox. Tito better not yank Coco’s perpetual green light on the basepath, ‘cause this guy is greased lightening. In the five games he’s played, Crisp has crossed home six times already. That means he’s getting on base at a damn fine clip, and that kind of production doesn’t come very often.

’s trip to the DL will give Sox fans a better look at Wily Mo Pena, the part-time right fielder from Cincinnati who hasn’t hit much more than the bench in the few plate appearances he’s had so far. A notorious free-swinger with more K’s than Kris Kristofferson’s monogrammed luggage, Wily Mo has hardly seen a pitch he didn’t like, and frankly, hasn’t missed.

Perhaps Wily Mo has been pushing too hard, trying to make the best of limited playing time to impress Sox brass in the short-term. With Crisp out, Wily Mo is sure to get more platoon time in the outfield with Adam Stern. Hopefully Wily Mo’s increased roster presence will ease him at the plate, give him the time and confidence he needs to become a productive full-time player.

If not, there’s gonna be one helluva stiff breeze blowing around Fenway for the next two weeks.

But today wasn’t a total bust for the Sox. In fact, today may have set the stage for great Sox teams for years to come. In a signing that parallels the Varitek deal last year, the Sox tied up slugger David Ortiz to a four-year deal that will keep him in Boston’s laundry through 2010 (with an option for 2011). Its nice to see a big-name star actually get along with management for a change, isn’t it?

The man who’s being hailed as the best clutch hitter in baseball today made the decision to forgo the free agency that awaited him at the end of the 2006 season, not to mention some big dollar signs to match the stats he’s been putting up. Not necessarily taking a hometown discount, Ortiz inked the deal moreso to stay, and hopefully finish his career, here in Boston.

“I feel like this is my house. I want to protect my house;” said Ortiz at the press conference in an Under Armor-esque way. If that statement doesn't give every Sox fan out there the chills, you're simply not alive. Ortiz has thrown down the gauntlet and taken up his position at the gates of Fenway. He's here for the long haul, ready to stand tall for the city of Boston, a city he loves to play in.

And with a guard dog like Big Papi at the front door to Fenway, ain’t nobody coming in and pushing the Sox around.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Watch Out for In Your Ear

There’s just something about bench-clearing brawls in baseball that I can’t get enough of. I don’t know if it’s the team comradery, the bullpen streaking across the outfield, or how batters conveniently wait until someone’s got a hold of them before they make any real attempt to go after the pitcher, but I like when a mob of baseballers meets halfway between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. Just makes me smile.

I don’t want anyone getting hurt, mind you. Not that anyone really gets hurt in a baseball fight anyway. Most of the time its just a few big swings that connect with little outside of an errant stadium bug, maybe a good tackle, followed by some bad Greco-Roman wrestling. Outside of the initial fracas, I’m sure most players are chatting up in the crowd, how’s the kids, nice play the other night.

The best mound-charging brawl I’ve seen has to be with Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura. Ventura didn’t take too kindly to getting plunked by a 97 mph fastball, and ran out to the mound to have a chat about it. The next thing he knew, Ventura was in a headlock, getting rapped on the top of his head by Ryan. Right before the mob reached the mound to break them up, Ryan got in one final punch: a wicked sweeping fist right into Ventura’s face. Its not often a pitcher gets in a good lick like that. Ryan gave pitchers across the league hope. It was beautiful.

This all came up as I was watching the Nationals – Mets game tonight on ESPN, with ex-Sox great Pedro Martinez on the hill. It looked like Pedro had lost a little bit of that zip on his fastball, but there was no shortage of that Martinez attitude he carried with him all those years.

Pedro always did the beanball the right way. He only went after you if he had a good reason, like retaliation. Plus he hit batters correctly. When Pedro aims for you, he gets you in the back and in the ass; none of these head shots that run so rampant in baseball these days.

Tonight, Petey was claiming the inside corner of the plate against the Nationals, making sure their batters didn’t dig in too deep every at-bat. A few of them flew out of the way of the inside pitches, while others simply had no where to go. When all was said and done, Petey had plunked three Nationals batters, a new career high.

This kinda confused me, though. Three plunked batters is his career high? You mean to tell me he’s never pegged three batters in one game before? All those series against the Yankees, not one outing with three beanballs? I’m shocked.

Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen were Pedro’s targets for tonight, with Guillen getting the honor twice. The second time around is when the fun began. Guillen got crazed on his elbow, took a second to think about it, then decided to go after Pedro. Of course, by that time, even the umpire had an arm around him. Guillen made sure he gave Pedro plenty of evil eye, though, even going as far as to stare down the barrel of hit bat. Classic stand-off.

I think it should be mandatory for the crazy guys of baseball, the hotheads who regularly pop their top, to get plunked once a week in a game. Those moments when they get some chin music and you can just see the water beginning to boil is awesome. You know its just a matter of time until a pitch gets a little too close, much less hit them, and they’re going ballistic. Think Selig would go for that?

Yeah, probably not. Thankfully, there’s still pitchers like Pedro around to make sure we get our brawl fix every now and then.


Okay, the other day I said I wasn’t going to get excited about the Red Sox so early in the season. But after watching them in their third game, I’m pretty fired up.

Maybe not as fired up as Josh Beckett, though. After struggling in the first and giving up a run, Beckett bounced back to deliver a pitching performance that had Schilling applauding from the top step of the dugout. Boston’s new young phenom put in 7 strong innings, battling out of some jams en route to a 5-strikeout performance.

But that’s not what really got me excited wasn’t so much Beckett’s performance (though I am pretty stoked about it), it was his passion. His youthful exuberance was flowing out his ears the whole game. He nearly ran down the first base umpire on an appealed check-swing call at one point, screaming for the appeal down the line. When he was granted the strikeout to end the inning, a Tiger Woods-esque fist pump accompanied a scream that the entire Red Sox Nation heard.

I love that we have a guy that gets this fired up. Schilling has his moments, his own fist pumps and hollers, but he’s getting old. Beckett is the young blood of the new starting rotation, and he’s got balls. This guy almost started a fight with Phillies first baseman Howard, screaming at him from the dugout after Howard stood at home and watched what turned out to be a long fly ball out.

I think that’s just what this team needs, some of that young fire. With all the new faces, it just may be Beckett’s sort of attitude that takes the reigns and brings together this team. I’m not saying he’s the leader, because I firmly believe Varitek has had that role wrapped up for years, but he could be someone the team rallies behind in the long run. And for Beckett, with a mentor like Schilling on the squad, the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

But, having said that, there is one thing that concerns me about this guy. For all his talent, I hope he doesn’t get too cocky for his own good. Throughout the game tonight, his first start as a Red Sox mind you, he was shaking off Varitek left and right. Beckett had his own game plan for pitching this game, and didn’t seem to want Varitek’s advice on how to approach the batters.

Sure, it all worked out in the end, but look at the facts: Varitek has been catching and calling games in the AL his whole career. Beckett is only 5 years in the league, all in the NL. He doesn’t know the Rangers or any other team in the AL. I’m curious where his confidence comes from that he’s going to shake off a veteran like Varitek. I’m keeping my eye on this for now. Beckett gets a reprieve because he pitched one hell of a game tonight, but this arrogance better not come back to bite him, and the team, in the ass.

More on pitching: Have the Sox found a new closer in Papelbon? Boston’s farm-grown flamethrower came in the ninth tonight in a one-run game and mowed down batters for the save. With Foulke seemingly still struggling after his horrific outing Monday, Francona put the young pitcher in to see how he’d hold up, and he held up well.

Mixed feelings for me, though. While I would LOVE to see the Sox drop Foulke from the closer role and have Papelbon blowing away ninth-inning batters from here on out, I’m wondering if the team would be doing itself an injustice by not giving this guy more innings that lead to an eventual starter’s role. Papelbon has the potential to be the next (dare I say it, yes, I do!) Roger Clemens (hopefully minus the attitude), so a closer role might deprive him of the lengthy outings needed to make it through 7+ innings every 5 days.

In Theo we trust, however. That man has the master plan in order, and I have faith. Papelbon, Beckett, the works. I’m behind them all.

I’m stoked. Sox look hot. Let the season roll.

Bronson Arroyo hit a home run in his Cincinnati debut today. Let me say that again: pitcher Bronson Arroyo hit a home run in the third inning that tied the game at 3. The same Bronson Arroyo the Red Sox traded for part-time fielder Wily Mo Pena. Wily Mo has exactly ZERO home runs on the season so far. Advantage: Reds.

Oh, Arroyo won the game, too. Reds 2.

Monday, April 03, 2006

One down, 161 to go

Not a bad way to open the season, boys. Not bad at all.

The Sox officially kicked off the 2006 baseball season today, beating the Texas Rangers 7-3. It was hard to stomach the 2:00 start for their first game, especially on a Monday. Its difficult enough trying to watch all 162 games a season, much less when they stick 'em on in the middle of a workday. I understand its impossible to schedule games that are convenient to every fan, but how can you put the opening game for the Red Sox on in the middle of a Monday? That should be a Federal Offense! You can't tell me they couldn't swap a night game with the Rockies or someone. I mean, who watches the Rockies anymore? After they traded Walker, didn't they automatically reclassify as a Double-A team? Yer killin' me, Smalls!

Ahem. Excuse the rant.

So anyway, Schilling pitched a gem, going 7 strong innings for the win. He certainly looked like he managed to get back into his 2004 shape, hitting close to 95 on the radar gun. He hit a little trouble in his last two innings, giving up a couple long fly-ball outs and an eventual two-run homer to Blalock, but battled out of a jam and came back for a 1-2-3 seventh. When the dust cleared, Schilling logged a 118-pitch, 5 strikeout day. That roar you hear in the background is cheering from Red Sox Nation.

Then Foulke steps in. Unfortunately, our trouble closer did not follow in the footsteps of Schilling and find the stride he so triumphantly strutted in 2004. Foulke reminded us once again why we were calling for his head on a platter last season, giving up a single, double and a run in the bottom of the ninth before recording the final out. That roar you hear in the background is a collective groan from the Red Sox Nation.

But even Foulke couldn’t ruin this day for Sox fans. Not only did Boston win its first season opener since 2000, the new faces on the field stepped up and contributed right away. Lowell showed some pop, Gonzalez had a 2 for 4 day, and Crisp put on a defensive clinic in center.

Speaking of Crisp, that bugger is FAST. Boston’s had a speedy center fielder the past four years, but Crisp made him look more like Bernie Williams with a bum leg. I’d put my money on Crisp in a straight-up sprint any day. Sox announcers stated that Francona has given Crisp the green light on the basepath all season long, and I couldn’t be happier. The Sox have never really been known as a running team, but with all the new blood around this season, what not a better time to buck the trend.

Big Papi got a helluva start to another MVP-type season, despite what voters decided last year. He delivered what proved to be the knockout blow in the game, absolutely CRUSHING a Kevin Millwood pitch in the fifth for a two-run homer that put the Sox up 5-0. This ball hit the top of the right-field foul pole it was hammered so hard. There was no doubt it was gone as soon as he hit it, just whether or not it would stay fair. I just love seeing that guy lumber around the bases after launching one like that. I sincerely hope Sox management get that rumored deal for him tied up soon. Big Papi has turned into a key player that any team would be lucky to have.

The big question still remains: can this new group of Red Sox pull together and play some quality ball all season long? Sports analysts have picked them everywhere from taking the AL East crown to a lowly 3rd place finish behind New York and Baltimore.

Me? I’m holding off on judgment for now. One game hardly a whole season makes, or some Yoda saying like that. Its just one game, no matter how impressive.

But what a game it was.

A fan in San Diego chucked a syringe at Giant’s slugger Barry Bonds during the game yesterday. No needle attached, but the sentiment was perfect. Surprisingly, Barry actually picked it up and took it off the field. Maybe he thought it was a special delivery from his trainer. Either way, I’m sure his PR rep had a heart attack seeing him even CONSIDER handling a syringe considering the scandal he’s stuck in right now.

The Yankees absolutely crushed the A’s in their opener last night. ARod launched a grand slam to give the Yanks an early 7-0 lead. Does anyone else notice how ARod seems to get the big hits when they are least needed? The Yankees were already up 3-0 on a clearly struggling Barry Zito, and THEN ARod gets offensive. Where is he in the close games? Clutch hits from this guy? MVP my left … well, you get the idea.

Theo Epstein is awesome. With Roger Clemens visiting both the Rangers and Red Sox prior to yesterday’s game, Theo maintained the integrity of both himself and the club when he spoke to the former Boston ace. Instead of groveling for his services this season as some teams have resorted to, Theo kept it short and sweet: The door is open when you decide to make up your mind. Nicely done, Theo.

Happiness Is ...

Baseball has begun.

The initial pitch thrown, the first runs scored, the last out made. Three home runs for Chicago in the opening game, matched by 3 errors on Cleveland’s side of the diamond. Possibly the first regular-season visit to the DL, after CC Sabathia strained an abdominal in the third inning. Maybe his skewed hat threw off his balance.

Side note: raise your hand if you thought CC Sabathia even HAD abdominals to strain. Seriously, anyone?

The first game is in the books. Defending Champs White Sox 10, Rebuilding Indians 4. A good offensive start paired with a shakey defensive outing for the once-solid Indains. Remember their infield back in the day? Deadly double-play combo Carlos Baerga and Omar Vizquel up the middle? Sandy Alomar Jr. behind the plate? Even speedster Kenny Lofton patrolling center field? They ain’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Thome, facing his former team of 12 years, launched a two-run shot in the fourth, and received his first curtain-call in a White Sox uni. That shot tied him on the all-time homer run list with Oriole great (hack) Cal Ripken.

Though I’m pretty ambivalent about Thome, mostly a mere admirer of his quick crushing swings, its nice to see him move up such a prestigious list. Well, actually, I’m happier that he tied, and will eventually pass, Mr. Ripken. Love to see Cal’s name move DOWN on the record lists, hoo boy!

But today at 2:00 EST, my life will once again have meaning. In Texas, Coco Crisp, the Sox new center fielder, will see the first pitch of Boston’s 2006 season. Its magical. My first season living in Boston, being a local to the team I’ve followed my entire life, Fenway a short ride down the road. Can you feel it? I can.

The Gates of Heaven itself won’t open until next week when the Sox return to Boston for their home opener on the 11th, but the fans will still be there in Texas to cheer on their team. The Red Sox Nation is global and daunting; there are games when visiting Sox fans outnumber those for the home team. It’s a beautiful thing to see away games on TV and hear nothing but, “Let’s Go Red Sox!”

They may not have won the World Series last year, but no one in this town, in this fanbase, has forgotten the magic of 2004. Sure, we’re down to a mere handful, if that, of players remaining from the championship squad, but the name on the front of everyone’s jersey is the same. New faces, new personalities. New things to love about a team, new things to be concerned about. A new season starts today.

Curt Schilling will take the mound for the season opener today, already a better start than he had last year. We’ll get our first look at one of our staff aces, and maybe get a good sense as to if he’s returned to his 2004 form, or if we’ll be languishing in another 2005 debacle.

Lots of questions about the rest of the pitching staff, too. Are we going to miss our not-so-young-anymore phenom Arroyo? Will Paplebon be a beast out of the pen? Can Tavarez keep his cool long enough to throw a pitch? Will Becket be the new future of the pitching staff? Will Boomer get the boot? Is Clement’s new facial hair the answer to his post-All-Star-break woes?

We’ll get to see how the revamped lineup will perform this season. Will Crisp help us forget how Jesus abandoned the city for our most hated rivals? Can the flashy defense of Alex Gonzalez make us overlook his .245 career batting average? Will Mark Loretta stay healthy enough to keep Alex Cora off the field as much as possible? Can Mike Lowell play younger than he looks throughout the season? And for God’s sake, will Manny continue to be Manny and learn to once again love the city of Boston?

And the most important issue to examine today: Team Chemistry. No other team has sold fans on the importance of Chemistry more than the Sox and their band of Idiots the past few seasons. Now those Idiots are all but gone and forgotten, and a new crew is donning the Boston jerseys. This squad needs to find their common ground, that niche, that brings this team together in baseball harmony.

Today is our first look. In just a few hours, we’re underway.

And I’m stuck at work. Dammit.

The Terps are in the Finals! UMD basketball made it through the final four, beating #1 seed UNC to reach the final game against division rival Duke. These two teams finished 1-3 in the ACC this year, so its sure to be a hard-fought game between bitter enemies.

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the Men’s squad. This year, the basketball accolades lie firmly with the Lady Terps and their amazing season. In only her fourth season with the team, coach Brenda Frese has led the Terps to a record of 33-4, more wins than any Men’s or Women’s team in school history.

And tomorrow night, they’ll take the court here in Boston to try to claim their first NCAA National Championship ever. Though I won’t be in attendance, I definitely will be rooting them on. Hell, I might even tune in for a few plays. I just won’t tell anyone I did.

Go Terps!