Horrific, just a horrific couple of nights. Reminds you of old times doesn't it? A game that the Olde Towne Team should have easily won - a quick 2-0 lead against a creaky piece of shit, a hobbled Yankee lineup, home field advantage - goes inexplicably awry, almost as if the team is WILLING itself to lose, fueled by the almost impossible negativity and incompetence of Matt Clement. Ortiz's terrible 0-9 performance over the past two games has not helped, but let's talk about Clement here.
Let me be the first person to say I was wrong about Clement. I had hoped that the White Sox ALCS shellacking would be a watershed moment for Matt, that it would give him catharsis and he could start anew in 2006. I was wrong, oh, how I was wrong. Clement is a guy who is apparently cursed by what Poe described in the "Imp of the Perverse", a subconscious desire to make things worse for himself and those around him - to do wrong for wrong's sake. When he gets a bad call, he'll get wilder in ensuing pitches. If a guy gets a lucky hit on a good pitch, Clement will groove fastballs into the wheelhouse, as if giving Fate the finger (for reference see the at-bats of Williams and Long in the 4th tonight). In short, when Clement goes bad, he goes awful.
The question of course, is why the hell did Tito leave him in there? Once he starts to slide you pull him, if you care to win the game, and there are no games you can give to the Yankees, certainly not after you gift-wrapped them a game the very night before. That is exactly how teams start to slide, and it will be the true test of this team over the course of the next week. We'll see how they rebound from two embarrassing losses, where nothing went right.
If you're like me, and I pity you if this is the case, the thing that is bothering you about this game is the fact that once Clement collapsed you could feel that the Sox were not coming back. Bases-loaded, Papi at the plate, I never thought for a moment they would win this game.
Wily Mo Pena was so winded from the experience he was scared to take home plate after Farnsworth attempted to decapitate Loretta - probably thinking "this is going to bounce straight to Stinnet". AndI can't blame him. Psychologically it has got to be nearly impossible to get the equilibrium and focus you need to keep fighting back after watching a guy just go to pieces on the mound - again. If a guy has crappy stuff (hi Lenny) that night you just have to gut it out, but watching Clement mentally implode must take it out of everyone on the field. Their at-bats against the crappy Yankee relievers were just pathetic. The shots of the bench didn't look too hot either. Clement sucked the heart right out of that team.
Long story somewhat less long, Sybill has to go. He has good enough stuff to get you 10-12 wins against sub-.500 teams, and will throw the occasional surprise gem, but he cannot be a part of a playoff team. Like our beloved Nomah before him, his insanity casts a pall over every game he is in once things start to go wrong. The stat heads like to argue against "intangibles", and we all know there is a limit, but a baseball team needs to believe cohesively it can win any game, every game to go the distance. That's what I believe, and that's what every guy on the 2004 team will tell you.
I don't know if we can get anything for him, but I know this much - his time is short. If Wells come back strong and either Lester matures (a lot) or Clemens signs, I would expect to see a very one-sided deal made to be rid of his sorry, sorry ass. And I for one will be pleased. This team is good enough to go deep into the playoffs, but not with him in the rotation.
p.s. Please lord let me be wrong about him again. I promise I'll admit it even more quickly.
Some Minor League notes:
Every once in a while I will try to update "everyone" on various of our bright shining stars in the lower levels. There are some fun young guys to follow...
Jacoby Ellsbury: My favorite name in the minors, Ellsbury projects to be a Podsednik-style leadoff hitter/CF with speed to burn. Despite missing several games to injury Ellsbury is having a good season, hitting .329 with an OPS of .414, and 9 steals in 19 games. Today in his first at-bat Ellsbury singled, stole second, stole third and scored on the bad throw. He's a guy that can make things happen.
Dustin Pedroia: Everyone is waiting with bated breath for Pedroia to be ready for the bigs, and to prove he can play baseball. This is largely because Alex Gonzalez is a boil on the ass of the Red Sox offense, but also Pedroia is a dirt dog kind of player that will be loved in Boston. A bizarre shoulder injury caused him to miss all but the last few weeks, and he had a slow start afterwards, but he has been coming around as of late. A 3-for-3 day yesterday raised his average to .261 (down to .254 after 0-3 tonight), and he is still getting on base at a .356 clip. There are a lot of questions about DP's ceiling due to physical limitations, but most Sox fans would be happy to have him if he can approximate what he's done in the minors thus far.
John Lester: Everyone knows about the young left-hander. He struggled early in AAA this season but his last couple outings have been solid, and overall he's striking out a hitter per inning with decent control. My question about Lester pertains to his attitude - we know Paps has the killer instinct, but will John?
Chris Smith: Portland starter who is coming baclk from a labrum injury is throwing the ball very well, with a 2.01 ERA, 28 Ks and just 7 walks, although due to poor run support his record is just 3-3. He doesn't have a blazing fastball, but shows great control and has a repertoire of junk to pitch with. Abe Alvarez with better stuf.
David Murphy: Described by Sox Prospects as a "sweet swinging outfielder", Murphy thus far appears to be a streaky hitter who when he puts it together just catches fire. He started slow this year (again) but has done well lately. Showed what he can do in the Arizona fall League last year, but the question remains - does he become Trot Nixon, or Darren Bragg?
Tommy Hottovy: In Wilmington, Hottovy is duplicating Chris Smith's season, compiling a 4-3 record despite having a 2.17 ERA and a WHIP of just 1.00. Hottovy spent last season retooling his mechanics to throw more smoothly and preserve his arm, and while he struggled at that time, he seems to have found a rhythm now.
Jeff Natale: Another Shea favorite, the kid from Trinity just won't stop hitting. Sure, his fielding is suspect to some degree, but his batting stats thus far in 2006? An average of .336, an OBP of .475, and the kid is slugging .572 for an OPS of .1047. He's Ked 19 times and walked 34. I don't know how long they keep him down in Greenville (low-A) but I can't imagine it's long.