Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sox Drop Game 3 To Indians, Gorman, God.

If you're like me, you ended Saturday night saying to yourself "That was the worst fucking game I have watched since the talentless Aaron Boone ended the 2003 season". But then along comes Game 3, and it just blows Game 2 out of the water. In the future when mankind's brains and technology are developed enough that you can compress several hours of information into a single impression, this game will be in the dictionary next to "Murphy's Law".

Let's start with the basic, unassailable premise, which is this: in an Indians-Red Sox game where the starters are Jake Westbrook and DiceK, the Red Sox should win 9 of 10 matchups. This is unarguable, because while DiceK is a little shaky at times, Jake Westbrook absolutely sucks. No, really - he sucks.

So what went wrong?


Well, pretty much everything went wrong, but let's start with the approach at the plate. As an organization the Red Sox stress taking a lot of pitches and getting starters pitch counts up. This has the dual benefits of tiring the starter so they can get to him, get him out, and feast on the generally weaker middle relief. It worked well against CC and Carmona because they are both guys who throw hard with excellent stuff but shitty command. As we all know, the end result was disastrous on Saturday but the approach was correct.

Against a guy like Westbrook who has good command but crappy stuff, it's not the best idea to take a ton of pitches, because he NEEDS to pitch ahead in the count to be successful. If you give him strike one every at-bat, you're playing right into his hands. But that's exactly what the Sox did. Moreover, against Cleveland whose bullpen is fantastic, there is no advantage to getting to them early because Lewis and Betancourt will just shut down your weak-ass bats. The Sox should have been pounding a few first pitch strikes to make Westbrook nibble a bit and get behind in a few counts, but they didn't.

Adding the this mess was the execution. Westbrook, Lewis and Betancourt all threw quite a few mistakes that guys missed, although given the stuff the latter two have it's more forgivable. No matter what you're approach is, when you get your pitch, you need to hit it. And when you load the bases with nobody out against a guy as bad as Westbrook, that should be it - game over.

Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman

And....speaking of bases loaded situations...the Sox would have had another bases loaded situation but for the simply unbelievable incompetence (or is it Tim Donaghy Redux?) of home plate umpire Brian Gorman, who called strike one on a ball four pitch to Manny that was so far off the plate that the Fox strike zone imaging software could barely register it in the graphic. He later screwed Coco Crisp on ball four on a pitch that was very nearly as bad. Both incidents resulted in rally-killing at-bats that can be laid squarely at the feet of an umpire who called one of the worst and most one-sided ball/strike games in recorded history. On the flip side, DiceK struck out Casey Blake in the fifth but Gorman called it ball three, and Blake went on to single on the next pitch, and then score what proved to be the winning run. With the exception of a terrible first strike call on Pronk, every bad call went against the Sox. Conspiracy theorists, get our your pens.

Let's go to the visual aid!

Here is the strike one pitch to Manny, which if called correctly, puts Manny on first to load the bases with one out and Mike Lowell, the team's best RBI man, stepping to the plate. As I call it, "Gorman's Coup de Grace":

Here is strike two (see #5) to Coco in the seventh, which if called correctly would have put him on first with one out (in front of a Lugo single although that can't be assumed once the Coco play has changed). Having the fastest player on the team on base with one out and the second fastest player at the plate might have changed the context of that inning, you think?

And, here is ball three to Blake (see #5 and note it's vertical match to strike one), which, had Gorman correctly rung him up, probably keeps the score tied at two. I'm thinking that's a significant missed call, especially in light of it being ball three, meaning Blake got to look strike-zone-only on the next pitch.

And, for those of you who might be wondering if the knees was too low to be considered within Gorman's strike zone, here is a strike call from two batters later:

Obviously, I am pissed that Gorman fucked over my team. That said, the Sox should have beaten the crap out of Jake Westbrook. Last night's loss is firmly on the offense. But how is it possible that in one of the most important games of the year, we have to put up with this shit? I mean, these are not tough calls, in most cases they are painfully obvious. The pitch to Manny was so far inside you'd think that Gorman would have to have an astigmatism or be on crack to call it a strike. It makes no sense that MLB can't remedy this situation because it detracts from the game and leaves everyone feeling cheated.

God, Karma, Elementary Particles - Whatever

Lastly, in our Perfect Storm of Suck, we have the current that runs through baseball like water, and the reason we have the term "small sample size" in discussing the game. Luck. A lot of people will be bitching about DiceK's inability to get out of the 5th again, and it is certainly true that he should never, ever, give up a dinger to the scrawny girlish corpse of Kenny Lofton, but as per usual DiceK died by the seeing-eye groundball.

The hit by Cabrera (which scored the should-have-been-sitting-in-the-dugout Casey Blake), by rights, should have been a routine out, but Pedroia wasn't positioned up the middle, which he should have been with Cabrera hitting with two strikes and Tek set up outside. That is on the first base coach Luis Alicea who as a former middle infielder should know better. The hit by Garko that put him on base for Lofton was a weak piece of shit that barely made it to the outfield. These are the breaks, and DiceK, for whatever reason, rarely gets them.

On the other hand, when Papi hits a screamer right on the screws, it goes directly into the face of the Indians' right fielder. That's baseball. At this level, you need some luck, and the Sox aren't getting it.

Final Analysis: DiceK

All things being said, and this is an ongoing source of frustration to everyone in Red Sox Nation, DiceK remains a mystery. He has never dominated like he should have this season. To some degree this is caused by the incredible hazing he has received from the umps all year. Nobody on the staff gets squeezed as harshly as DiceK does. To a greater extent, this is caused by the fact that the Sox have forced him to pitch off his fastball all year - his weakest pitch. It was good to see some at-bats last night where DiceK led off with a secondary pitch for a strike. When he does this it puts hitters at a real disadvantage. Overall, I didn't consider it a bad start at all. He made one mistake to Lofton, who correctly noted that Tek had started every hitter in the game off with a fastball, and he gave up a couple bleeders that put the game out of reach after Gorman squeezed him. If he gets one break we are not discussing him at all today.

Overall though, DiceK hasn't shown the ability to dominate hitters when he needs to. The expectations, which were unreasonably high, granted, were that when DiceK got in trouble he would simply confound batters so much that they would screw themselves into the ground striking out. That hasn't happened, clearly. I am in the camp that DiceK and Tek will reach a unified plan of attack for next season and we will see some great pitching by the young ace, but it would have been nice to see that last night.

Final Analysis: Sox Offense

What to say here? Everything is wrong. The biggest issue of course is this: all the runs come from 2-5. While Pedro is slumping pitchers are looking at 6 consecutive weak bats. That is just devastating. In games where Manny, Papi and Lowell are contained this team has literally zero shot of winning.

The double-plays of course are killing us too. The Sox just broke a record for most DPs in the first three games of a playoff series. That's not one teams have been chasing, people. That's like breaking the record for most times having explosive diarrhea during a sales presentation. No bueno. Some of this is Tito's ultra-conservative approach, some of this is the umps being awful, but mostly it's just sucking.

Last night came down to this: when Sox batters got their pitch they missed it. When you're behind in the count, as they were often enough, it gets tougher to be aggressive, but especially with Westbrook on the mound, there isn't much excuse.


One of the problems with the Saturday game was that it was so long and physically exhausting, after a travel day. On average the Indians are a younger team than the Sox and probably bounced back quicker. But now the Sox are up against it. It's time to grind out a win.

I am in the minority that is OK with Wake starting tonight. Can he suck? Sure, we all know Bad Timmeh's dastardly resume. But Byrd's home ERA at the Jake is 5.68. If Wake sucks worse than that, if the offense doesn't come to life and score a bunch off a pretty bad starting pitcher, then this team doesn't deserve to advance. It's that simple people. Even if they threw Tavarez out there we should expect a win tonight. If they don't win, they are not good enough to win. End of story. And if they do win, it's pretty unlikely that Schill and DiceK would beat CC and Carmona. We'll need Beckett to take one of those games.

The bottom line is that the Sox are behind the eight-ball here. Cleveland is a well-constructed team who have taken advantage of a few breaks and a little help from the boys in blue. The Sox need to run uphill from here, but there will be no excuses if they don't get it done. There isn't a human being on earth that will feel badly to see a team paying J.D. Drew $14M a year go down to a spunky if less-heralded ballclub. That's the American dream. Time was, the Sox represented that, but now, love them though I might, they aren't any kind of underdogs any more.

Still, romance be damned: I expect these boys to go to work and get the job done.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

ALDS Game 1: The Bosoxwest Live GameBlog

6:05 That's all she wrote! Anderson drives one deep to center but Crisp is there to catch the flyball for the final out. Beckett with a dominant complete game shutout of the Angels to set the tone for the Sox. I disagree with the decision to send him back out there, but it worked out. Huge effort by the kid. If the bats come alive tomorrow we will be in good shape.

6:04 Vlad grounds one cleanly up the middle for a hit. Considering the location and flatness of the pitch, not a bad outcome.

6:04 OCab continues to help out with a first-pitch grounder to Lowell. Two down and the Beast approaching the plate.

6:02 Tito sends Beckett out for the 9th in an attempt to weaken him. He's good like that. Figgins again gets his pitch and lines it to left, but thankfully Ellsbury makes a diving catch to save the day. His cape is cool.

5:59 Santana hangs a curve to Manny and he pops it up. These guys have really cashed it in.

5:57 Ortiz rips two pitches foul to go 0-2, gets back to 3-2....and gets a good pitch to hit but pops up to center field. Huh? What just happened? Is Santa dead?

5:55 Youks does that slappy thing to fly weakly to right for the first out of the inning. The slappy thing doesn't work too often.

5:50 Kendry Morales pinch hits. You can tell by his gut that he has some power, and possibly some snacky cakes stored away in the uniform. This discombobulates Beckett to the point that he throws a wild pitch. Beckett crosses the 100-pitch mark for strike two, then backdoors him for his 8th strikeout of the night to close down the inning, and probably his night. Nasty stuff.

5:48 Beckett apparently hears the Announcer Corpse badmouthing the sharpness on his curveball and hits Admiral Aybar with a nasty one for strike one, then gets a quick strike two. The Admiral chops one to second and beats the DP throw for a tasty FC.

5:47 Kendrick battles to stay alive, then singles between a diving Lowell and a picking-his-glove-up-too-sooning Lugo. He really does it all.

5:45 Kotchman grounds to first, and the best First Baseman in baseball fields it cleanly and throws to Beckett for the first out. Youks.

5:41 Pedroia goes down on a nasty curveball, but has looked pretty bad tonight. He needs to get on track pronto. Heading into the eighth.

5:40 Watching Crisp and Lugo hit back to back is truly agonizing, isn't it? The difference is, at least with Lugo you could see how the mechanics could work; it's just that he doesn't understand hitting at all. Crisp's swing simply makes no physical sense. Anyway, Lugo shocks everyone by striking out. Two down.

5:37-9 My desire to light Dane Cook on fire reaches an almost irresistible fever pitch. Why? Why have they done this to us? TBS sucks. Ervin Santana, who was destroyed by being on two of my fantasy league teams this year, comes in. Crisp embarrasses the uniform again, popping to third. One down.

5:35 Beckett continues to shake off Tek (or appear to shake him off by design) and gets Izturis to ground into an FC by Pedroia on the cut fastball. Three down, and he's still under 90 pitches for the game.

5:33 Good-lookin'-out by Anderson who first-pitch pops up. Two down.

5:30 In a strange twist, Vlad appears to be swinging for the fences. Beckett stays away from him with repeated curveballs before trying to bust him inside, but Vlad uses his amazing powers of contact to stay alive before the umpire reverse fucks Beckett by not calling strike three on the same pitch that got Manny and Youks. Vlad singles on the next pitch, and Vegas Vice continues their investigation into home plate umpire Darling.

5:29 Beckett gets behind in the count to Cabrera 2-1 but gets him to ground to Lugo. One down. Amazingly, Lugo still alive.

The Sox appear to have taken a brief nap here, with the exception of Beckett. But I guess he's the one that counts. TBS does Lackey a favor by spending a few minutes in an horrifically unflattering camera portrait of him on the bench. John thanks you, guys.

5:25 After fouling off the hit'n'run pitch, Varitek looks nobly to the third base coach for a few minutes before hitting into another double-play. His beard was unavailable for comment.

5:21 Lowell breaks his bat on a grounder to O-Cab. Drew comes up in his most likely scenario to do well - a low pressure situation. He gets on with some help from Lackey. I so badly want him to play like he's able, but I guess that's his deal: not to.

5:20 Frank Thomas barely refrains from beating his co-anchor to death before Cal Ripken saves the day. When they cut back to the studio it's like watching The Office.

5:18 Figgins gets the one pitch he can hit (go figure how this happens again) but lines it to center field, where defensive genius Coco makes a sliding catch.

5:18 Beckett shakes off Tek a few times and gets Willits swinging on a nasty breaking pitch. Willitts vows revenge as he stalks off the field, then goes back to work on subject-verb agreement.

5:16 Napoli tries the "I Dare You To Throw It Where I'm Swinging" approach, and fails. One down.

5:11 Manny tries to pull an outside fastball and misses it. I get angry. Round two to Manny. Takes call three: count is full.....and ump fucks Manny on strike three. That is now three called strikes that were not really close, and it's time to start wondering if "Darling" is another word for "Donaghy".

5:10 Manny misses the best pitch he'll see to hit all playoffs. I get angry. Around we go.

5:09 Lackey dances around Ortiz, and eventually walks him to face Manny, who is, oddly, being Manny.

5:07 Youks gets fucked by the ump on strike two but works the count full. While battling Lackey during the AB he is also battling him for the crown of King Perspiration. He is later fucked by the ump on strike three; just a terrible, terrible call. Two down.

5:04 Pedroia still looking very uncomfortable at the plate, but gets a pitch he likes and puts good wood on it. Starting to come around, perhaps. One down for Youks.

5:01 After drilling a long strike into the RF seats, Kotchman non-drills a short strike into Tek's mitt to sit his ass back down. One pitch later Kendrick bounces out to Pedroia, and Beckett walks slowly back to the dugout after telling Lugo to fuck off (I assume).

4:58 As we listen to Corpse and Stone discussing the Beckett trade, the question really becomes: can Theo trade to get Ramirez back from Florida? Beckett gets Izturis to pop up for the first out, before TBS cuts over to their Announcing Sideline Puppet, with Moustache.

I, like the Angels, sit during the commercial break thinking that you couldn't draw up a better half inning to shift the momentum. I seriously hope Beckett is handing out nougies like candy in the dugout right now.

4:51 Lugo continues operation "Let Them Back Into The Game" by swinging at the first pitch and eventually striking out looking embarrassed. He'll be gone next year.

4:50 Tek idiotically avoids taking a pitch off the arm to get on base, then badly misses a ball way out of the strike zone to K. Just a painful, painful AB to watch. One second later Crisp puts together the worst AB of the season.

4:47 Ouch. Anderson looked silly on a swinging strike three. At least he can play the pinkeye card. It's a useful one.

4:45 Vlady-dady, he likes to party, and ground to short. Lugo makes the play and there is a puzzled muttering from the Fenway faithful.

4:44 O-Cab over-matched, Ks on a hard inside FB. Not a chance.

4:42 Beckett back out with a four run lead. He is throwing gas.

4:40 Drew infuriates everyone again by taking a perfect first pitch then hitting into an easy DP on the second. How does he do it? His every move is calculated to achieve maximum fan rage.

4:38 Lowell at 3-2 now, Manny on second.........soft liner to center - MANNY SCORES! 4-0 Sox!

4:36 Lowell takes a fist pitch hack, unwisely. Lackey badly overthrowing his pitches now, and appears to be really overheating. Bizarrely Manny takes second on a wild pitch.

4:34 Manny goes 3-2 in the count, making it a successful AB.....follows it up with foul ball and finally works the walk. Another batter in the inning for Lackey, who is nearing a gaseous state.

4:31 PAPI GOES YARD!! Lackey hangs the curve and Papi just lights it up. 3-0 Sox.

4:31 Youks shows the speed as he doubles to left. Takes a quick break for some oxygen and a sandwich. Papi up with a RISP.

4:29 Pedroia does the exact opposite of what he is supposed to do. It looks like another early season slump for DP. Popup, one out.

4:25 Figgins misses strike three by juuuuussst a tad. Beckett with a quick inning; rushes back to the dugout to let Lugo and Crisp out of their lockers so they can un-wedgie themselves.

4:23 Willitts doing exactly what he does: being a minor nuisance that you would like to crush, like a small, tic-lipped gnat. Manny makes a casual play on his lazy fly ball, proving that you don't have to use the word "lazy" twice in a sentence if you don't want to.

4:21 Lowell shows Lugo how baseball is played with a great play on a tough Napoli shot to the corner. Lugo calls home to make sure those damn kids are off his lawn.

4:17 Lugo Assassination Guild sets a timetable for their assault after Lugo makes a lazy slide and turns a stolen base into an out. Emulating Varitek, Lugo begins playing with a red dot on his uniform chest.

4:15 Lugo says "Look, Ellsbury fanclub, even I can hit this guy!" Ellsbury fanclub sets a timetable for their assault.

4:14 Crisp, being strictly a fastball hitter, gets down two on junk pitches then swings at a ball to create a doubleplay. The Ellsbury fanclub starts loading their weapons.

4:12 Varitek steps to the plate featuring his recently created beard made of iron filings, and uses the extra power to line a single to right. El Capitan!!

4:09 Proving that cheaters never win and winners never cheat, except in American business, politics, religion, and sport, Kendrick flies out to Crisp in center.

4:07 Kendrick A-Rods one, and gets another chance to hit after some timely cheating. Nicely done Howie! The kids appreciate you!

4:07 Thank you. Appreciate it. A curveball gets Kotchman to ground to Pedroia, who robot-shovels it up.

4:06 After getting ahead 0-2 Beckett inexplicably throws a reachable fastball. Again. Is it too much to ask to see a goddamn secondary pitch?

4:04 Announcer jinx rolls both ways. I am still trying to determine if Robinson or Stone is the Undead.

Couple commercial break thoughts here. One Lackey is a sweater. Jesus. I hope they have a spare uniform for him. He looks like the douchebag senator from the X-Men movie after Magneto got ahold of him. Two, he is not throwing the junk for strikes and isn't commanding the fastball well at all. The Sox need to sit on him until he gives them one.

4:01 Drew dribbles a ball (that he should have beat out) softly to short. Great. Much better Lord, thanks a bunch.

4:00 Please, Lord, do not let me see a 2-out, bases loaded at-bat for Tek, I am begging you.

3:58 Announcer jinx is set to High, as the Studio Corpse gets Lowell to pop tamely out into foul territory. Seriously, who the fuck is this guy?

3:57 Manny tells me to Suck It, rips one down the left-field line. Good job Manny.

3:57 Manny goes out of the strike zone early and gets behind 0-2. Good job Manny.

3:55 Lackey having a little trouble with the zone. If Papi can get on and extend the inning this could be a long inning for the kid. He beat me to it! Single, Big Boy!

3:54 Robinson and Stone talk briefly about Manny's defensive expertise, then go on to document Martha Stewart's history of philanthropy.

3:52 YOOOOUUUUUKKKKKK!! I guess my kid's first dad-made book will be entitled "The Hairy Mensch That Could".

3:50 Pedroia injudiciously swings at the second pitch. Hey, it's his first playoff game in the Bigs. Now he's so pissed he'll be fine.

3:46 I realize I had confused Kendrick with Anderson vis-a-vis the pinkeye. This now makes the Scioscia decision to bat Kendrick 7th completely flummoxing. Looking at him I can only surmise Olive Loaf had something to do with it.

3:45 Chone Figgins proves the awkward postulate that he can beat the Sox by himself.

3:44 Angels pull the old "run and hit", with OCab helping his old team out by swinging at a ball after Figgins had already stolen second. Gracias mi amigo.

3:41 Prediction here is stolen base, with Lugo attempting to catch the throw with his "prehensile nipple". He talks about it a lot in the offseason.

3:40 Six straight fastballs to start the game, ending predictably in a hit. Testicles crawling up into abdomen early tonight.

3:35 Will I be able to do this every game? No. But tonight I will. I have a fresh beer, Beckett's already up in the strike zone, what could go wrong? Living the dream!

Sox Take On The Halos: ALDS 2007

After a truly agonizing 4 months our beloved / beloathed Red Sox held on both to clinch the AL East for the first time in 12 years and finish the season with the best record in the AL. This allowed them to set the tone for the playoffs by starting it up early, and Wednesday we begin the post-season agony in a familiar way: taking on the Angels.

While the Sox edged the Angels over the course of the year 6-4 in ten games (and correspondingly outscored them 64-42, largely on the basis of a few blowouts), the two teams are fairly well-matched, in spite of their opposing offensive philosophies. The Angels have very little power (less now that Matthews Jr. is out) and create runs by being extremely aggressive on the basepaths and playing a lot of small-ball. The Sox, obviously, do not. Both teams will put the theory that Championships are won with pitching and defense to the test - the Sox were #3 in the AL in Runs Scored and Anaheim (I refuse to call them Los Angeles due to the incredible douchiness of that move) is right behind them at #4.

Tonight's game will feature the aces of the respective staffs in Beckett and Lackey. Both pitchers will be looking to make amends; Lackey for his 0-2 record and 8.38 ERA in Fenway this year, and Beckett for the awful outing against Minnesota last week. The primary focus for Lackey will be overcoming the mental aspects of having taken such a beating in his last two starts at Fenway. Fortunately for him he doesn't seem too bright, so he can probably barely recall those outings. For Beckett, it's the same focus as every other outing: throw his secondary pitches for strikes to keep hitters honest on the fastball, and keep the fastball down. Oh, and not get so insanely filled with rage that all bets are off.

Anaheim will need Anderson to stay hot (September OPS .952) in order to protect Vlad and generate some quick offense, and they will need Izturis, slotted 5th in the order, to produce like a #5 hitter. At the bottom of the order they'll want Willitts to be the spark-plug he was earlier in the season. If he and Figgins can frustrate Beckett with long at-bats he may revert to overthrowing the fastball against the meat of the order, and Kotchman, Guerrero and Anderson will tee it up.

To me, the bizarre placement of Izturis in the 5-hole, with Kendrick batting 7th, is the X factor here. In spite of two pretty serious hand injuries Kendrick put up great numbers this year, and has been raking in August and September, but he has pinkeye. If this is affecting him to the extent that he has to move down in the order I guess I'm not sure why he's playing, but so be it. If he can see the ball, he can hit it, and he could do some damage. If not, we'll just be thankful we're not facing Morales.

The Sox are going to need to get to Lackey early while he's still thinking. This means Youkilis is going to have to ask someone in JP to sacrifice a fucking chicken or something to bring him back to life. He has struck out in nearly 30% of his at-bats since the beginning of August - not the mark of your typical #2. He historically has enjoyed hitting in the 2-hole but with his and Pedroia's total lack of speed at the top of the order, I could easily see myself ending the 2007 season by writing a kids book for my newborn son entitled "Everybody Poops... On His Team By Killing Innings With the DP". His performance will be a key to the series.

And why is that? That is because the 7-9 spots in the order can be devastatingly awful, like having three consecutive pitchers hitting. Only Crisp has shown any signs of life. Lugo and Varitek have combined since the ASB to put together the worst offense this team has seen from two players since the days of Buford and Lewis. The most amazing part? Lugo's September was worse than his April. I know I wasn't the only one hoping for him to blow a hammie on order to get Lowrie some September ABs and onto the 40-man. I've held out hope that he would figure it out for a long time, but I think it's time we accept Julio is a little too emotional for Fenway. On the plus side, much maligned iceman JD Drew definitely cometh, and not a month too soon.

So. At this point we've spent months watching a team that has been more frustrating than impressive in most cases. The blown 14.5 game lead, the LOB-fests, the bizarre management decisions - it's been a roller-coaster ride. But now it's a new season: the Post-Season. Manny's back, Schill's back, and despite a myriad of other question marks, you have to acknowledge that this team has a chance. I've moved from the ledge to a small portable camping chair a few feet away from the ledge, and I hope to stay there for a few days at least.