Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spelunking the Monster

I’ve been to a number of great games at Fenway. In 2003 I went to game 4 of the ALCS. In 2006 I was at the only close game from the Boston massacre (it was s good game even though the Sox lost it in the 10th). But today was the best. Try as he might, even Bill Hall couldn’t ruin it.

If you ever are lucky enough to get a press pass, get to the game early. I don’t mean batting practice early, I mean at least four hours before game time early. You see, as soon as batting practice starts, the stadium belongs to the players. Beforehand, it can be your stadium. (Sorry Mr. Henry.) Imagine going to a park on a lovely afternoon, sitting on a shady bench and just enjoying yourself. That’s what I did, except that my bench was the visiting dugout. And trust me, no public park in the US is as pretty as Fenway.

After a half-hour or so, I decided to take a little stroll in the park. By this point Dice-K was throwing a simulated game. Normally this means you should beware of batted balls, but this was Dice-K. I think he’s the first pitcher ever to get pulled from a simulated game. If I had to guess his line probably would have been 4.1 innings, 6 walks. Yeah, that good. And he starts this Thursday in Colorado!

So I wandered down the left field line with my Dad, and headed to the Monster. I’m sure you’ve all seen it on TV, but holy crap it’s big. You can’t really understand the size until you stand at the base and realize that you couldn’t even jump to the top of the scoreboard if you were Lebron James.

Entering the Monster is exactly what you’d expect though. It’s dark, it’s cramped and there are green and white numbers hanging on every wall. If you’re curious, the numbers aren’t repainted every year, some of the numbers and team names are over 30 years old. Before I left, I made sure to ask if I could use his bathroom but was told that there was none. Which completely debunks the myth about what Manny did in there during pitching changes. Never mind, I don’t want to know.

By the time I left, batting practice was in full effect. Our nice calm park was longer. Now we had to play dodgeball to walk back to the dugout. Sadly they don’t hand you a glove for protection when you leave the Monster.

The game itself was also the best I’d seen at Fenway. Bill Hall sucked. Bill Hall sucked. (Once for each of his atrocious errors). Although maybe without his errors, the game wouldn’t have been so close. Wake pitched very well, and thanks to the hoards of Dodger fans there was a playoff buzz in the stadium. Of course the key was Pedroia taking Broxton’s 1-2 pitch to right field for a walkoff single with two outs in the 9th. Watching a walkoff celebration for your team is great, watching Darnell McDonald try to take it literally and carry Pedroia off the field is even better. I’ve got to hand it to Gordon Edes, he called the game perfectly. Beforehand he kept saying “Manny is going to take Wakefield deep, but the Sox will still win it.” Thanks Nostradamus.

Today was the day I owned Fenway. I couldn’t have picked better one.

posted by Matt at 8:22 pm  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome Back

Miss me? I’ve missed all of you. I know, the blog disappeared without a bang, mostly due to the fact that my full time job ate into the time I normally spend ripping and praising the Sox on the intertubes. I promise I’m not writing because the Sox have crawled out of the pseudo-gutter (the Orioles aren’t even a major league team anymore, so fourth place in the AL East really is the gutter). I’m writing because I finally made it back to Fenway.

The Sox are not only a hard ticket, they’re also a hard press credential. But this time I had a friend who was going to be in town the same weekend. So I just picked up the phone, called Manny and voilà! Press pass!

Fenway is one of the coolest stadiums in baseball because of its quirks. I don’t know if the quirks are as entertaining for the press, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the players are right next to you and you don’t even know it. The visiting clubhouse is accessible through the concorse. And it’s SMALL. I mean, fricking tiny. Imagine a medium sized studio apartment, add lockers on every wall, and a couch in the middle. Apparently when the MFY come to town, there’s no couch. Honestly, zero furniture.*

From there you go through a small tunnel and emerge to bright sunlight, cameras and a lot of groans. “Shit, you’re not Manny!”. Was it the lack of dreadlocks that gave me away? And despite everybody’s disappointment that you are not the same guy who has 29 career postseason home runs, you’re suddenly standing on the same ground as Williams, Yaz, Pesky and Lugo. It’s a boyhood dream come true. And just as you start to get into the moment Manny comes jogging out, the press goes nuts and it’s mayhem. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Manny’s official return was even more interesting. I expected one of two results: either a lot of cheering, or a lot of booing. But regardless, I thought we’d see Manny acknowledge the crowd. I had my camera on him. He walked out from the dugout to start the inning, the crowd cheered. He took his warmup swings, he heard some boos. He walked up to the plate, stepped into the box, and swung at the first pitch. The crowd was a little shocked. Cheers or boos, tip your fucking cap to the crowd. Give us that much. But I guess I shouldn’t really be that surprised. That was always Manny, off in his own world. He probably didn’t mean to slight the fans, but he just doesn’t know any better.

And since Doubront managed to do just well enough to let the offense crush the Dodger pitchers, we can’t really complain. Remember, the Sox are now only a single game back of the MFY and Devil Rays, and are 13 games over .500. But if you’re still pissed off at Manny, he tried to make it up to you with that called third strike to end the game. Just Manny being Manny.

* As much as I’d like to tell you it’s because the Sox hate the MFY, it’s actually because they have too many press.

posted by Matt at 6:01 pm  

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Waiting on 176

I know it’s been a long time, but after my last post I had vowed not to make another post until Wakefield was credited with another win. Since the pen could never hold a lead for him, it seemed like it would only take a few days for him to just close a game out himself and get his 176th Red Sox W.

So that means that I couldn’t post about the sweep-swept-sweep series at the beginning of the month. (Plus, I don’t think anybody wanted to read Red Sox blogs when the Sox got swept by the Orioles. That’s just masochism.) I couldn’t post about the painful loss to the Tiggers where the Sox blew a 6-1 lead with Lester on the mound (Oki vs. Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez? Really Tito?). I had to hold back both when the Sox had far and away their most painful loss of the season coming back from a 6-1 deficit to the MFY only to have Paps blow it in the 9th. And even more painful from a blogging perspective, I couldn’t write anything when they beat up Joba and Mariano the next night to overcome a 5-0 deficit and actually hold on for the win this time. And finally, Dirty Watah stayed silent when Dice-K was four outs from a no-hitter.

But all that can change now. Well, until victory #177…

posted by Matt at 10:08 pm  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old McDonald’s Bullpen

Welcome back, Dirty Watah readers. I know it’s been a long couple of weeks. So far, the season, well, blows, and not having witty DW commentary only makes it worse. And yes, my farts do smell like roses.

So let’s see what we’ve got so far. This whole “pitching and defense” thing looks is turning out to be a bust, and the offense isn’t exactly over-performing to make up for it. The three amigos (Beckett, Lester and Lackey) have turned into the trio of doom (6.23 ERA). Our offense is completely schizophrenic. We’re down two starting outfielders, and while Ol’ McDonald has filled in admirably, Bill Hall is hitting about as well as one of Darnell’s animals could. Worst of all, we lost a game to the Orioles!

No, actually that’s not my biggest problem with this sub-.500 roller coaster season. My problem is the bullpen. In 20 games the pen has now blown FIVE saves. Think about that, it means that the Sox have had the lead in the 7th or later only to see it disappear. In fact, add those BS/Losses in and you’ve got a 12-10 team.

On a personal level though, what REALLY ticks me off about the pen, is what they’ve done to Tim Wakefield. For the long time readers of the blog, you may remember that I put up a countdown for Timmeh to 192 wins. Not only would it be a great achievement for Timmeh, but it would also mean that we could basically wipe Roger Clemens off the Sox record books. Somebody should check the financial records for the bullpen, because I’m guessing they may be on Clemens’ payroll. Of Timmeh’s four starts this season, he’s left in line for the win twice. And both times, the pen has blown it for him. That means that since July 8th, 2009 that countdown hasn’t budged.

So now Wake is headed down to the pen. If you can’t beat em, join em?

posted by Matt at 4:23 pm  

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Disgrace to Baseball

Before we get to yesterday’s game, I have something else to discuss. If you’ve been here before, you may realize that I think Joe West is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad umpire. Previously, I stuck to criticizing his performance on the field (small, moving strike zone and usually gets close plays wrong), but then he said this:

[The Red Sox and MFY are] two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play…this is embarrassing, a disgrace to baseball.

Oh, Joe Joe Joe. Where do I begin? First, I wouldn’t be talking about disgraces to baseball, the only way you’re going to make it to Cooperstown is in an exhibit with Bud Selig for “Helping to Destroy Baseball”. And making your strike zone the size of a postage stamp probably isn’t helping the pace of a game. Of course, if you weren’t exhausted from taking the three steps necessary to be in proper position to make a call, maybe you wouldn’t care so much about the length of the game.

But here’s the biggest problem, Joe. You’re a grumpy, shitty, umpire who doesn’t realize that the strategy of the game has changed. You seem to always take the lazy, easy route when making a call. You eject players and coaches on a regular basis for questioning your incorrect calls. Maybe the reason they are two of the best teams in baseball is that they’re methodical? There’s nothing disgraceful on the players’ side about a Sox-MFY game.

OK, that’s not completely true. Paps, you were pretty disgraceful yesterday.

Update: Here’s Joe West’s normalized strike zone from Opening Day. Funny how much longer games will be when you remove the bottom QUARTER of the strike zone.

posted by Matt at 11:24 am  

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Meet the New SS, Just Like the Old SS

Who let Marco Scutaro go to the Julio Lugo/Nick GREEEEEN “How to endear yourself to the Fenway Faithful” school over the winter? Theo, I’m looking in your direction. First he hits into an inning ending DP when the Sox looked like they had Burnett on the ropes in the 4th, which, while Lugo-esqe could have probably been overlooked. We know that he’s a contact-hitter, so some GIDPs are to be expected. And I don’t think even the most optimistic Sox fans think that he’s going to repeat his 2009 season at the plate. But the 8th inning throwing error that pretty much directly led to the go-ahead run? That reminded me just a bit too much of the SS triumvirate of Rent-a-wreck, Lugo and GREEEEEEN. (To be fair, GREEEEEN would never have short-hopped the throw, he would have thrown it into a luxury box.)

The sabermaticians (is that a word yet?) will tell us that 1.2% of a season is not statistically significant, but right now Theo’s pitching (Lester: 5IP, 4ER, 4Ks) and defense is bombing like Waterworld at the box office. So Lackey, you want to show the other “aces” how its done?

posted by Matt at 1:20 pm  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SiriusXM: The Washington Natinals of Radio

This is a letter I have sent to Scott Greenstein, the President and Chief Content Officer of SiriusXM. I know it’s not directly Red Sox related, but they recently replaced a number of their great baseball talk-shows with the audio feed from MLB Network’s TV broadcast. Needless to say, it’s terrible. I wanted to make sure that this email was available for other people who are as disappointed with SiruisXM as I am.

Dear Scott,

I have been an XM subscriber for over five years. Back in 2004 I was ecstatic when I learned that XM had made a deal with Major League Baseball to carry every game live, and I bought an XM radio soon thereafter. Since then, I have enjoyed being able to listen to my Boston Red Sox while living in California, in addition to getting to experience some of the other wonderful broadcasters throughout the country. But one of my favorite parts of XM has been channel 175, the baseball channel. The quality of the baseball experts on XM 175 was so much higher than that of ESPN Radio or MLB Network. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that XM had fired a good portion of it’s baseball talent only to replace it with the audio feed from an MLB Network TV broadcast!

The MLB Network audio feed is unlistenable. Hearing people discuss highlights that are not viewable to a radio audience is frustrating and pointless. And as a radio-based company, I’m dumbfounded that you would not have the foresight to think about how this would effect your customers. Unfortunately, I guess that describes XM radio ever since it merged with Sirius: the quality has gone down while the price has gone up.

This is the sixth season that XM has carried MLB games, and I cannot think of one thing that you have done to try and make the experience better. No away-team broadcasts, no dedicated channels for each team, nothing. Now you’ve also gotten rid of the one piece of programming that made XM more entertaining than streaming radio broadcasts through my iPhone. Replacing Joe Castallano with a made-for-TV broadcast is the final straw. After five years of my patronage, I will be canceling my service and moving on to the MLB At Bat app on my iPhone. For the sake your customers with even more patience than I, I hope that you realize the mistake you’ve made and are able to re-sign Joe and his former co-workers.

Sincerely,
Matt

posted by Matt at 10:00 am  

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pitching and Defense Don’t Win Opening Day

I’ll be completely honest. I hated the idea of the Sox opening the season against the MFY. Opening Day is a holiday, and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing the RoyAAAls or the MFY, it’s still a big freaking deal. So why waste the excitement of a Sox-MFY series on Opening Day? Not to mention the fact that it’s the one day a year the rest of the teams are still relevant on ESPN, and they probably hate the fact that they don’t even get that anymore.

But when Pedro threw out the first pitch, Neil Diamond sang and Alan Dershowitz pissed off somebody in the middle east, all that other stuff was forgotten. It was time to Play Ball! Wait, is that Joe West giving Beckett the ball? And Angel Hernandez at first? Any chance we could get Dershowitz and Diamond to ump the game? There’s a better chance they’d get the calls correct…

We had heard all winter about “pitching and defense” from the Sox front office. Which is a great plan. Really is. The Sox could win 115 games this season. EXCEPT when you have terrible umpires. I’m not going to say that all of Beckett’s troubles were a result of Joe West. But there were at least two batters that should have been out on strikes to end an inning instead of extend it. So the Sox were down 5-1 entering the 5th, Beckett had been pulled, and due to the fact that the Sox have no offense, the MFY won opening day. The End.

Except for the eight runs the Sox scored from the 5th through the 8th. And yes, I know that Pedey’s game-tying 2-run homer was an out in EVERY other ballpark, but so was Jorge Posada’s Peskey Pole HR in the 2nd. (Joe Morgan was speechless when the Sox started scoring. And by speechless I mean that he keeps talking, but doesn’t actually say anything. Which, of course, is what he’s been doing on air for the past 21 seasons.) Now if only the Sox could get some pitching and defense, this team could be really good. Let the singing of Dirty Watah commence. It’s baseball season.

posted by Matt at 11:07 am  

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Neil Diamond Would Be So Proud

ESPN did a great job with their latest baseball commercial. Although to be honest, Nick Swisher is a much better actor than Buchholz. Hopefully it’s the last time I have to compliment an MFY player this season.

posted by Matt at 12:03 am  

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sleeping Through Spring Training

Woah, it’s almost April? Holy crap, I must have overslept! What? You’re not buying it? Yeah, me neither. I’ve just been lazy and haven’t posted anything since truck day.

Let’s be honest though, in Spring Training no news is good news. Think about the teams that have dominated the headlines in March: the Twins (because of Joe Nathan), the Mariners (because of Cliff Lee) and the Mets (because of Jose Reyes’ thyroid). The Sox really only had two issues, Dice-K’s setback and Pedey’s wrist-roll. Neither seems to be a big deal though, so everyone can exhale now.

In the past I’ve tried to make predictions about the season, but I’ve learned that: (1) I’m not very good at it and (2) it really all comes down to health. So instead, I’m just going to give some observations based on what I’ve seen from the Sox in ST:

  • Clay Buchholz may have talent, but until he trusts his fastball he’s never going to be better than a #4 starter. His great changeup and curveball don’t do him any good when he’s behind 2-0 or 3-1 in every count.
  • Timmeh on the other hand is the gift that keeps on giving. I don’t know how you could not slot him in as the #4 or #5 starter until he gets hurt and becomes ineffective (sometime around August.) Maybe by that point Buchholz will figure out where the strike zone is.
  • You’ve gotta love The Three Amigos: Beckett, Lester and Lackey. If we’re lucky, they’ll push each other each to get better like Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine did back in the day for the Braves.
  • David Ortiz will never be the .300 AVG guy with 30+ HR again. He’s going to be some combination of his first and second halves from last year: a .230 hitter who still has some thunder in his bat. You’ll get those 20+ HR you’re looking for, but no .280 BA.
  • I have no clue what to expect from Marco Scuatro at the plate (except some wonderful Marco-Polo chants from the Fenway Faithful). However, I predict quite a few Sportscenter Top-10 double plays featuring him and Pedey.
  • Yankees Suck

Well, I think that pretty much covers it. You should all be ready for Opening Night now. Play Ball!

posted by Matt at 11:15 am  
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The daily Red Sox musings of Matt Levine...as read by Jon Miller.