Keeping the Faith
Backup catcher Josh Bard has become Red Sox fans' newest whipping boy, taking all kinds of heat for his propensity for passed balls while catching veteran knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield. Bard's wayward ways continued last night with another four passed balls in the 7-1 loss to Cleveland, including two that allowed runs to score. Doug Mirabilli, Wakefield's erstwhile backup sent to San Diego in exchange for second baseman Mark Loretta, wouldn't screw up like this, would he? I seemed to recall some shakiness by Mirabelli when he was new in the role of Wakefield's Personal Catcher, but I was pretty sure he wasn't quite this bad. The straight numbers back me up:
That comes out to one passed ball per 25.3, 37.8, 27.6, 25.1, and 51.5 innings caught.
So far this season, Bard has caught 51 innings in six games and committed ten passed balls. That's as many in one month as Mirabelli had in all of 2002. One passed ball for every 5.1 innings. Five times the rate of Mirabelli in his worst season. While it's true that Bard is a few years younger than Mirabelli was when he took on this task and has one fewer year in the majors, but he is no more experienced at handling the elusive knuckleball. Mirabelli had to learn on the job too.
But in fairness to Bard, we should remember that no one expected back in early spring training that he would end up with the job. The conventional wisdom had John Flaherty tagged for the assignment, but he retired. Then Ken Huckaby got hurt. Now, Bard's own teammates seem to be unconsciously conspiring against him by utterly failing on offense pretty much every game he plays. Take away the two runs scored on passed balls and Sox still lose 5-1. Take away young reliever Manny Delcarmen's runs allowed and it's 3-1.
The fact is that Josh Bard and his passed balls, while considerable in number, have not caused a even one Red Sox loss. What they have done is given everyone something to talk about besides the paltry offense when Wakefield starts. If and when Bard is no longer in the position to provide such excuses, the irate know-it-all fans will be forced to confront the uncomfortable reality that even when everything else goes your way, you can't win games if you don't score runs.
That's why, after last night's game, Wakefield was downright snippy with reporters and stated flatly that Bard hasn't been losing games for his pitcher or his team. While the catching hasn't made things easy, Wakefield is smart enough to see what else is going on. It's time for us fans to open our eyes and see it too.
With a record of 11-5 going into tonight's game, the Red Sox are on a pace to win 111 games this season.
Jonathan Papelbon and Josh Beckett lead Sox relievers and starters, respectively, with earned run averages of 0.00 and 1.29. Overall, the starters, including the currently disabled David Wells and Lenny DiNardo's one start, have a combined ERA of 3.68. The bullpen, including DiNardo's two relief appearances, have a combined ERA of 4.02. Not bad considering that those numbers include David Riske (18.00), Wells (15.75), Rudy Seanez (9.00), Matt Clement (7.00) and Julian Tavarez (6.75).
An online conversation this afternoon with some of my Red Sox girlfriends turned to the subject of Ted Williams, his place on the all-time home run list, and relation of Alex Rodriguez to Ted's numbers. Evidently Yankees fans like to point out that A-Fraud will surpass Ted's home run total xometimes in the next few seasons.
Around the time Ted died, some sports commentator I saw on television noted that Ted's military service came in the midst of the most productive years of his career, and wondered how many more homers he might have had if he had played during those years. Marine Corps service kept Ted out for the entire 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons, most of the 1952 season, and a sizable chunk of the 1953 season.
So in today's episode of "Fun with Numbers", I figured out Ted's average number of games played and homers-per-game average in the 3 years before and the 3 years after his WWII service, and then calculated what he would have done if he had played to those averages during the 3 seasons he missed in the 1940s. I did the same for 1952-53 using the two seasons before and after his Korean War service. Here are the results:
That would have put him in 5th place all-time on the home run list (4th if you take out that cheater Barry Bonds) instead of tied for 15th. He also would have been in 12th place in games played instead of tied for 95th.
Ted, by the way, was a highly accomplished and decorated military aviator as well as a flight instructor. During the conflict in Korea, he was the wingman of pilot John Glenn, who went on to the space program and became the first American in orbit. Though he did try to delay his conscription, Ted never complained after the fact about his military service or the cost it exacted on his baseball career. Many years after he retired, he said that with the exception of being elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, nothing made him prouder than being a Marine.
Over on the Sox Sistahs blog, I opined earlier that Tim Wakefield is getting screwed by the lack of run support the team is giving him. For those who haven't been keeping track, Red Sox offense has scored a total of only six runs in Wakefield's four starts. That got me thinking about what's going on with the team in general now that the season is one-tenth over.
The first and most important thing to note is that the Sox are 11-5. As a team, they have scored an average of 5.64 runs per win and 3.00 runs per loss. What those numbers don't say is that they have already won five one-run games. And four of those were low-scoring games3-2 once and 2-1 three times. That isn't a very big margin of error for a pitcher.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about winning low-scoring games, the kinds of games this team usually lost in the past. My concern is that the hitters are relying so much on the strong pitching that they will be unable to come through when the pitching falters. Or in the case of Wakefield, even when the pitching doesn't falter. Outstanding pitching is a luxury in major league baseball these days, and the Red Sox are one of precious few teams who have an abundance of it, with a staff that currently leads the American League in ERA, is third best in home runs allowed, fifth best in walks allowed, and sixth best in strikeouts. It's important that the rest of the team not take that for granted.
With a .264 team batting average and .420 slugging percentage, this team is just ninth of 14 in the American League. They're better getting on base at .353, good for fifth. But they are stranding an appalling number of baserunners, 8.37 per nine innings compared to 6.61 by their opponents. The team seems to be bunting and sacrificing more than in past years and that certainly helps, but they're still no better than average in the league. The Sox have only one player hitting over .300Kevin Youkilis at .346, good for 14th in the AL. The next highest batting average on the team is David Ortiz at .295. OBP? Again it's Youkilis at .435, 12th in the league, with Ortiz and Manny Ramirez being the only other Sox over .400. Mike Lowell co-leads the league in doubles with eight and Papi is tied for fifth place in homers with six, but there isn't a great deal of power on the team otherwise. Manny and Papi, of all people, lead the team in walks.
But, you're thinking, you just said we're 11-5, best team in the AL right. In this writer's opinion, it won't last unless this team gets its offense in order. Eventually the pitching will hit the skids, as happens to every staff at one point or another in the season, and the resulting losing streak won't be pretty. When that happens, you can bet the same people who are now looking at all the good things about this team will forget it all in a hurry.
My loyal readers know me well enough to know I am not panicking. But I will feel much better when, say, Manny hits a home run.
David Ortiz and the Red Sox have agreed to a contract extension reportedly worth close to $50 million that will keep the slugger here for another five years plus a one-year club option. Here are some of my notes about what was said at this afternoon's press conference.
General Manager Theo Epstein:
David Ortiz wanted to stay in Boston...
I'm proud to be a Red Sox player... I want to finish my career as a Red Sox player... Thanks to Mr. Lucchino, Mr. Henry, Mr. Werner, and Theo, I'll be around for awhile... There's nothing wrong with being famous. Some people don't like to be recognized, that's the major challenge for some players... Our fans need to hear some good news, we've been through some tough things lately (alluding to other players leaving in the last 2 years)... I'm pretty sure New England is going to take this as good news...
Principle Owner John Henry:
You don't see the four of us sitting with anybody, ever. This is a significant day... Thank David for bringing everything he has to this franchise and will continue to bring...
I try to do a lot of things around this town... Whenever I can help on anything I have no problem... You know how free agency is right now, you have a lot of people coming right at you... I'm one of the guys that feels great playing here in Boston and I like to keep it that way... This isn't all about David Ortiz, it's about a group of guys... Every time we walk away from a player or a player walks away from us, people really feel that... Fans ask me everywhere I go how long I'm going to be here... Now that I have this decision, I'm pretty sure the fans are going to like it...
He's my boy, he's made me look pretty good, I had to give it up for him.... I can't think of a player who contributes in so many ways... He embodies what we want a Boston Red Sox player to be, works the hardest, supportive of his teammates, contributes off the field, sees the big picture, has a smile on his faced all the time, sets the right mood in the clubhouse... He's a guy who has done so much for the organization and who we are sure is going to continue to contribute... Why now? I think this was a good time to get it done... The club approached David shortly after last season ended, and David and his representatives responded quickly... 98% of the work of this contract was done in spring training... In free agency, especially with power hitters, David would have been presented a lot of options that would have made it difficult for him to stay in Boston... We didn't think we'd necessarily be able to keep David if he got to free agency...
President/CEO Larry Lucchino:
In many ways David has been and will continue to be a face of this franchise... His record speaks for itself, on the field, the personality he brings to the clubhouse and to the franchise... We thought it was important to reach out to him... If he was willing to sacrifice free agency, we were willing to move early and get this done... This is a positive happy day for this team and for all of Red Sox Nation...
When we had our first meeting with David, he told us in such a heartfelt matter how he felt about the city, the fans, the ballpark, the organization... We haven't experienced that really... That's one of the reasons why both sides were determined over this winter to work the deal... He's one of the best players in the game...
When you play with a group of guys day by day, you experience a lot of different situations... Sometimes outside problems that you bring with you, and you won't be thinking about the game.. This game is more mental than physical, and when you have a real good clubhouse, sometimes it helps you keep those problems in the parking lot until you go back out...
We've tried to get deals done earlier with past players, but we haven't been able to reach common ground... I think we'd all like to sit here and say we saw this coming (when the team picked him up from Minnesota), but we didn't... David has earned this through a lot of hard work... We got him at a low point in his value... He had gotten sidetracked through some bad luck, injuries, lack of opportunities... He has blossomed into someone who is as universally liked and respected throughout Major League Baseball as anyone we've ever seen...
You need to know you have people who have your back... In Boston you have so many people behind you wishing you the best... I keep telling the new guys, wait until you play your first game at Fenway, you might need a diaper...
And there you have it, as much as my fingers could capture flying over the keys. I'm happy.
"Chant The Song of Endless Glory; Chant The Red Sox Victory Song";
With Tribute to Bethoven's "Ode To Joy",
WEEI's Dale and Holley are nearly orgasmic over rumors that the Red Sox might be in the running to acquire Florida Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis before the trading deadline. The hitch: Willis won't come cheap.
Any team that acquired Willis would control him for the rest of 2006, plus all of '07 and '08. Right-hander Bartolo Colon was a season closer to free agency when the Indians sent him to the Expos in a six-player deal in which they landed two cornerstones, center fielder Grady Sizemore and left-hander Cliff Lee. For Willis — a pitcher far more marketable than Colon — the Marlins could aim even higher.
From the Cubs, the Marlins could ask for a package starting with outfielder Felix Pie. From the Braves, they could demand catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. From the Red Sox, they could require left-hander Jon Lester.
Those namesand those teamswould only be the beginning.
I'm with the radio guys in thinking that the Red Sox have no choice but to consider acquiring Willis if indeed he becomes available. True, it would take more than Lester to get it done, but the price would be entirely in young and largely unproven talent, since the Marlins can't afford anything else. Money is the reason other GMs expect them to put Willis on the market in the first place; arbitration could get the young pitcher a 2007 salary that is up to half the entire 2006 Marlins payroll. On the other end of the spectrum, the Red Sox have more than one player making more than all the current Marlins combined.
The controversy arises because some fans consider Jon Lester to be one of the organization's untouchable prospects, the kind you don't give up, period. I might agree with that assessment if this were a cash-poor organization that had no choice but to develop young talent and wring all they can from it before it becomes unaffordable. This is essentially the Oakland Athletics' modus operandi, and while they are perennial contenders in the AL West, when's the last time it got them deep into the playoffs? Boston has the luxury of having enough pitching prospects to bring up and trade away for proven (and young) talent. Finally, remember that even the best pitching prospects are a gamble, as was proved by the trade of Carl Pavano and Tony Armas, Jr., to Montreal for a certain now-former Red Sox pitcher whose name shall not be spoken but who was exponentially more productive for the Sox than Pavano and Armas combined were for their subsequent teams.
Of course, the entire scenario is pure conjecture at this point, with Florida's front office denying they are even considering any such trade. The trade deadline is 112 days away, so we'll know by then.
Heading into the home opener, the Red Sox are on a pace to win 135 games this season and finish with a 54-game lead over the second place team. Can we play the rest of the season against the Rangers and Orioles?
Considering all the tickets we're buying to go to their park, you'd think people in Baltimore would be a little more appreciative of Red Sox fans. Instead, we get lots of grousing with nothing to back it up. Note how such unspecified behavior becomes fine once the hometowners chime in:
When a fan in a Yankees hat snagged a foul ball in the upper deck in the sixth inning, his post-catch histrionics brought Orioles fans and Red Sox fans together for an off-color, anti-Yankees chant. Finally, something everyone in the ballpark could agree on.
P.S. Baltimorans might consider that they won't have to worry about other team's fans taking over their stadium if they start buying the tickets themselves. It might help if the team started winning. And no, it isn't that there were no tickets left after the Red Sox fans were done. None of the weekend's games were close to sold out.
Thanks to Brenken for digging up this picture of a young Mark Loretta.
Gotta love those bedroom eyes.
Josh Bard credits modified head movements with his improved handling of Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. After three passed balls last Tuesday, he had none in yesteray's 4-1 win.
Bard caught Wakefield's side session and made a couple of mechanical adjustments. One was to keep his head still; video had shown he was moving around a lot and pulling his head off the ball.
Four Sox pitchers enter week two with ERAs under 2: Curt Schilling (1.93), Josh Beckett (1.29), Mike Timlin (0.00), and Jonathan Papelbon (0.00). Keith Foulke will get there with a couple more good innings.
A few thoughts on the current closer situation: Papelbon is proving he is capable of closing at the major league level, and I only just found out he was actually a closer in college (how did I miss that?). On the other hand, Foulke is being paid to be a closer, and $7.75 million is a lot to pay a middle reliever. If he gets and keeps his act together, he could bring a lot on the trade market.
In the meantime, Foulke's attitude is a 180° change from 2005. He has yet to be spotted sulking, doesn't whine to reporters, and has sounded downright magnanimous in post-game interviews when talking about understanding being displaced from the closer role. The optimist in me attributes last season's crankiness to physical problems that have now been resolved.
Reports as yet unconfirmed by Yawkey Way say that Coco Crisp's bruised finger is actually a fracture. Insert "snap, crackle, pop" joke here. (This just in from WEEI: Coco says, "The finger is fine, but I have to get back to sleep now." That's what you get when you wake up a ballplayer.)
Pictures of Fenway's new EMC Club and Home Plate Club (the areas that formerly housed and surrounded the hideous .406 Club) are hard to come by. But if Boston Mayor Tom Menino is to be believed, it'll be worth the wait. Too bad I can't afford to sit there.
The Reason for the yankees "Fan" being in Camdem Yards is quite simple-his parents wouldn't let him take the #4 Train to The Bronx;
Chances are, he's just another "Poser."
It was a trend that needed to be broken. World Series rings, once the style of a class ring with a single diamond in the middle, had become ostentatious, gaudy, ugly, pick your adjective. By the time they got to this
and especially this
something had to be done. And the Red Sox were just the team to do it. Relying on that famous New England tradition of trying not to make complete asses of ourselves, the BoSox managed to tone down the rings without making them cheap.
But would subsequent winning teams follow their lead? I for one was waiting anxiously to see what the Chicago White Sox did, and I got my answer today. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the 2005 World Championship rings, presented yesterday to the White Sox.
I must say, I like it. Evidently it was designed by the wife of owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Though it has many more diamonds than the Red Sox 2004 ring, in other ways it is much simpler than last year's rings. For one thing, there are no colored stones, except the black onyx center on which the bejewelled "Sox" is encrusted; the Red Sox ring incorporated sapphires and rubies to emulate the team colors. The one side of the Chicago ring that's shown in the pictures alludes to the team's 11-1 playoff record in 2005, while the other side presumably has the player's name; the Red Sox ring sides included the socks logo, Fenway with a World Series trophy in the middle, and the "Greatest Comeback in History" reminder. So yes, there are many differences. But there's more than one way to design rings, and the point is they don't have to be ugly. Future champs should follow suit.
Awaiting the start of yesterday's game, I couldn't help but wax nostalgic about our championship team of just two years ago. The 2006 opening day lineup couldn't have looked more different from that of 2004. Only the catcher, left fielder, and designated hitter were the same yesterday; of the other starters, none are on the current Red Sox roster.
Damon - CF
Mueller - 3B
Ramirez - LF
Ortiz - DH
Millar - 1B
Kapler - RF
Varitek - C
Bellhorn - 2B
Reese - SS
Martinez - RHP
Crisp - CF
Loretta - 2B
Ortiz - DH
Ramirez - LF
Nixon - RF
Varitek - C
Lowell - 3B
Youkilis - 1B
Gonzalez - SS
Schilling - RHP
ESPN televised the Atlanta vs. Los Angeles game after yesterday's Sox game, so I got to see Edgar Renteria going 2-for-5 with no errors, Derek Lowe racking up a 12.60 ERA plus the utterly predictable unearned run, Bill Mueller going 2-for-4 and start a double play, and Nomar Garciaparra starting the season on the brink of the disabled list. And lest I forget, Grady Little standing atop the dugout steps, chin on his hands, looking like... well, like Grady, though I must say he looks marvelous in Dodger blue.
Speaking of Grady, his boys did their level best to come back from an 11-5 deficit with just two home innings left to play. They almost did it, working the score to 11-10 including two runs off the Atlanta closer before the door was finally slammed shut. If I were Bobby Cox, I'd be losing some sleep over my pitching staff right now.
I haven't looked this up, but it could be that Oakland's Barry Zito currently has the worst ERA in the major leagues after his start last night against New York. 1.1 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 HR. He threw 59 pitches, 29 for strikes, and those "strikes" include all the pitches that were hit. Ouch. The rest of the Oakland staff weren't so hot either, but hats off to them for hitting threecount 'em, threeYankees batters. (Actually, they hit two batters, one of them twice.)
There were 13 major league games played yesterday and a total of 142 runs hit. That's an average of almost 5 1/2 runs scored per team. The highest scoring game was the Cubs over Cincinnati 16-7. The lowest scoring game was Houston over Florida 1-0, a game in which former Red Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez struck out three times and committed two ground ball errors.
Who makes the schedules, and why did he schedule so many opening series in places with lousy weather? Yesterday, the Devil Rays were on the road, leaving their indoor stadium unused while Kansas City and Detroit played in 55°F. The night before, the White Sox and Indians played their opener in chilly Chicago. Over in the National League, Washington played up in Queens even though it was almost 20° warmer in D.C. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who reside in Phoenix (88° yesterday) opened the season in Denver, Colorado (50°). The Marlins could have hosted a northern team in perfectly fine Florida weather, but instead went to Houston. It was 80 or warmer in Phoenix, Atlanta, and Miami, whose teams were all on the road, while games were being played in temps under 60° in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Denver. Egad.
Do you realize that before yesterday, the Red Sox hadn't won an opening game since 2000? I know that a win on April 3 has no more meaning that a win on May 27 or July 15, but it just feels better to start the season on a high note. It's like a pitcher starting the game with an out; for that moment, at least, he has a perfect game going. Likewise, at this moment, it's possible for the Red Sox to go through the entire 2006 season above .500a far cry from last year, when we didn't get to .500 until game 4.
While we're putting way too much emphasis on statistics, let's look at what the individual players have done so far. No one should be surprised that David Ortiz leads the team in batting average (.600), on-base percentage (.600), slugging percentage (1.400), OPS (2.000), and runs batted in (3). That's why we call him Big Papi. He's tied for most runs on the team (2) with Coco Crisp, and for most homers (1) with Mike Lowell. Mike Lowell! If you ever needed proof that Opening Day is a time for fresh starts, there it is. Also near the top of the list in batting average are Jason Varitek and Alex Gonzalez (.500) and Trot Nixon (.333). Trot and Manny Ramirez have the most walks (1). While there are a few guys who got no hits at all and Crisp struck out twice, nobody grounded into a double play.
Defensively, the Red Sox committed no errors yesterday, so everyone with a chance currently has a fielding percentage of 1.000. Late-innings sub Adam Stern showed a great arm on a double that could have scored a run but didn't. The run ended up scoring on a sacrifice fly by the next batter, but things don't always go your way.
Meanwhile on the mound, Curt Schilling threw 117 pitches in seven innings while striking out five and walking only one. His earned run average stands at a more-than-respectable 2.57. Jonathan Papelbon was perfect in one inning of relief. Keith Foulke wasn't, but despite his current 9.00 ERA, the team got the win, and isn't that the most important thing?
On the docket for tonight: Tim Wakefield takes the mound hoping to extend the streak. All together now... LET'S GO RED SOX (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) LET'S GOT RED SOX (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)...
Today is Opening Day. Not just opening daywe capitalize it, because it's important. The beginning of a three-day weekend is a good Friday, but Good Friday is something else entirely. Sure, Good Friday is a religious observance, and for some so is Opening Day.
I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us... I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.
Annie Savoy (as portrayed by Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham
The part about the 108 rosary beads isn't true, but we're talking larger truths here, aren't we? So if adherents prepare to celebrate a sacred ritual today, then it is just as true that they flock to sacred spaces to do so, as we in Boston will do for next week's Home Opener.
Fenway Park is a religious shrine. People go there to worship.
Bill Lee, former Red Sox pitcher
The liturgy of the ball game begins with an invocation (the official welcome by the ballpark announcer), proceeds with a litany (the starting lineups), gathers the faithful with an opening hymn (the national anthem), engages in ancient and orderly rites (nine innings), pauses once for a profession of faith (Take Me Out to the Ball Game), and then sends followers forth after the final out. This happens 2,430 times in a season in parks across North America before October separates the grain from the chaff so the chosen few can receive their baptism by water (the 1997 Marlins, in their fifth year of existence) or by fire (the 2004 Red Sox, after an 86-year drought).
HOLY $%#%@%@ #^%#$@#$@!!!!!!
Bill Simmons, ESPN.com, after the completion of Game 4 against the Cardinals
Even as we start a new season, the goal is to be the last team standing and enter winter as champions. What we're really looking forward to is what we hope happens when it's all over, like a believer awaiting heaven. Like most religions, it's impossible to separate the beginning from the end.
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.
A. Bart Giamatti, 1938-1989, former Commissioner of Baseball