April 19, 2007

LET THE GAMES BEGIN:

Comebacks Set the Weekend Stage (Tim Daloisio, 4/19/07, Red Sox Times)

As if in anticipation of the next twenty-seven (or more) innings to come over the weekend, both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees stepped up their game in the late innings of their games today with come from behind wins. With a three game series looming, neither team wanted to come in on a down note. Instead, they both came in with a bang.

As the Red Sox entered the eighth inning down 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees were giving back a 2-1 lead to the Cleveland Indians in the seventh inning. As Manny Ramirez’s first home run of the year, hopefully a slump-breaker, flew over the center field wall in the Rogers Center to tie the game at three, the Yankees found themselves down 6-2. The Red Sox would grab two runs in the ninth inning off of Blue Jays interim closer Jason Frasor and watch Jonathan Papelbon close out the ninth inning in impressive fashion capping off the come from behind win.

In New York, the Yankees would find themselves down to their final out still facing that four run deficit and Indians closer Joe Borowski, that is until Josh Phelps started a rally for the ages with a solo shot to left field. A single, walk, and back to back singles brought Alex Rodriguez up to the plate with two men on trailing now only by one run. Previous versions of Arod would have likely made the final out quelling a rally and squashing any momentum that the Yankees could take with them to Boston, but Arod 2.0 - the 2007 version - did just the opposite treating the Yankee fans to his second walk off home run of the season.


Should be fun. One team has no offense, the other no pitching. One team has the best pitching staff in baseball, the other the best offense. They're both so flawed that if they stood pat from here on out they'd be unlikely to make the World Series, but both capable of adding the missing pieces rather quickly -- thanks to a stocked farm system (the Sox) or an owner's wallet (the Yanks). It is not unlikely that no one who starts a game for the Yanks this weekend will be in the rotation come September nor that three starting position players for the Sox will be replaced by then.

Somehow you have to figure that this series comes down to Arod, who can convert his detractors by continuing his hot start, or feed their animus by stumbling in these first meaningful games of the season.


MORE:
Three for the money: Sox throw big-game experience at Yanks (John Tomase, 4/20/07, Boston Herald)

They found Curt Schilling one Thanksgiving in Arizona by way of Alaska. Young Texan Josh Beckett arrived from Florida for two of their best prospects. Daisuke Matsuzaka merely required some of the highest-stakes negotiations in the game’s history - not to mention thousands of frequent flier miles to Japan.

The Red Sox were willing to do whatever it took to secure the three because they represent the rarest of commodities - battle-tested power pitchers with no fear of the crucible that is Boston.

Schilling’s playoff exploits are legendary and will probably land him in the Hall of Fame. Beckett could retire tomorrow and never be forgotten for his shutout to clinch the 2003 World Series. And Matsuzaka has merely been a national icon since high school.

All three were clearly born with something that keeps their palms dry no matter how overwhelming the pressure. And though it’s only April, they’ve serendipitously been given a stage on which to strut their stuff this weekend. [...]

“We didn’t maneuver to have it work out this way,” manager Terry Francona noted, “but we’re not going to apologize for having those three going.”

How the Red Sox Got Their Groove Back: Last season’s humiliating debacle was the capper to two years of disharmony and disarray in the Red Sox front office. But with fans worrying that the team was sliding back into its dark days, a curious thing happened. The real story behind the off-season that has us dreaming of another World Series. (Seth Mnookin, April 2007, Boston Magazine)
After two seasons in which the ceaseless chatter that surrounded the team so often centered on what was going wrong—on the field, in the front office, wherever—we’re now talking about the epic potential of a lineup whose number three, four, and five hitters combined to hit 109 home runs and drive in 339 runs last season. And then there’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, baseball’s newest international idol, who judging from the hype should turn out to be a combination of Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, and God. Oh, and we did it all without giving up any of the team’s much heralded prospects. It’s a far cry from last year, when the biggest news was the addition of a man who shared his name with a breakfast cereal.

Surely it’s no accident that these moves are occurring during a time in which Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino appear to have reached the kind of uneasy truce that allows them to focus on the team and not each other. The two men aren’t, to be certain, about to take any vacations together. What they have proved, though, is that they can work together when they need to—and their combined firepower can be pretty damn impressive. If all you’ve been focusing on are the individual headlines, you might have missed the bigger story. Put the pieces together, though, and there’s no denying it: The Red Sox have got their groove back.

In the half decade since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team, public reaction to the owners (and the front office) has been ping-ponging between extremes. When the Sox didn’t bring Cliff Floyd back in 2003, they were cheapskates. When a bunch of garbage-heap pickups—Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, et al.—powered that season’s prodigious, record-setting offense, they were geniuses. Screwing up the A-Rod negotiations: moronic. Convincing Curt to come to Boston: brilliant. Alienating Nomar: inexcusable. Bringing in Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts: exemplary. Hell, in less than a year, the Edgar Renteria acquisition was evidence of the team’s sagacity and its stupidity.

Just on the basis of that brief history, you’d have thunk the team’s new leaders would have realized that, for all our promises that a single World Series win would bring endless goodwill, local reaction still will virtually always be dictated by whatever has transpired most recently. And yet somehow, beginning in 2005, the team’s executives actually made things worse. Larry Lucchino, perhaps the most creative CEO in baseball, continued to pursue his small-market pragmatism in a region that was already deeply in love with its local nine, amping up the team’s marketing efforts and thereby transforming the existing fever pitch into a full-on frenzy freckled by pink hats and $200 first dates on the Budweiser pavilion. (Rest assured that if there’s a way to monetize urinal cakes, the Sox will figure out what it is.) Meanwhile, Epstein, whose shrewdness belied his age, tried in vain to educate the team’s mushrooming fan base on the importance of a long-term game plan that favored less expensive young lions over brand-name all-stars whose best years are behind them.

All of which was a little confusing for your average sports-radio listener, who, let’s be honest, doesn’t have the longest attention span to begin with. Should we expect the world? Or focus on the future? Somehow, it seemed, the Sox thought they could up the ante and tamp down expectations at the same time. And if you don’t stay on message, as any good politician will tell you, you lose control of the story line.


Adding Drew, Dice-K, ohkajima and Lugo without giving up any of their prospects leaves them in prime position to add the catcher & 2B who'd make them a championship team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2007 9:34 PM
Comments

Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, the Cubs and Cards battle to see who will remain in last place in NL Central. I'll bet on my boys from the north side.

Posted by: jdkelly at April 20, 2007 8:22 AM

...stocked farm system (the Sox) or an owner's wallet (the Yanks).

I see we're going to keep on pretending that the Red Sox aren't the second richest team in MLB. It should be considered "owner's wallet or owner's wallet."

Posted by: Brandon at April 20, 2007 10:55 AM

Go Blue Jays!

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 20, 2007 12:17 PM

The Sox spend $50 million less and are rather cautious about contracts.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2007 2:10 PM

That "$50 million less" is the entire payroll for half a dozen teams.

Posted by: Brandon at April 20, 2007 2:14 PM

The Sawx have Ellsbury and a few pitchers in the lower levels of their system. They'll be the ones opening the checkbook come July, not the Yanks.

Their system is simply not going to provide the lineup help they'll need to finish even in 2nd place in the East.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 20, 2007 4:37 PM

Lester, Snyder, Hansack, & Gabbard would all start for the Yanks in this series. Delcarmen, Lopez, Corey & Hansen would be in the Yankee bullpen.

Then the Sox have Buchholz, Bard, Bowden coming...

The Yankees have Hughes, who's their best starter including the major leaguers and no one else who's healthy & matters.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2007 11:41 PM
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