Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, April 29, 2006

BOGUS BONDS AND THE SPLENDID SPLINTER


As the "performance enhanced" Barry Barry Bonds encroaches on the immortal Babe Ruth for second place on baseball's all-time home run list, I've been reflecting on Ted Williams -- the "greatest hitter who ever lived."

While walking around the exterior of Fenway Park last week, I came upon the statue of "Teddy Ballgame" and paused to admire it. The plaque at the base of the statue noted that Williams was a decorated war hero who had missed five full seasons due to service in two different wars -- WWII and Korea.

The greatest hitter who ever lived compiled extraordinary numbers -- such as 521 career homers -- while missing five seasons during his storied career. That's truly remarkable. At the time, only one player - Ruth - had surpassed the 700 home run mark. And upon refection, it seems that Williams -- if not for the missed time -- would've joined him in that pantheon.

In 1942, during the prime of his career, Williams voluntarily enlisted in the Navy reserve and was called to active duty that November. He was only a year removed from his now legendary .406 season. When his call to duty was over, Williams had missed three consecutive seasons as he studied and learned how to fly.

Though he was never called into active combat, he served honorably and was discharged in December of 1945. Returning to the Red Sox for the 1946 season, he picked up right where he left off. Despite the lengthy absence, Williams hit .342 and belted 38 homers. However, just six years later, the military beckoned once again.

Williams was called from the inactive reserves in 1952 to fight in the Korean War. As a result, he missed that season as well. Arriving in Korea in February 1953, Williams served as a member of the first Marine Air Wing and fought in combat. He was hit on several occasions and managed to escape death each time. Williams flew a total of 39 missions in Korea, losing part of his hearing in the process.

Williams didn't return to baseball again until the end of the 1953 season, playing in just 37 games. Though he didn't qualify for the batting title due to his limited plate appearances, he still managed to hit .407 in limited action.

And injuries also took their toll on the "Splendid Splinter," lessening the playing time of this legendary player.

Williams broke his elbow during the 1950 All-Star Game when he ran into the wall at Comiskey Park. Despite the injury, he didn't say a word to anybody and proceeded to get a base hit in his very next at-bat. In only 89 games of limited action that abbreviated season, Williams still managed to swat 28 homers and drive in 97 runs.

In 1954, Williams broke his collarbone early in Spring Training and missed a third of the season. He still finished with 29 homers and a .345 average.

In his final season, 1960, the 41-year-old Williams hit .316 with 29 homers and 72 RBIs, homering in his final at-bat in Fenway. Even at that advanced age, there was still pop in his bat.

Williams' enormous potential was immediately evident upon arrival for his rookie season in 1939. The "Kid" batted .327 with 31 home runs and 145 runs driven in. Offensively, it was the greatest rookie season in the history of the game.

That began an extraordinary run in which Williams played in 18 All-Star Games, won baseball's elite Triple Crown twice (1942 and 1947) and was named the American League MVP twice (1946 and 1949). Consider this; Williams won the Triple Crown in '42 without being named MVP. Go figure. And in '47, he lost out on the MVP by a single vote -- a year in which a disgruntled Boston writer left him of the ballot.

Williams finished his career with a .344 lifetime batting average, hitting over .300 in every season except 1959, when he was 40-years-old. And, incredibly, Williams collected more RBI's than games played (1949).

All of that got me thinking. Williams hit 521 career homers despite missing all, or parts, of eight different seasons. In particular, what would he have done if he'd played those five seasons instead of fighting for his country?

Williams career extended from 1939 to 1960 -- a 22-year span. In that time, he won six batting titles (between the ages of 23-40), led the American League in on-base percentage a record twelve times, runs scored six times, home runs and RBIs four times, walks eight times, and slugging percentage seven times. However, due to his military commitments, Williams only played 17 seasons. MLB counts the two years he fought in Korea even though he played in only 6 and 37 games, respectively. And, largely due to injury, Williams missed roughly a third of three additional seasons. That leaves us to wonder what he would have done if not robbed of those eight critical years during the prime of his career?

For comparison's sake, Carl Yastrzemski played 23 season for the Sox, yet had over 4,000 more at-bats than Williams. In fact, in spite of his tremendous accomplishments as a hitter, Williams is only fourth on the Red Sox career at-bats list. And, of all 20 Major Leaguers with at least 500 career homers, only one - Mark McGwire - has fewer at bats than Williams. In fact, Ken Griffey Jr. is the only other player besides Williams and McGwire to accomplish the feat with fewer than 8000 at-bats. In contrast, Bonds has already amassed over 9000 career at-bats, and he's still accumulating them every day.

Think of it this way; in the 17 years that Williams played, he averaged 31 home runs per season. Multiply that by the five years he missed to active duty, and you can tack on an additional 155 home runs to his career total of 521. That would make 676 home runs. That would have placed him second to Ruth through 1974, when Hank Aaron eclipsed Ruth's mark.

Now of course this is just theoretical, but it's not much of a leap. After all, Williams hit 38 homers at the age of 39. Even if we exclude the injury years, had Williams averaged 36 homers per year during those lost war years -- not unimaginable since he averaged 36 homers in the two years preceding and following WWII -- he would have joined Ruth as the only other member of the "700 Club." Since that time, only Aaron and Bonds have joined the esteemed group.

Most importantly, Williams' marks were accomplished without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. Williams and his numbers were clean. He wasn't a cheater, unlike Bonds. Bonds' 700 home runs are phony, trumped up, drug-enhanced and simply bogus.

Bonds and Williams have little in common. Unlike Bonds, Williams wasn't a selfish player. Bonds is all about Bonds. However, Williams was the first Hall of Famer to call for the inclusion of Negro Leagues stars in Cooperstown.

Ted Williams repeatedly proved that he was more than just a baseball player -- he was a patriot. As his former Red Sox teammate Mickey McDermott put it, "He was the man John Wayne wanted to be."

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

OUT OF ORDER

At this point, though it's still early in this campaign, the Red Sox pitching appears to have been vastly overrated at the start of the season. They have two very good starters (Schilling and Beckett), two mediocre starters (Wakefield and Clement), and no fifth starter. Perhaps that role will be fulfilled by Lenny DiNardo, or Mike Ginter, or Abe Alvarez. Your guess is as good as anyone's. Who needs Bronson Arroyo anyway?

This team lacks pitching depth and offense - not a good combo. On two separate occasions Friday night, the Sox left the bases loaded and failed to score. Continuing a disturbing trend this season, the Red Sox left 14 men on base and were 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position. The club has the regrettable distinction of leading the AL with over 200 men left on base this season.

Over the last 12 games the team is hitting .245, and is now 10th in the American League with a .258 overall average.

The Sox were outscored 27-6 in their three straight losses and have now dropped six of their last eight games. They may not be as good as last year's team, which wasn't good enough when it counted -- in the playoffs.

Over the course of 6 innings, Matt Clement surrendered 5 runs (4 earned) on five hits, gave up six walks, and struck out four.

Most of the damage was done early and Clement rallied to allow just one hit -- a single to Toby Hall in the fifth -- over his final two innings.

But Clement is now 2-2 with 6.14 ERA, and batters are hitting .308 against him.

In his five starts, Clement has yielded 15 walks and 37 hits, resulting in 20 earned runs. So far, he's given up more hits, runs and walks than any other Red Sox pitcher. His walks and hits per inning (WHIP) is 1.77 -- 50th in the AL.

Manager Terry Francona claimed Clement's poor performance was the result of "scuffling with his asthma."

He'd better get an inhaler.

The signs aren't good. Clement has never been a great pitcher and the Red Sox overpaid him with the three-year, $26 million contract they gave him last year. He'd never done anything to warrant such a deal, and he is continuing to live up to his average ability.

The Sox have no legitimate number three starter. Clement and Wakefield are interchangeable at four and five. But again, there is no reliable fifth starter at the moment, so they are both pitching out of order and in roles that don't suit them well. Unless Ginter or Alvarez is a hidden gem, providing an unexpected solution, the Sox better hope that Roger Clemens decides to make a return engagement in Boston. Right now, they can use all the help they can get.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

IN THE WAKE OF THE KNUCKLE BALL

It was another tough start for Tim Wakefield last night. The first two Cleveland batters he faced reached base, and the third, Jhonny Peralta, scorched a three run homer into the left field seats for an early lead.

Through 5 2/3 innings, Wakefield only surrendered five hits, but his erratic knuckler resulted in four walks, and gave catcher Josh Bard fits.

Bard "allowed" four more passed balls last night, and now has ten on the season. That's more than his first four seasons combined. Two of those "passed balls" resulted in runs scored. A passed ball credited to Bard's could just as easily be viewed as a wild pitch by Wakefield. Wakefield leads all active Major League pitchers in passed balls. And it's no wonder; the knuckle ball is clearly the most difficult pitch to handle. When one of those floaters sails to the backstop, it's more often Wakefield's fault than the catcher's. Attempting to catch Wakefield's knuckle ball is a thankless task -- one so difficult that John Flaherty decided to retire after a single spring training game, rather than compete for the job and accept the frustration that comes with it.

With the loss, Wakefield is now 1-4 with a 3.90 ERA. Some would argue that the lack of run support by the offense has been his Achilles heel. After all, In his first two losses, against Texas and Seattle, the offense afforded him no runs. In his next two losses, they spotted him just a single run in each game. His only victory this season came against Baltimore, on a night when his teammates staked him a four run cushion. Wakefield's losses have been by scores of 10-4, 3-0, 5-1, and 7-1. Yes, there has been a lack of run support, but the numbers indicate that there's also been a lack of pitching as well. In those four games, the Sox have given up a total of 25 runs. That's ridiculous. That means the offense would have to average more than six runs a game to win. Not likely with this year's squad.

There's a reasonable argument that Wakefield has been placed too high in the pitching rotation at number two, and is facing pitchers above his caliber. If he moved down to, perhaps, four or five, he'd be facing weaker pitchers who would likely give up more runs. That would keep him in games. The only way Wakefield is going to win in the number two spot is if he can manage to surrender just one or two runs each outing. That isn't likely.

Wakefield has been a good soldier for the Red Sox over the course of his 12 years in Boston. He's been an exemplary representative of the organization both on and off the field. He never gets into trouble, and he doesn't complain or mouth off to the media, the fans, the management, or his teammates. He's selflessly done whatever has been asked of him, from starting, pitching middle relief, and even closing games.

The veteran righty is second on the club's all-time wins list, behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young -- who are tied for first. He's also second in games, and third in strike outs. But here's the rub; he's also first in losses, first in home runs allowed (by a long shot), and has yielded more runs and earned runs than any other pitcher in team history (again, by a long shot). And by the end of this season, he will be the club's all-time leader in walks allowed.

For all his accomplishments, Wakefield's career has been marked by mediocrity on the mound, and his place in the club's record books is a measure of his longevity, not his greatness. That's not a knock on Wakefield. That's just the truth.

Great pitchers are hard to come by, and a number two pitcher should be great - like, perhaps, Josh Beckett. This year, in that spot, Wakefield has been given the unenviable responsibility of going up against pitchers who are simply better than him, and he and the team are suffering for it. It's been just as thankless a task for him as catching the knuckle ball has been for poor Josh Bard.

Trading Bronson Arroyo now appears to be a critical mistake. Wouldn't he be a fantastic number three starter behind Beckett? David Wells is likely done, the victim of his own compulsive eating habits and lack of serious conditioning, as much as anything else. His nearly 43-year-old knees can no longer support his enormous girth. And Lenny Dinardo, for all of his well-intentioned efforts, is clearly in over his head. Maybe Abe Alvarez can dutifully fill out the final spot in the rotation while the Sox hope and pray they can persuade Roger Clemens to come back to Boston for one more stab at World Series glory.

Maybe then Tim Wakefield could assume a more fitting role as the fourth or fifth starter - against appropriate competition. And perhaps, with a little more time and practice by Bard, the knuckle ball will frustrate opposing hitters more than it has frustrated him in the early part of this season. If not, the Sox will seek an alternative catcher, but the passed balls and wild pitches will inevitably continue. Expect it.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

RIDING THE HORSES

It's becoming a habit. The Red Sox won yet another one-run ballgame today, defeating the Mariners 3-2 behind another strong performance from Josh Beckett. That too has become habitual.

Beckett and veteran Curt Schilling have paired to become an unstoppable force -- thus far at least.

Sport illustrated calls the two former World Series MVPs the top pitching combo in all of baseball.

Beckett's line today; 7 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 1 walk, and 5 strike outs.

Beckett leads the Majors with a 1.29 ERA this season. With a career best 3-0 start, Beckett has surrendered only 16 hits in 21 innings pitched, for a grand total of three earned runs. Beckett's 12 strike outs are double the six walks he's allowed.

Schilling, also 3-0, sports a nearly impressive 1.64 ERA. Schilling has given up only 11 hits in 22 innings, resulting in 4 earned runs. The big righty has frustrated hitters by issuing only three walks and 16 strike outs.

The Sox entered spring training with seven starters and questions about who would crack the rotation, who'd go to the pen and who would be dealt. Just two weeks into the 2006 campaign, Jonathan Papelbon has become the indispensable closer, Bronson Arroyo was dealt, and David Wells' damaged knee landed him on the DL. As the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching.

At this point, it's hard to know if Wells will ever return, and if he does, if he'll be effective. At 43 (next month) and quite overweight, Wells' knees have the tremendous burden of supporting the rest of him. And no matter how you slice it, by historical standards, Wells is simply old for a pitcher. If Keith Foulke continues to progress, that could allow the Sox to move Papelbon into the rotation to fill Wells' spot.

Sure, there will be happy talk about the possibility of Roger Clemens' return to Boston, riding in on his white horse to pitch the team back to the World Series. But at this point, that's all just speculation. And Clemens, like Wells, is old. Any expectations of him may be too great.

If the Red Sox hope to return to the promised land that is a World Series championship, they will have to ride their impressive, and quite capable, duo of Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett - the number one combo in all of baseball.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

DAMON'S RUNNING HIS MOUTH AGAIN

Even though Torii Hunter is under contract to the Twins for this season, and Gary Sheffield to the Yankees, that hasn't stopped Johnny Damon from plotting the future of both players. Both are free agents after this year, and Damon has plans for each of them.

Damon says he's willing to move to right field if the Yankees acquire Hunter, who has talked openly about playing for the Yankees if the Twins do not show a commitment to winning beyond this season.

I wonder what Damon's teammate, Sheffield, thinks about Johnny's plans? It can't be good for team chemistry and accord when one outfielder is actively trying to supplant another.

Says Damon, "I know how good Torii Hunter is, and he would be a good fit. We still have Gary Sheffield (in right field), which Gary may end up moving to the DH spot. I'm sure there's a lot that we can do. Whatever makes the team better."

Asked if he would be willing to switch positions again to make way for Hunter, Damon spoke freely before realizing that he isn't the Yankees GM.

"I had to do it for Carlos Beltran to make his job easier in the big leagues, and he seemed to do pretty good," Damon said. "Yeah, it doesn't matter to me. Whatever needs to be done. It's all about going out there and trying to win. (Hunter is) definitely one of the game's best players, but I'll leave that up to (Yankees general manager) Brian Cashman. I can't be running my mouth."

I bet Gary Sheffield would tell him the same thing.

The Yankees and their fans may already be learning what the Red Sox and their fans have known for the past few years. Johnny loves a microphone and especially a camera, and he never misses an opportunity to share his profound wisdom. Like a moth to a flame he is drawn, burned at times by his own words.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

WHERE'S THE OFFENSE GONE?

The Sox were shut out at Fenway today by a score of 3-0, behind the solid pitching of Joel Piniero. However, they weren't without their opportunities. Nine Sox runners were left on base today, and a total of twenty over the last two games.

It's a problem that's plagued the Sox early this season. Frustratingly, 101 Sox runners have been left on base -- most in the AL, and second to only the Dodgers.

After leading the majors in runs each of the past three seasons, the Sox have scored four or less seven times in 11 games. Prior to today's shutout, they were 17th in runs scored, and 23rd in home runs. In fact, Wily Mo Pena's double was the only extra base hit the anemic Sox offense could muster. The Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the third and still failed to score.

Manny Ramirez has inexplicably been without an extra-base hit in the eleven games this year. And believe it or not, Manny leads the Sox with 15 strike outs this year - nearly twice as many as the next closest player. He has just two hits in his last 22 at bats, resulting in a paltry .205 average.

Sox catcher Josh Bard was charged with two passed balls, though it's often tough to distinguish where a wild pitch ends and a passed ball begins. The knuckleball is the toughest pitch for any catcher to handle, and as such, the number of wild pitches and knuckleballs in any Wakefield start is invariably high. Unfortunately for Bard, he's going to take the blame for a lot of passed balls that wouldn't get by him if he was catching another pitcher. You could call it a thankless job, Should anyone need more evidence of just how tough that job is, consider this; after trying to catch Wakefield just once during spring training, John Flaherty chose to retire rather than compete for the job.

Aside from the third inning -- when the Mariners scored all their runs with the aid of those two passed balls -- Wakefield pitched well, giving up nine hits and no walks with six strikeouts on the way to his 29th complete game.

The Sox were billed as a team built on pitching and defense to start this season, and so far they've delivered on that promise. Three of their seven victories have come by a 2-1 score. That's encouraging. Last year the Sox were 3-22 when they scored fewer than three runs. But they can't count on wining games by those slim margins all year. The offense has to wake up and do its part.

Josh Beckett leads the majors with a 1.29 ERA. So he's clearly been doing his part and can be expected to deliver more of the same against the Mariners tomorrow. But it's time for the offense to step up and give him some help. He's earned it.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"THEY TRADED THE WRONG GUY"

When the Red Sox traded Bronson Arroyo last month, David Wells quipped, "They traded the wrong guy."

And after the way Wells pitched in his first game of the season tonight, many of us are inclined to agree with him. Making it through just 4 2/3 innings, Wells surrendered 10 hits and 7 earned runs in an embarrassing loss to the Blue jays. Wells gave up three homers in his ghastly outing, and the fans let him hear their disapproval loud and clear. And there were plenty of them to be heard. Fenway's new capacity allowed for 36,378 fans - the biggest nighttime crowd in the park's history.

After hearing of his trade demand during the offseason - which was only rescinded during spring training - many Sox fans were none too pleased with Boomer before the game even started, and his poor performance only made things worse.

The resulting 8-4 loss snapped the Sox five-game winning streak, and a chance to match the team's best start in 86 years.

The were bad omens when Wells opened the season with a Minor League rehab start, and proceeded to get shelled. Tonight he looked like he could use a few more of those tune-ups before he's ready or prime time.

Wells turns 43 next month, and this appearance will raise some eyebrows and cause some to wonder if Boomer has finally gotten a little too long in the tooth. Though it may be too soon to throw up the white flag, it's worth noting that in ten years Bronson arroyo will still be three years younger than Wells is now. Yeah. It puts things in perspective.

Aside from the fact that Wells is a loud mouth with a long history of putting his foot in that mouth, he's never been a conditioning devotee and is returning from off season knee surgery. If he continues to turn in efforts like this one tonight, things will get ugly really fast for him with the Fenway faithful. It's difficult to argue that someone approaching 43 got old overnight. By baseball standards, Wells got old a few years ago but has successfully eluded Father Time - at least until now.

Meanwhile, back in Cincinnati, Arroyo improved to 2-0, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Cubs yesterday. The 29-year-old allowed six hits -- all singles -- and struck out four while not walking a batter for his second-straight start. Who needs a guy like that in the rotation?

It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I always maintained that Arroyo was an ideal number four of five starter, because he was durable, reliable, had big-game experience, and always wanted the ball. Who wouldn't want a pitcher under the age of thirty with those qualities? Let's just hope we don't end up wishing that the Sox had traded Wells - who actually demanded a trade - instead of a pitcher who desperately wanted to stay in Boston. Before too long, we could all be left asking, why?

Wells takes his next turn against the Mariners on Marathon Monday. Hopefully, being the seasoned veteran that he is, Wells will be able to put this dismal performance out of his mind and get himself back on track. The big lefty has always had a rubber arm, and perhaps it's too soon to assume the worst. Wells may have just had an off night, and could rebound nicely. It's a tough call. He doesn't look ready for the big leagues right now. But we'll have to wait and see and, in the mean time, hope for the best. Specifically, that the Red Sox didn't trade the wrong guy.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

THE BEAT GOES ON

The Red Sox continued their winning ways this afternoon at Fenway's home opener. The Sox latest victory extended their winning streak to five games and a 6-1 record - their best start since 1999.

After a shaky first inning - likely the result of Opening Day nerves in his first Fenway start for the Sox - Josh Beckett settled down and pitched like his usual self. Ultimately, Beckett pitched seven innings of three-hit, one-run baseball, leading the Sox to a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays. Uncharacteristically, the three hits Beckett allowed were exceeded by four walks - three of which came in the first inning, resulting in the sole run he allowed.

But perhaps the most encouraging news was Mike Lowell's 4-for-4 performance, including three doubles in his home debut with the Red Sox. Of all the questions about the Sox offense entering this season, Lowell may have been the most curious, and perhaps the most important. We knew that Kevin Youkilis could hit, or least reach base, Mark Loretta is a career .300 hitter, and Coco Crisp is clearly a player on the rise. Odds are that Trot Nixon will rebound nicely, as long as he stays healthy. The biggest question mark, in my view, was Lowell.

Though coming off a career-worst season, Lowell was an All-Star for three consecutive seasons prior to 2005, a year in which he still won a Gold Glove. Though he struggled with a .236 average last season, he hit .293 the previous year and is a lifetime .272 hitter. And it now appears that he will indeed thrive in the friendly confines of Fenway - the epitome of a hitter's park. The Monster is only 310 feet from home, and Lowell should take ample advantage of it. There's a reason that Lowell has such a big contract -- he earned it. In 2003, he belted 32 homers and 105 RBI. He followed that up in '04 by hitting 27 homers and driving in 85 runs. In fact, Lowell averaged 25 homers and 95 RBI in the five seasons leading up to 2005.

What's most impressive about Lowell's stats in those years is that he was able to be so productive while playing in what is known as a pitcher's park - Dolphins Stadium. Fenway Park, not to mention the tutelage of hitting coach Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson, may already be aiding Lowell's return to form.

The only letdown was the disappointing play of Wily Mo Pena. Clearly a work in progress, the raw-looking Pena was 0-2, including a strike out. Red Sox fans had better get used to it. Hopefully Papa Jack, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz can help Pena polish his hitting skills, particularly his plate discipline and patience. Pena swings at far too many balls out of the strike zone, doing himself no favors. But worse, Pena let a Frank Catalanotto blast bounce out his glove and over the right field wall for a two run homer the eighth. Keith Foulke, who gave up two hits in the inning, was clearly disappointed and his 6.75 ERA will reflect it.

Jonathan Papelbon continued to dominate, retiring all three batters he faced for his fourth save in as many opportunities. In five appearances, Papelbon has allowed a grand total of two baserunners. He's been a dream come true for a bullpen that mostly conjured nightmares last season.

The sold out crowd of 35,491 was the largest to witness a Fenway Park opener. The old record of 35,343 had been established in 1969 against Baltimore. Despite the robust attendance, there was actually room for more. Believe it or not, some ticket holders actually failed to show up for the festivities. With its new capacity, Fenway will now hold 38,805, up from its previous 36,298.

Today also marked the Sox' 227th consecutive sellout, second only in league history to the 455-game run at Cleveland's Jacobs Field (1995-2001). Given the park's increased capacity, the Sox surely will set an attendance record this year for the seventh consecutive season.

And those record crowds are sure to see some great baseball this year. The 2006 Red Sox appear to be all they've been advertised to be. They are long on defense and pitching, and appear to still have enough offense to make them an AL force once again. Best of all, Manny hasn't even found his stroke yet and the club is winning despite this. But Mike Lowell looks poised to do his part, and his offensive production is sure to win fans, as well as the confidence of his teammates.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Monday, April 10, 2006

CONFIDENCE ON THE RISE

Tim Wakefield pitched like he had something to prove on Sunday. The knuckleballer seemed like a man with a chip on his shoulder from the moment he took the mound.

Coming into Sunday's game, Wakefield was the only starter who hadn't yet been victorious, and his loss to Texas had been a crushing defeat. He'd allowed seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings in that April 4 game. And he was clearly determined to make up for it against the Orioles.

Time after time, through six effective innings, Wakefield pitched his way out of jams, leaving Baltimore baserunners stranded, and often in scoring position. Boston's longest serving pitcher surrendered just one run, and it was unearned.

The end result; Wakefield's dominance helped the Red Sox earn their forth straight victory to start this season at 5-1.

And there was more good news. Keith Foulke got three outs in a row in the eighth, leading both he and Terry Francona to say it was the best performance he'd given in quite some time. If Foulke has confidence issues about being a closer, he may be an ideal - if not overpriced - set up man. At least for a while. One would like to believe that Foulke will regain the confidence that he had in 2004, and in the four previous seasons. During that span he was one of the most dominant closers in baseball with the White Sox and A's. Prior to last year, Foulke had an impressive 2.49 ERA over those previous five seasons, while compiling 185 saves. One encouraging sign on Sunday was that his fastball registered 88 mph for the first time in quite some time.

So heading into Tuesday's home opener, there are encouraging signs for the 2006 edition of the Boston Red Sox. Not the least of which is that 25-year-old Jonathan Papelbon earned his third save in three opportunities. And with that, hope springs eternal, and the Nation does rejoice.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

2 OUT OF 3 AIN'T BAD

Initiating the season by taking two out of three in Texas is an auspicious start indeed.

Trot Nixon's two run homer in the seventh provided all the offense the Sox needed (and it's a good thing because it was the only offense the team could muster), while Josh Beckett - seemingly on will alone - managed to surrender just a single run on a night when he clearly didn't have his best repertoire of pitches.

In the seventh, Beckett struck out the final batter he faced with a 95 mph fastball to wrap up his first start as a member of the Red Sox. It was a fine inauguration, and should serve as the perfect ice breaker for the 25-year-old when he pitches the Fenway opener next Tuesday.

Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless eighth, thanks to a fine defensive play.

Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek combined to throw out Mark Texiera at home on a Kevin Mench single to left. It was the critical defensive play of the evening, and prevented the Rangers from tying the game.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon from the bullpen in the ninth. Some might say there is a closer's controversy brewing in Boston, but it looks like the case may be closed. Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 final frame - including two punch outs - to complete the Sox victory.

Rangers' starter Kameron Loe frustrated Sox hitters through the first five innings, surrendering only two singles to Mark Loretta. But then came Nixon's blast that put the Sox ahead for good. In all, Loe surrendered only six hits, but Nixon's was the crushing blow to his otherwise splendid night. In fact, Loe gave up fewer hits than Beckett (7) in the same number of innings, but Beckett had five k's and just one walk, keeping the Rangers' hitters off balance and off the scoreboard after the first. Beyond that initial frame, only one runner made it as far as third. In fact, of the seven hits that Beckett surrendered, three were infield singles.

The most upbeat scenario for the Red Sox is that a 25-year-old pitcher got the win, and another 25-year-old got the save - the first of his Major League career. That's something to celebrate, and something to look forward to for the rest of this season.