Keep up with the latest news, notes and developments with Fungoes, a daily journal for all things baseball that will last all season long.
ALDS: A Night That Saw Everything
Here's all you need to know about last night's game: In the eighth inning Fox showed one of its "Right Now" graphics with J.D. Drew on third base, Coco Crisp on second and Julio Lugo on first.
The offensively-anemic trio has a collective postseason average of .209 and an on-base percentage of .256, yet somehow all three reached base in the same inning and all three scored in that inning.
Yep, it was that kind of night for the Sox.
Save for the home run that Manny Ramirez had taken from him in the third inning -– and Fox persisted in pointing out that he didn't run hard out of the box, later displaying a summary box mentioning Ramirez's 390-foot RBI single -– Boston had a banner night in Cleveland.
Josh Beckett brought a swagger that the Sox needed, and the offense started to come alive. While the top of Boston's lineup produced last night -– the top four went 7-for-14 with four runs, six RBIs, four extra-base hits -– Lugo and Crisp haven't hit worth a lick. Crisp couldn't even get down a sacrifice bunt in a key spot. It's time for Jacoby Ellsbury to get a crack in the lineup. He can't do any worse than Crisp and, with his speed, may provide a spark at the bottom of the lineup because, as it is now, there are several automatic outs in that order.
Lugo finally contributed in a meaningful way last night -– when he helped interview Manny, who has suddenly become a media darling.
Who better to rally Red Sox Nation than Rally Karaoke Guy? Kevin Millar –- who, mind you, is an active member of an AL East rival -– appeared on Fox's pregame show, urging Sox fans to "Cowboy Up" and reminding them that they faced worse odds in 2004.
While the Angels had the Rally Monkey in 2002, the Sox had Rally Karaoke Guy, a hilarious video of a teenage Millar dancing -– badly -– to Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.
Clearly Millar loves Boston and wishes he never had to leave. I suspect that, whenever he retires, he'll have signed a contract within the hour to be a NESN studio analyst.
Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro admits he's nervous about the series.
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
ALDS: This One's For You, Josh
Talk about gamesmanship.
Seemingly unable to rattle Josh Beckett with their bats, the Indians are resorting to a different tactic: an ex-girlfriend.
Cleveland has tabbed country singer Danielle Peck to sing “God Bless America” at tonight’s game, and she just so happens to be Beckett’s ex. Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio claims, “It's an incredible coincidence. Honestly.” Suuuure.
As one Deadspin commenter speculates, maybe the Sox will retaliate by “stacking boxes of Dunkin' Donuts in the on-deck circle, in plain view of C.C. Sabathia.”
While I can’t fault the selection of Carlos Pena as AL Comeback Player of the Year, Pena’s production, as massive as it was, came in the obscurity of Tampa Bay. The more impressive comeback player, as far as meaningful contributions to postseason teams, was Cleveland’s Jhonny Peralta.
While everyone likes to poke fun at his name – Bill Simmons asks if Peralta and Dwyane Wade ever considered a “Birth Certificate Bloopers” support group – there’s no mistaking his play this series, leading to yet another name comment: one article claims the misplaced ‘h’ stands for ‘hitter’.
Peralta, who enjoyed a breakout 2005 with a .292 average, 24 HR, 78 RBIs, slipped considerably in 2006, hitting .257 with only 13 HR to go with his 68 RBIs. But, as Ben Reiter wrote in SI’s baseball preview issue, Peralta went under the laser to have corrective eye surgery. His numbers improved a little – up to .270/21/72 – and they’ve taken off this postseason. Peralta is hitting .406 with a .750 slugging percentage, and two three-run homers against Boston. He’s a more-than-capable No. 5 hitter, providing strong protection in that lineup for Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez.
Let’s say this: He’s no Maicer Izturis. (Sorry, Angels fans.)
It’s no wonder Manny Ramirez almost never talks to the press. This postseason he’s opened up a little bit – and the media, as always, was quick to pounce. Newspapers across the country today ran headlines like Ramirez: It’s Not The End Of The World or articles basically telling Manny to get a clue.
While the Sox have visibly tensed up since Game 2, Manny was playful, showing a calm that the team needs. Boston didn’t come back in 2004 by saying the 3-0 ALCS deficit to the Yankees was the end of the world. Instead, it was clubhouse jokers like Kevin Millar who kept the team loose.
Manny obviously cares about this team. He’s batting .429 with four HRs and 11 RBIs this postseason and, along with David Ortiz and Josh Beckett, has carried the Sox this far. Yet as soon as Manny talks, the world jumps on him. Few papers cared to print a longer version of his remarks to show context:
“We're just going to go have fun and play the game,” Manny said. “That's it. If we go play hard and the thing doesn't come like it's supposed to come, we'll move on. We'll come next year. Why should we panic? We've got a great team. If it doesn't happen, good. We'll come next year and try to do it again.
“We're confident every day. It doesn't matter how things go for you. We're not going to give up. We're just going to go and play the game, like I've said, and move on. If it doesn't happen, so who cares? There's always next year. It's not like the end of the world or something.”
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
ALCS: Coulda, shoulda, woulda ...
If Tim Wakefield were a better fielder or a worse fielder, this could be a very different series right now.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, with one run in on Casey Blake's monstrous solo homer, Wakefield faced Asdrubal Cabrera with men at the corners and one out. His liner was destined for the right of the second-base bag when Wakefield reached to snare it. Had he caught it, he likely could have doubled up one of the runners to end the inning; had he not touched it all, the ball would have landed right in front of Dustin Pedroia who easily could have turned the double play to end the inning.
Instead, with Wakefield's decidedly mediocre fielding abilities, his glove deflected the ball into the no man's land behind the mound for an infield hit. The inning continues.
And here's where the underappreciated Indians deserve a world of credit: They've capitalized on almost every opportunity this series.
The Tribe has scored first in all four games, and last night in the fifth they piled it on, keyed by Jhonny Peralta's second three-run HR of the ALCS. Everyone is contributing: Six Indians had hits in that inning -– Blake had two and a seventh, Kelly Shoppach, added a walk -– as five players have at least five hits in the series, and all but one starter has at least three hits in the four games.
Cleveland is a complete ballclub. When it won in the first half of the season, it did so with the AL's second-best run-scoring offense through the All-Star Game while Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers, Jake Westbrook, et al. struggled mightily. In the second half, the offense lagged a little while the pitchers found their groove. And, now, in the postseason the Indians are combining the two.
So complete are they that a setup man ought to be the frontrunner for the ALCS MVP hardware. That man, of course, is Rafael Betancourt, whose dominance in the seventh and eighth innings isn't dissimilar from K-Rod during the Angels' World Series run in 2002 and Mariano Rivera in his pre-closer days with the Yankees in 1996.
Sure, Peralta is batting .353 with two HRs and seven RBIs and he undoubtedly will receive the actual award, but my vote goes to Betancourt. He has an aura of invincibility, so much so that Kevin Youkilis was quoted in the Globe today as saying, "The guy's got some magic ... or something. He just gets outs." Betancourt has appeared three times for 5.1 innings and given up just one base hit and no walks while striking out four. He's shortening games, and the Sox are looking defeated against him at the plate.
Even Joe Borowski has been steady thus far, and the breakout pitcher in that 'pen -– nevermind the Rafaels, Betancourt and Perez, who have excelled all year -– is Jensen Lewis. With Lewis making appearances in all four games this series, Indians manager Eric Wedge seems to be channeling Joe Torre, who overworked Scott Proctor so much that the reliever nearly challenged Cal Ripken for the consecutive games streak.
In the battle between postseason spokesmen with the initials D.C., Don Cheadle's spots for the NFL were a million times better than Dane Cook's MLB ads are.
Also, I was very perplexed by the Indians who brought a "Happy Birthday Tim!" sign to the ballpark. Who keeps track of Tim McCarver's birthday? He's not a very good announcer, but I guess Cleveland fans have had less recent reason to be offended by his postseason broadcasts.
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
ALCS: Sit Wakefield, start Beckett
An open letter to Terry Francona:
Come to your senses, and start Josh Beckett tonight. Your season rests upon it.
Starting Tim Wakefield, as you insist you're going to do, is putting a lot of faith in cortisone, history and baseball's most unpredictable pitch. Beckett, on the other hand, is the likely Cy Young winner, who has been dominant in two postseason outings; Wakefield hasn't pitched in 17 days and gave up four or more runs in each of his five September starts.
Terry, your players blew it last night with baserunning gaffes and horrific situational hitting, but you have the chance to put the Red Sox in the best position to win tonight's game, even the series and set yourself up for a run into the World Series.
Last night was not your fault. You managed the bullpen well, getting 3.1 scoreless and hitless innings of relief from Mike Timlin, Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen. You didn't even have to use Jonathan Papelbon.
Your team lost the game in the first three innings. David Ortiz grounded into a double play in the first, hurting a chance to rattle Jake Westbrook in the first frame. Then, the real backbreaker: the top of the second. Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell did their jobs, drawing a walk and hitting a single, and J.D. Drew reached base about the only way he can these days: on a throwing error.
Then Jason Varitek, with the bases loaded and nobody out, was unable to get a run home. No base hit, no walk, no hit-by-pitch, no catcher's interference and not even a fly ball deep enough to score Manny from third. Nope, he flew out much too shallow. Then Coco Crisp, with one out, can get a run home by any of the same scenarios as Varitek. And instead? Crisp hits into a 6-4-3 double play.
In the bottom of the second, Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up a homer to Kenny Lofton of all people –- somehow, of his seven postseason HRs, four have come against the Sox -– but otherwise the Dice Man was OK last night. Not great, but better than he was against the Angels and good enough to win if the offense had been its usual self.
Again your hitters failed you in the top of the third. After the Indians took that 2-0 lead, your lineup went out on six pitches lasting just two minutes. The Sox showed some life in the fourth with Ortiz leading off the proceedings with an opposite-field double, but he foolishly ran to third on a groundball hit right to the shortstop and, in the least agile move by any professional athlete, he failed to avoid the ball and was called out.
By then the team was lifeless anyway, save Varitek's two-run homer, but Westbrook was grooving. Of the 20 outs he induced, 14 came on groundouts, and three each on strikeouts and flyouts.
Back to the Wakefield/Beckett decision: OK, Terry, before you protest further, I understand the counterarguments. Few pitches in recent years have performed well on three days rest in the playoffs (according to Tom Verducci, those pitchers are 30-41), and pitching Beckett tonight weakens the pitching matchups for Games 5 and 6. But here's what I say: The most notable exception to the pitching-on-three-days-rest rule is Beckett himself in the 2003 World Series, and there may not be a Game 6 if you don't win tonight. If you weren't thinking about this as a possibility, why did you take him out after 80 pitches in Game 1?
Besides, it'll still be C.C. Sabathia vs. Curt Schilling and Fausto Carmona vs. Dice-K in 5 and 6. Sure, both games favor the Tribe, but Schilling typically rises to the occasion and Game 6 would be back at Fenway, where you already knocked around Carmona.
So you're worried about Schilling pitching on four days' rest and think he needs an extra day? You could even start Wakefield in Game 5. What's most important here is getting as many Beckett starts as possible.
Need anything more, Tito? How about losing Varitek's bat by starting Wakefield? I know that the Captain isn't the hitter he used to be, but his has-been self is still much better than the never-was, Doug Mirabelli.
Plus, with the new-fangled playoff schedule, Beckett can come back in Game 7 on normal rest!
To me, it seems like a no-brainer, but I'm just an armchair blogger in New York. You say there isn't much difference between a 2-1 or 1-2 series. Your credentials are certainly more impressive (ahem, the first World Series win for the Sox in 86 years) than mine, but as long as Beckett wants the ball -– and I'd be shocked if a competitor like him didn't come to your office and ask for it – then I think you should reconsider.
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
NLCS: Heroes & Goats
All series long, this has been a tale of heroes (Rockies) and goats (Diamondbacks). Monday night's clincher epitomized this theme. Here are the names of note.
Three heroes:1. Matt Holliday. The player showered with "M-V-P" cheers throughout Games 3 and 4 will have to wait for a few more weeks to find out if he earned the National League's top honor, but he did take home the NLCS MVP. Holliday blew the game wide open with two outs in the fourth inning. One at-bat after being pelted in the back, the 27-year-old slugger crushed a hanging slider 452 feet to straightaway center for a three-run homer that gave Colorado a 6-1 lead.
2. Seth Smith. Smith, who made his major league debut on September 16 (the day Colorado started this amazing 21-of-22 streak) and had just eight major league at-bats entering the postseason, came up with one of the biggest base hits in Rockies history. Trailing 1-0 with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the fourth inning, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle pinch hit Smith for starting pitcher Franklin Morales. D-backs hurler Micah Owings quickly put the rookie outfielder in a 0-2 hole, but Smith took a ball and then fought off an inside fastball, dropping it just inside the foul line in shallow left field. The two-RBI double gave Colorado a lead it would never relinquish.
3. Manny Corpas. The momentum took a serious swing in Arizona's favor when Chris Snyder hit a two-out, three-run homer off Brian Fuentes in the top of the eighth inning and Justin Upton followed with a triple into left-center field. But Corpas entered the game and struck out veteran slugger Tony Clark with a nasty, 3-2 breaking ball. In the ninth inning, Corpas gave up a one-out double to Chris Young, but abruptly retired Stephen Drew and Eric Byrnes to end it. While we're on the subject of Colorado's bullpen, Matt Herges perfect work in the fifth and sixth innings also deserve some props.
Three goats:1. Conor Jackson. While CoJack produced the game's first run with an RBI single in the third, he made a horrible error in one inning later that cost Arizona four runs and ultimately put the game out of reach. With two outs and Smith on second, Willy Taveras hit a soft ground ball to Jackson that should have ended the inning. But for the second time this series, Jackson had the ball bounce off the heel of his glove. This error kept the inning alive for a Kaz Matsui RBI single and Holliday's three-run homer.
2. Eric Byrnes. Byrnes quickly became Public Enemy No. 1 in Denver with his comments after Game 2. ("I also don't think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven't. Not even close. They've had a little luck go their way. Definitely, the ball has bounced in their direction. They've been the beneficiary of some calls.") Much to the joy of Colorado fans, the Diamondbacks' regular-season spark plug completely disappeared in this series, especially in the clincher. Byrnes went 0-for-4, appropriately ending the game with a lame, check-swing, ground ball out.
3. Dane Cook. With his jet black rendition of Bart Simpson hair, Cook's been a goat throughout October, but he reached a new low Monday night. Even though Arizona was down 3-0, on the verge of elimination, Cook continued to grace the silver screen with his pro-D-backs spot ("You have to see how long they'll survive"). Here's to guessing more than a few TV remotes met their demise in Arizona households when the commercial ran following the sixth inning ... with the Diamondbacks down 6-1.
So, the Rox have now won 21 of 22 games and find themselves in the World Series. Do they have a chance against the ALCS winner? At this point, you'd have to be an idiot to count them out.
NLCS: Game, set, match
Well, D-backs, guess it's time to start lining up the pregame shots ...
With last night's 4-1 loss, Arizona faces a 3-0 deficit in the series. Only one team in history has ever won a series after going down 3-0: the Red Sox, who achieved said task by shocking the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. According to first baseman Kevin Millar, the self-proclaimed "Idiots" of Boston fueled this unprecedented comeback by taking pregame whiskey shots. So, Arizona, there's your blueprint.
But, let's be honest: This Diamondbacks team is nowhere near as talented as the '04 Sawx. And taking into consideration the Rockies' recent run, the D-backs have dug themselves into a hole that no amount of Jack Daniels can pull them out of.
Colorado is in the midst of a ridiculous month-long stretch. In baseball, when you win five of six, you're hot. When you win 10 of 11, you're sizzling. And when you win 20 of 21 ... well ... I don't know if there's a word in the English dictionary that does justice to that kind of a run. Not to mention, the Rockies have gone on this tear with the stakes at their absolute highest. So, what are the chances that that Colorado goes 20-1 in the clutch and then loses four straight games? Slim and none. And slim left the yard off of the bat of Yorvit Torrealba at around 10:40 p.m. EDT Sunday night.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Torrealba officially revved up the fat lady with one of the most electric knocks in Coors Field's brief history. The Rockies catcher came up to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second in a 1-1 ballgame. Diamondbacks pitcher Livan Hernandez got ahead of Torrealba with a first-pitch fastball for a called strike and then put him in a 1-2 hole with a Mickey Mouse curveball that didn't even register on the stadium radar gun (TBS had it at 58 MPH).
"It just made me laugh," Torrealba said of the pitch. "It looked more like a softball [pitch]."
But Torrealba battled back into a full count and fouled off a 60 MPH curveball. Then Hernandez made a mistake, catching too much of a plate with an 82 MPH fastball, and Torrealba sent it 402 feet into the left-field stands.
"It's the last pitch I want to throw," Hernandez said. "Yorvit is one of my best friends in baseball and I know he can handle the fastball inside very good. It's just the situation. I'd thrown everything: foul, foul. I know he can hit a fastball, trust me. And he hit it out."
The scene that followed was straight out of Hollywood: With the rain pouring down in buckets and fresh pyrotechnics lighting up the Denver sky, Torrealba fist-pumped his way around the bases as the sellout crowd of 50,137 went into a frenzy.
Let's say the Rockies do finish off the series with another win tonight. They will have gone from 4 1/2 games out of the wild card to the World Series in the span of 22 games. With everything that was at stake, that would easily go down as one of the greatest runs in sports history.
ALCS: Stay up late
Forgive me, Tom Mastny.
In breaking down the playoff pitching staffs before the series, I wrote that the Boston and Cleveland bullpens were evenly matched, save the difference between the closers. But somehow I omitted Mastny.
Sure, the right-handed Mastny posted a 7-2 record this season but it was a pretty unremarkable year for the guy, who scraped by with a 4.67 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. Though the 26-year-old had been on the Indians' roster since the beginning of the season, manager Eric Wedge -– with good reason, mind you -– had bumped Mastny from his role behind Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez in the setup chain of command in favor of Jensen Lewis, just 23 and with 29.1 career innings under his belt. Those were, however, 29.1 career innings of 2.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP pitching.
So out trots Mastny in the bottom of the 10th on Saturday night, Wedge having already used Lewis earlier in the game. His mission: keep the game scoreless until the 11th when Eric Gagne, who has been nothing of a disaster for Boston, takes the hill. Oh, did I mention that Mastny had to face David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell?
Quick statistical interruption:
This season the heart of the Red Sox's order (i.e. Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell) batted .318 with a .409 OBP, 76 HR, 325 RBIs.
In the playoffs, before Mastny's 10th inning, the trio was batting .537 with a .512 OBP, 6 HR, and 22 RBIs in five games. And don't forget that Ortiz and Ramirez didn't make an out in 10 plate appearances in Game 1.
Yet, with all that going against Mastny, he retired them easily in the most pressure-packed of situations, with a grounder and two fly balls. He even fell behind Ortiz with a 3-1 count and Ramirez 2-0, the big sluggers perhaps trying too hard to end the game with one swing.
A lot of ink and megabites have been devoted to Gagne's meltdown and, yes, Betancourt pitched a spectacular 2.1 innings of relief earlier in the game -– longer than any of his 68 regular-season outings -– but it was Mastny's scoreless 10th that put Cleveland in a position to win the game, tie the series and put serious pressure on the Sox to win tonight.
As much as a Game 3 can be a must-win game of a 1-1 best-of-seven series, tonight is just that for the Sox because of Tim Wakefield. The Boston Globe's Gordon Edes writes that the Sox will pitch Wakefield no matter what in Game 4. After Josh Beckett threw 80 pitches in his Game 1 win, there was speculation he might return on three days' rest -– a la Game 6 of the 2003 World Series -– to pitch in ALCS Game 4, which would set him up to also pitch Game 7 on normal rest.
Wakefield hasn't pitched since Sept. 29, just had a cortisone shot in the back of his right shoulder and was hurting too much to even be put on the ALDS roster. On good days, he's the best No. 4 starter in baseball; on bad days, well, those are really bad days. Of course, with the right Lake Erie breeze tomorrow night, maybe the knuckleball will be dancing around like he never stopped pitching, but he's facing the ever-steady Paul Byrd who showed again against New York that he's the type of pitcher who'll usually be good enough to win.
If the Sox win tonight, they are almost playing with house money in Game 4. As long as it's 2-2 entering Game 5, the series becomes a best-of-three with Beckett pitching, followed by two home games.
Of course, this all may be moot: the Rockies won't ever lose again.
Labels: Indians-Red Sox
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)