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On the Red Sox and more

Gonna try something a bit different today. The powers-that-be want to generate more discussion among the bloggers and the readers, and so do I. Therefore, I won’t pontificate today, but rather, I will throw topics out to you the readers for discussion. Here’s what I’d like to know.

1) Are the Red Sox good for baseball or bad for it? I would argue that they’re simply a clone of the New York Yankees — another evil empire, if you will — but judging from the e-mails (all from Bosox fans), many people feel differently. Your thoughts.

2) Where will A-Rod land? I think this is going to be the most fascinating topic of the offseason. The Yankees don’t want him, can’t imagine the Red Sox would, either. Giants should stay away from him. Angels owner Arte Moreno has said he doesn’t want to devote that much payroll to one player, though it seems the Angels are ready to make a run at him. Maybe the Cubs because A-Rod is tight with their manager, Lou Piniella.

3) Should Joe Torre take the Dodgers job? If I were him, I wouldn’t. Who needs the hassle. That clubhouse is fractured, the division is loaded and it’s doubtful Torre could do anything that would top his efforts in New York.

That’s a start for now. Hope to see some discussion from all of you. Time to find out the true fans from the casual ones.

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A Rousing Sox-cess

So the Boston Red Sox are on top of the world again, and there’s nothing fluky about it. Their four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies was an exhibition of dominance that won’t soon be forgotten, and despite the denial of Rockies owner Charles Monfort, this likely would’ve been the result even without Colorado’s eight-day layoff.

What stands out about this championship is that there’s nothing lovable about it. It was easy to get caught up in Boston’s title in 2004, because it was just so stunning to see a sight that many of us thought we’d never see. This time, Boston was so superior that their march to a crown was barely compelling. Look, this team might as well call itself “Yankees East,” because of its financial advantage over most competitors. Don’t slight the Red Sox, however, because there are few things in sports as impressive as a team that is built to win the title and doing so in such “No doubt,” fashion. By blasting all comers _ and face it, save for one three-game slump in the American League Championship Series, Boston did just that _ the Red Sox became special champions.

Of course, I was greeted with an e-mail from one particularly obnoxious member of Red Sox nation, a guy who’s been on my case from Day 1 this season, and that’s fine. At the beginning of the playoffs, I picked Cleveland to emerge from the American League, but judging by how the Indians played after going up two games on Boston in the AL Championship Series, they weren’t ready. In fact, no other team in the majors was in Boston’s league come October, and the Red Sox proved that beyond a doubt.

So mark them down as one of the most impressive one-season champs of all time. Don’t mention them as a dynasty, yet, though, because it takes at least two in a row to get that distinction. Gives the Red Sox a very reasonable goal to shoot for in 2008, however.

As for Colorado, they go down as one of the most memorable playoff teams ever, just for the way they got there. Ten years from now, nobody will remember how the autumn of 2007 ended for them, just as nobody remembers that the Mariners failed to reach the World Series during their magical summer of 1995. What people will remember is that this Rockies team made winning baseball in Denver a viable entity, while reinforcing that in sports, truly anything can happen. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along came Colorado to show us that, no, you really haven’t. That’s not as sweet as taking home the trophy, but it’s the next best thing.

Now comes the offseason, and the hot stove figures to be hotter than ever. Alex Rodriguez won’t be a Yankee anymore, and the sweepstakes for his services will be far more interesting than this latest postseason was. That last part is an issue the suits at MLB should address, because this is three straight years that the playoffs have lacked drama and four straight years that the World Series hasn’t lasted more than five games. Not good.

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Beantown Party!!

Well, not a party yet. But close. Say, in about four hours. That’s when the Boston Red Sox will wrap up their second World Series crown in four years, after going 86 years without one. Now we know how Bostonians in the mid-1910′s must’ve felt.

Look, this is no reason to diss the Rockies. Their story was the best story of the year, regardless of what has happened to them. But the bottom line is that they’re not in Boston’s class. The layoff sapped them of their sharpness, which they needed just to stay close. Go position-by-position and Boston has proven superior at pretty much every one (Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop over Julio Lugo a clear exception). Thus the reason the 25-7 cumulative score in the first three game is not a fluke.

Throw in an earthquake, and this World Series would be a virtual carbon copy of the A’s dominance over the Giants in the 1989 Fall Classic — right up to, and including a key hit by a American League pitcher. Last night it was Daisuke Matsuzaka. Back then, MIke Moore.

So don’t be shocked if the Red Sox jump to a healthy margin early on in Game 4 tonight, only to see the Rockies make another run at them. In the end, though, the Red Sox prevail and take their place among the most dominant single-season champs ever. Meantime, the Rockies will go home for the winter, secure in the knowledge that their story will be told for decades to come.

And while you watch, keep a healthy perspective. Rockies starter Aaron Cook and Red Sox starter Jon Lester should help us all do so.

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The Boston bulldozer

Two games finished in the World Series, and it should come as no surprise that the Red Sox are halfway home to their second crown in four seasons (something very Twilight Zone-like about just writing that sentence). Wrote coming into the series that the Red Sox were basically superior in every category, and if you go position-by-position, they have the edge almost everywhere.

Thus, I’ll say this right now: No matter how wonderful a story the Rockies have been, they’re not coming back to win this thing (I say this hoping to activate the karma I bring, which is that no matter what I predict, the opposite almost always happens). Colorado may indeed get it back to Boston, because the Rockies have won 75 percent of their home games since June, but the only chance they have to win the series is to win all three, and it’s hard to see that happening.

Some observations from the first two games (Game 1 of which I saw very little, because I had to go tend to the Barry Bonds Festival).

— Game 1 was over when Josh Beckett went strikeout, strikeout, strikeout in the top of the first. Being asked to hit Beckett in a playoff game after an eight-day layoff is the equivalent of cruel-and-unusual punishment.

— Much has been written that at least the Rockies were not blown out in Game 2, and that’s true. But I’m of the belief that being edged in a one-run game actually lingers longer than getting blasted the way Colorado was in Game 1. And in Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies threw their best shot at the Red Sox. As with Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia, the Boston’s didn’t blink.

— Can’t wait to watch Manny Ramirez play left field in the massive pasture that is Coors Field. Wonder if the Rockies can stretch singles into triples.

— One thing the Rockies will have going for them when they get home: The Red Sox will have to sit either David Ortiz or Kevin Youkilis, because there won’t be a DH. But the guess here is that won’t be nearly as big a deal as the experts are saying. It’d be different if the series were tied, but the Red Sox have some margin for error.

— Hear a ton about where Beckett ranks in the pantheon of postseason pitchers. Well, where does Curt Schilling rank in a listing among all-time Red Sox greats? He was superb again last night, in what may have been his last start at Fenway.

— Another man with a pretty fair postseason docket: Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Anyway, enjoy the off day, and bring your warm-weather gear to Game 3.

Oh, and on a side note, sure am glad the A’s kept Chris Snelling around all season, aren’t you?

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The World Series

Aplogize for the late post today, but life happens. But at least I’ll get this in under the wire (a.k.a, the first pitch).

If you read my column, you’re well aware of what I’d like to see happen in this series. The Colorado Rockies are a great story, and to see them finish would make them one of the most memorable champions of all time in any sport. That said, my guess is the Red Sox in five, if not four. Colorado has spent so much time off that I imagine it will be tough for them to get their vibe back, and I just can’t see Colorado’s pitchers getting Red Sox hitters out again and again.

Then again, as Joaquin Andujar often said, you never know. So in that spirit, here are five players that will have to come up big for the Rockies to complete this run:

1. RHP, Ubaldo Jimenez: The Game 2 starter has long arms and filthy stuff, all of which could combine to make him nasty to hit. You have to assume the Rockies won’t win the opener, because Boston is throwing Josh Beckett. How Jimenez performs figures to determine whether Colorado goes home with a split.

2. Garrett Atkins, 3B: You’d imagine the Red Sox don’t want to let NL MVP candidate Matt Holliday beat them. Thus, Atkins probably will receive many RBI chances. He’ll have to take advantage.

3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS: His range is superior to that of Cleveland’s Jhonny Peralta, and that means Boston should not get as many balls through the left side as they did against the Indians in the ALCS.

4. Kaz Matsui, 2B: He hasn’t really been on base every time he’s batted during the playoffs. It only seems that way. But if it continues, then Boston’s pitchers will have several high-pitch, high-stress innings.

5. Manny Corpas, RHP: When the Rockies take a lead into the ninth, they can’t let it get away. Don’t think Corpas doesn’t know that.

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Hail to the Chowds (for now)

Not quite 24 hours since the Boston Red Sox completed another stirring comeback to reach the World Series, and I gotta tell you, the nausea hasn’t subsided one bit. I mean, baseball needs the Red Sox in the World Series the way it needs George Bush in office for another four years.

To me, the Rockies-Indians would’ve been a great series, because it would’ve featured two teams, built from within that didn’t need gigantic payrolls to get there. It also would’ve been close to impossible to determine who had the edge, because both teams were sizzling. Something about the great unknown is very appealing, and I was anticipating a World Series along the line of the Braves-Twins in 1991 and the Reds-Red Sox in 1975.

As it is, I look at things and I can’t think of one reason why the Red Sox won’t close this thing out. Colorado’s is the hottest team this side of the Patriots, obviously, but they’ve been doing nothing for eight days. It’s hard to recapture the vibe after a layoff that long. More important, though, it’s hard to envision Colorado’s starting pitchers having any success with Boston’s relentless lineup, espcially if Kevin Youkilis stays hot.

Then again, just when you think you know everything, the game jumps up to bite you. That’s why in my heart I’ll be pulling for Colorado. My brain is telling me the Red Sox sweep.

Just what the world would need.

Other thoughts and observations:

— Indians manager Eric Wedge had a terrific postseason until, like his team, he melted down at the end. My biggest gripe about Game 7: Why remove Jake Westbrook after the Indians starter had just mowed down seven in a row? That, even more than Joel Skinner’s mistake not sending home Kenny Lofton, was the pivotal point of Game 7.

— Another complaint about Wedge: No reason to let Rafael Betancourt pitch to Dustin Pedroia with the bases loaded. Pedroia already had hammered one over the Green Monster against Betancourt an inning earlier. What, did Wedge want to see if it was a fluke?

— I predicted to a colleague that Travis Hafner was going to go Big Fly against Jonathan Papelbon when Papelbon entered in the eighth inning with two runners aboard. Instead, Hafner struck out on three pitches. Pretty much summed up his series.

— Here’s how much Manny Ramirez didn’t care after the Red Sox fell behind 3-1 in games: He went 3-for-9 with a double, three RBI, two walks a run and an outfield assist over the final three games. The double, by the way, should’ve been ruled a home run.

— One thing Colorado manager Clint Hurdle should consider: Save Jeff Francis for Game 2. The Rockies aren’t going to beat Josh Beckett in the opener, so why not have Francis, their ace, match up against Curt Schilling?

0

Man oh Manny!!

I love Manny Ramirez.

Seriously. The man is a media dream. Not only because he occasionally says things that seem so outrageous. But because some of the outrageous things he says are exactly true, so much so that most of his fellow athletes wouldn’t have the guts to say it.

Manny’s latest bombshell implies that he doesn’t really care that much if the Red Sox lose Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. That may well be true, and if it is, not cool. You make the money that Manny makes, and you darn well out of care. But I guarantee you this, he’s not the only player who has ever felt that way, and he’s probably one of several in his own clubhouse who think just that.

The other thing Manny said — that if the Red Sox lose “it’s not the end of the world,” — is EXACTLY RIGHT! It’s not the end of the world, and anybody who pretends it is (listen up Red Sox Nation) needs an elementary course in the priorities of life. Believe it or not, the Earth’s rotation is not impacted by whether the Red Sox win a World Series.

Now because of that last part, I’m not entirely proud to be a part of the media today. Taking a mildly controversial statement, running with it and making it the hot topic for nationwide talk shows is kind of weak — I mean, it’s not like the guy said, “My money is on the Indians,” — and it’s the chief reason most players don’t like, trust or cooperate with the media.

The reason this story is so big is because the only other topical story involves middle relievers, and that’s not a ratings grabber on an unnecessary day off (for more on the idiocy that is baseball’s postseason schedule, read my column). It’s really not that big a deal at all. It might not have been Manny’s smartest move to express his thoughts, but that’s the thing about him. He seems to have the mind of a 12-year-old and I say that as a compliment. After all, he plays a kid’s game for a living.

One other thing to remember: When the Red Sox play for their season tonight, Manny will be one of the most dangerous players in the stadium. Wanna know how much he cares? Just watch how he approaches every at-bat.

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Cleveland Rocks !!!

I didn’t give Eric Wedge my vote for American League Manager of the Year — I opted for the Yankees’ Joe Torre — but nobody in the AL has done a better job in the playoffs than the Cleveland Indians’ skipper.

His handling of the Indians’ pitching staff has been fantastic. His decision to start Paul Byrd has panned out fine twice, as Byrd as contained potent lineups in the Red Sox and Yankees. His choice to use a rookie reliever — in this case right-hander Jensen Lewis — as a bridge to his late-inning relief shows courage many other managers might not have. And by opting to use Rafael Betancourt instead of closer Joe Borowski in the ninth showed Wedge is managing to game conditions rather than holding steadfast to “the book.”

Betancourt has been scintillating throughout the playoffs, and he buzzed through the Red Sox lineup in the eighth, and that was all Wedge apparently needed to see.

So what we have, then, is a situation that has Red Sox Nation — not to mention network executives — shaking in their boots. One more Cleveland win and the nation will be treated to a Rockies-Indians World Series, and that would be good for ball, if not good for the ratings.

Don’t count out the Bosox, though. Four of their everyday starters (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis) and two members of their rotation (Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield) were a part of the 2004 team that erased a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees, so by comparision, 3-1 probably looks like nothing.

Remember, too, that Josh Beckett will pitch Game 5 and would be available on short rest for Game 7. The laset time Beckett pitched in an LCS, he was a Florida Marlin, and his team trailed the Chicago Cubs by the same margin as the Red Sox trail Cleveland. Beckett dominated that day, and we all know the rest.

Tune in Thursday.

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A new bullpen coach? How Romanick.

Just finished negotiating rush-hour traffic and, in this one television home, the favored viewing in our house (PBS’ Kids Sprout) with my 5-year-old son. So all I can tell you from what I’ve heard and what little I’ve seen in Game 4 of the ALCS is that both Paul Byrd (Cleveland) and Tim Wakefield (Boston) are doing a wonderful job making the opposing hitters guess wrong in the early stages. More on this game as it goes.

The purpose of this blog, however, is not to discuss the playoffs, but rather to analyze the addition of Ron Romanick to the A’s pitching staff.

And any analysis has to start with pitching coach Curt Young.

Young came aboard in 2004, replacing Rick Peterson, who had forged quite a sterling reputation during his time in Oakland. The A’s pitching staff, for the most part, did not miss a beat during that season, save for Mark Mulder, whose late-season fade cost the A’s a fifth straight playoff appearance. Time has proven that it was Mulder’s shoulder, not Young’s coaching ability, that led to that development.

From 2005-07, Young has overseen the development of Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, and his most recent campaign was particularly impressive, because he a) helped turn Chad Gaudin into an effective-enough starting pitcher that Gaudin fell only two outs shy of reaching 200 innings and b) aided in what became a decent season from fifth starter Lenny DiNardo.

In other words, he’s been darn near as good as Petersen, if not better.

So it is that Young has every reason to be a tad annoyed by the hiring of Romanick to take over Brad Fischer’s spot in the bullpen. Romanick has been the team’s roving pitching instructor in the minors for the past nine seasons — he won 31 games in three major-league seasons — and so he’s had much hands-on experience with pitchers for nearly a decade. In other words, he’s hardly the guy you envision being content answering a bullpen phone.

Now, it may just be that Romanick has had a yearning to be on the big-league staff, and he was willing to settle for any position that was offered to him. The A’s may be perfectly happy with Young, even though the A’s pitching fell off this season, especially in the second half.

But it sure seems like the A’s are using this hire to convey the unflattering message to Young that if the A’s don’t pitch as they have in recent years, his replacement is already on the staff. Again, it’s a pretty cold way to do business, but the A’s already have proven themselves adept at it. It’s not the greatest way to coax the best out of Young, but the man is professional and will try to provide his best anyway. But you can’t make chicken soup from chicken slop, and the A’s staff — particularly the bullpen — resembled the latter for much of the second half.

Incidentally, A’s management is having anything but a vintage offseason so far. The loss of Jay Marshall on a waiver claim to the Red Sox is another example. Not that Marshall is ready to be a dominant reliever — he may nver be — but why do you keep a guy on your roster all year long (at times, manipulating it for that very purpose) — only to leave him open to a waiver claim. Marshall was not having a great year in the Arizona Instructional League, but this latest development suggests sloppiness in the A’s front office. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as the organization goes forward, does it?

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Beckett or Wakefield?

Judging from all the cocky, self-serving — and in one particular case, abusive — e-mails I’ve received from members of Red Sox Nation over the past couple of weeks, my guess is that nobody who bleeds Boston ever expected to be in this position: Down 2-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series.

So here’s my question then: How secure do you feel knowing your season may well be riding on the coin-flip reliability of Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball?

If I were Terry Francona, I’d be awfully tempted to use Josh Beckett on three days rest tonight. Beckett’s postseason resume is pretty much impeccable, and the last time he threw on three days rest in the playoffs, he shut down the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series-clinching Game 6 for the Florida Marlins.

By using Beckett tonight, you also leave open the possibility that he could pitch Game 7 with a full complement of rest. And while I wouldn’t expect Beckett to be the lights-out guy he was in Game 7 of the 2003 World Series if he did get the ball with short rest, neither would I expect anything less than a grind-it-out, keep-my-team-in-it kind of performance. Too, he’s been so dominant in the playoffs, that he probably would take a mental edge to the hill with him.

The risk, of course, is if Beckett pitched Game 4 and, against all odds, served up a clunker. Then, the Red Sox would be down 3-1 without a great chance to get to Game 7. Still, if I’m Francona, that’s a risk I’m willing to take at this time of year, because if I’m going to lose, I’m going down with my best guy.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Wakefield, even though the back of his own postseason baseball card is not nearly that impressive. But Wakefield has pitched only once in the past 23 days because of back issues. That’s concern enough. Add to it that his bread-and-butter pitch is the most unpredictable one in the game in terms of what it’s going to produce, and I would imagine that he’ll have an awfully short leash.

If the Red Sox lose tonight with Wakefield, they do have Beckett on regular rest in Game 5 and then Curt Schilling possible for Game 6. But a 3-1 hole in a playoff series is awfully difficult to erase, especially against a team that’s been almost as hot — 36-14 over their past 50 — as Colorado has been. The Red Sox did make history by wiping out a three-games-to-zip deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS in 2004, but you can only walk that high wire so many times before you tumble off, and my guess is that an Indians win tonight will, for practical purposes, serve as a series-clincher.

Which is why if it were my call, the ball would go to Beckett.