The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, April 30, 2007


Grumpy 7

Yankees-Red Sox games in the Bronx are always tense affairs, but Saturday's contest ratcheted the tension through the roof. For starters, the Yanks came in riding a seven-game losing streak, their longest since the end of the 2000 season (their 0-fer on the Hit List stuck out like a sore thumb). They'd lost four straight to the Sox, including Friday night's 11-4 debacle, a game which stopper Andy Pettitte (13-5 against the Sox in his career, and 64-27 after a Yankee loss) failed to get the job done. Worse, Mariano Rivera, who'd blown his only two save opportunities of the year in spectacular fashion, was torched for four runs in 1/3 of an inning of mop-up duty and had to be unceremoniously removed mid-inning. The tabloid paper tiger, George Steinbrenner was supposedly threatening to roar (if you believe Howard Rubenstein), canning Joe Torre for the egregious sin of not being ten deep in healthy major league starting pitchers. Not that anyone should put any stock in this; it's most likely the black throat of the anti-Cashman forces -- Mark Newman, raise your hand -- stirring up trouble.

Against this backdrop, I headed to Yankee Stadium for my second game of the year, and the fun started early, when the Police Academy reject at the entrance hassled me over the little leather attache in which I keep my scorebook, sunglasses, and subway-ready reading material -- a modest upgrade over the previous faux-leather item I'd recently replaced. Since 9/11, security at the Stadium has gotten increasingly unpleasant and irrational. I could have a Tek-9 in my pants and grenades wired to my body, but so long as my cell phone turns on and there are no assault rifles hidden under my cap, the Rent-A-Cops will wave me through. Try to bring in a leather attache, and it's curtains. Stick the stupid thing in a clear plastic bag at the request of the Rent-A-Cop's supervisor, and everything is back to hunky dory, "just this once."

Our seats were in the infield, but they were also in the back row of the Tier Box section, directly in front of the Section 10/12 tunnel. Thus, we were vulnerable every half-wit drunk sloshing multiple beers onto us, while a steady breeze of peanut shells wafting up from the rows below dusted our entire section. All of this excitement cost me only $56. Several rows down, a man in a red #7 football jersey with "Grumpy" on the back, stood out among the Jeter, Cabrera, Rodriguez and Mantle t-shirts and jerseys dotting the crowd. It was a Snow White reference, but the non sequitur summed up the vibe in the park: the Yanks' seven losses in a row had all of us in a less-than-chipper mood, hardly they type of vibe than a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a ballgame ought to bring.

Against that wonderful tableau, the game got off to a miserable start for the Yanks. On the first pitch, Sox shortstop Julio Lugo lined a pitch back to the box, and it drilled pitcher Jeff Karstens on the leg. Karstens went down as though he'd been shot, and was writhing in agony as Torre, trainer Gene Monahan and the infielders encircled him. After a few minutes of catching his breath, standing up, and squatting on his haunches -- making us believe he'd actually taken the shot in the groin -- Karstens threw a warm-up pitch and drew applause and the green light from the trainer. But after giving up another single, he departed; it turns out the liner had cracked his fibula, further depleting an already decimated rotation.

With the staff already in disarray, Torre summoned his lone option, Kei Igawa. Carrying a 7.84 ERA through four starts, the Japanese lefty has been nothing short of erratic thus far; with Karstens' return from some spring elbow tenderness, the Yanks had banished Igawa to the bullpen until he got his shit together. Nick and I put the over/under for runs allowed by the Yanks at 12 and slunk into our seats. I summoned my Clancy Wiggum voice: "This is gonna get worse before it gets better."

Miraculously, Igawa began by inducing a room-service 4-6-3 double-play off the bat of David Ortiz. As the big slugger lumbered back to the dugout, the man in the seat directly in front of me shouted, "Get off the field, fat ass! And that's coming from a 50-year-old, 295-pound man!" The fellow fat ass soon revealed himself to be Tom from Texas, and he kept us entertained throughout the afternoon with a lively stream of patter, though I could have done without the combination of peanut detritus and dandruff flaking from his midnight blue shirt into my soda cup. Suddenly, I wasn't so thirsty.

Though Manny Ramirez came into the game batting just .193, he still posed a threat, particularly with Lugo at third. After falling behind 0-2, he battled Igawa through 10 pitches, finally working a walk. But Igawa came back to strike out J.D. Drew, earning a healthy ovation from the portion of the 55,026 fans who weren't carpetbagging around in Red Sox paraphernalia.

The Yanks mounted a threat in the bottom of the first against Tim Wakefield. With one out, Derek Jeter reached on an error by third baseman Mike Lowell, his seventh of the year after making just six all of last year. Jeter stole second a few pitches before slumping Bobby Abreu -- in the midst of what would become an 0-for-19 slump, one that would see him attempting to bunt in his next at-bat -- worked a walk, bringing up Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod had cooled off a bit from his scorching pace of 14 homers and 34 RBI in 18 games. A-Rod worked the count full, but struck out, while Jeter lit for third base and was gunned down for an inning-ending double play. Blech.

The Yanks threatened again in the second. Hideki Matsui stroked a one-out single, and stole second one pitch before Jorge Posada walked. Both runners moved up when a Wakefield pitch knuckled off Doug Mirabelli's big glove. Since Mirabelli's sole reason for breathing rests on his ability to catch Wakefield's knuckler -- a problem that San Diego GM Kevin Towers exploited beautifully when the Sox needed to hurriedly reacquire Mirabelli last summer -- I shouted something colorfully unprintable, even by this blog's lax standards. Yeah, love to hate that Mirabelli, I do. Thus my curse words were adequately warmed up when Melky Cabrera lined out to rightfield to end the inning.

The Yanks finally broke through in the fourth, when after a one-out walk by Matsui, Posada went upper deck with a Wakefield knuckler, spilling some poor fan's beer or soda all over the facade of the rightfield tier, 2-0 Yanks. Still, the crowd was tense, unwilling to believe Igawa's stifling performance. Working exclusively from the stretch, "Ugly Uh-gawa" (who's no matinee idol, if you've seen pics) kept the Sox offense at bay by getting ahead of hitters. Through five innings, he'd gotten a first-pitch strike on 11 out of 16 and surrendered just one hit, a two-out double by Lowell in the fourth. He even got Ortiz to ground into yet another double play, though this time, his sundial-timed loaf back to the dugout brought no comment from Tom from Texas.

Ugly Igawa gave Ortiz fits all day. With one out in the sixth, he got the slugger to pop up into foul territory on the first base side. Jason Giambi, playing first because Joe Torre had finally benched Doug Mientkiewicz and his .140 batting average, surprised everyone by leaning over the railing to snare the popup. When Igawa walked Ramirez on four pitches immediately afterwards, it looked as though the jig was up, but Drew slapped an easy grounder right to Giambi to end the threat.

The Yanks extended their lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the inning. Posada worked a walk off Wakefield, and advanced to second on a grounder. Cabrera, who'd hit the ball hard all day to no avail, dunked a blooper down the leftfield line, and the ball obliged by bouncing into the stands for a ground-rule double and an RBI. That was it for the knuckleballer, who'd thrown 118 pitches for the day. In came Brendan Donnelly, who loaded the bases by yielding an infield single to Jeter -- who would go 3-for-5 with two infield singles and two reach-on-errors, as Lowell had booted another one in the fifth -- and walking Abreu before getting A-Rod to pop up to short.

Lowell reached on an A-Rod error to start the seventh, and Coco Crisp singled, ending Igawa's day. Six-plus shutout innings, two hits, four walks, six strikeouts, against the Red Sox no less -- it all added up to a well-earned standing ovation as he departed in favor of Brian Bruney. The chunky, heat-throwing reliever struck out Mirabelli and extricated the Yanks from the jam having thrown just nine pitches.

It would have been nice if he'd come back for an encore, particularly because he hadn't worked the night before, but Torre quixotically summoned Kyle "Marmaduke" Farnsworth -- christened as such by Alex Belth in a conversation earlier in the week (congrats to Alex and Emily on their beautiful nuptials down in the Bahamas, by the way). With the skill of a suicidal arsonist, Farnsworth doused himself in gasoline by surrendering a single to Kevin Youkilis and walking Ortiz, reaching for the matches by bringing up Ramirez with two on and no outs. But Manny looked at two quick strikes, and after a ball, was punched out watching strike three, as disbelieving as the other 55 thousand of us. He got Drew on a fielder's choice, but surrendered an RBI single to Lowell, 3-1 Yanks. Up came Crisp, who looked at two quick strikes just as Ramirez had. He worked the count to 2-2, but looked at strike three, and was so angry at home plate ump Bruce Froemming's call that he slammed his bat and helmet down and was tossed.

As all of this was going down, the tension, the alcohol, and a very bipartisan capacity crowd induced the usual slew of fights up in Tier Reserved. Tom from Texas proved himself a fantastic spotter, directing our eyes to the latest fray -- none of which got very violent, from what I saw -- long before the cops arrived. Best was the ejected Sox fan who turned around in the tunnel entranceway so as to give the finger to the Bronx denizens above. For his trouble, he got a well-deserved beer shower. As Chris Rock would say, "I don't condone it, but I understand it." Or perhaps my Coup de Torchon mantra is more suitable here: "It's a dirty job, and I deserve all the dirty pleasure I get out of it.

The Yankees carried their lead into the ninth, which meant a call for Rivera. Still lacking a save for the year, and lugging a 12.15 ERA into the game, he nonetheless arrived to a hearty ovation and the familiar strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman." He quickly yielded a single to Jason Varitek, pinch-hitting for Mirabelli -- uh, oh, here we go -- but erased him on a fielder's choice for the first out. Lugo quickly fell behind 0-2, bringing the buzzing crowd to its feet, then hit a dribbler near the mound which Rodriguez barehanded on the charge, flinging a perfect peg to first, a beautiful play. With trouble looming on deck in the form or Ortiz, Mo calmly got Youkilis to pop up to second for the game-ender, as the crowd erupted and Sinatra's "New York, New York" rang from the P.A.

I wish I could say it was all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows from there, but exiting the Stadium turned ugly. With the concourses thick with throngs of fans who'd stayed through the final out, Nick and I attempted to make our way all the way to the stairwell at the end of the leftfield side, but some psychotic security guards insisted on closing off the exit. I got irate, as did several other fans, but the Rent-A-Cops would give us no explanation.

I'm no claustrophobe, but the idea of sealing off exits under such combustible circumstances strikes me as the height of brazen stupidity. Yankee Stadium has been gradually edging towards police-state status since 9/11, but this was a new level entirely. It took 40(!) minutes to crawl from the upper deck to the subway platform, erasing what good vibes could be salvaged from the victory, and even writing this 48 hours later, my blood is still boiling.

Guess how far up their asses the Yanks can stick the next dollar they try to pry from my wallet.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007


All A-Rod, All the Time

As I cobble together this week's Hit List, here's a link to a New York Sun piece I did on Alex Rodriguez's hot start. Sun articles are now free, but here's a taste if you need extra encouragement:
Before A-Rod this spring, only three hitters have hit more than 11 homers in April — Pujols, Luis Gonzalez, and Ken Griffey Jr. That number is partially a product of scheduling — Opening Day now arrives about a week earlier than it did prior to 1993, and two weeks earlier than it did in the late 1950s. Given that the Yanks still have six games to play before the calendar flips to May, setting the bar at 24 games provides a better gauge to measure Rodriguez against other hot starters in baseball history. Since 1957 (the earliest year for which game logs are continuously available), just six other players have managed 12 or more homers in the first 24 games:

As a group, this sextet averaged 35.2 homers the rest of the way, but none of them broke any records, and only two, Gonzalez and Griffey, are among the select group who have topped 50 homers in a year. However, the record-setters weren't too far off this pace — Mark McGwire hit 10 of his record-breaking 70 homers in the first 24 games of the 1998 season, while Barry Bonds hit 11 homers through 24 games in 2001, on his way to the current single-season standard of 73. (Previous recordholder Roger Maris had just three through 24 games in 1961, proving that a hot start isn't a necessity).

In all, 51 players besides Rodriguez have hit at least 10 homers in the first 24 games, including two others — Willie Mays in 1965 and Brady Anderson in 1996 — who hit at least 50. As a group, this bunch averaged 28.4 homers the rest of the way, with Bonds (62 in 2001) and McGwire (60 in 1998) pacing the field.
I followed that up with an expanded chart and an extensive set of A-Rod-related links in an Unfiltered post. The must-read is Tyler Kepner's New York Times piece discussing Rodriguez's work with new hitting coach Kevin Long, who's encouraged the slugger to swing at the first pitch more often, concentrate on the opposite field, and focus on keeping his head stationary.

Like every Yankee fan, I'm excited to but guardedly optimistic about phenom Philip Hughes' debut tonight. One of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues was quite critical about the way the Yanks have handled this, charging that the Yankees were reacting rather than acting by noting that Chase Wright was recalled to prevent Hughes from being rushed. Said colleague came around to my way of thinking when I noted that in the time between Wright's recall and his four-homer drubbing, two things had happened. First, Hughes had put forth his best start in Triple-A (striking out 10 in six innings), washing away the mixed results which had preceded it. Second, the Yanks had been able to add him to the 40-man roster -- where Wright already resided, dictating the team's earlier choice -- without exposing another player to waivers. Humberto Sanchez's Tommy John surgery, lamentable though it is, allowed him to be shifted to the 60-day disabled list, which doesn't count in terms of roster slots. Got that?

In any event, as the roster arcana which has surrounded Hughes all year -- I'm one of those who advocated him not breaking camp with the club so as to prevent his service clock from starting, potentially giving him an extra winter under club control -- recedes into the distance, we'll get to watch perhaps the best pitching prospect in the minors take it to the grand stage of Yankee Stadium tonight. Here's hoping it lives up to the hype.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007


We Lose Another Great One

Less than two weeks after the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, the world of letters lost another giant on Monday when David Halberstam was killed in a car accident near San Francisco. Halberstam was 73 years old but had shown no sign of slowing down; the crash occurred as he was on his way to interview the great Y.A. Tittle for a book about the 1958 NFL Championship game. Tellingly, the New York Times did not have an obituary at the ready as it did for Mr. Vonnegut or most other accomplished men his age. With a book on the Korean War in the pipeline, and the football one on the front burner, the man was far from writing his final chapter. Damn.

Halberstam made his mark as a war reporter for the Times, sharing a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his unflinching coverage of the Vietnam War, coverage that called his patriotism into question. From the obit:
His reporting, along with that of several colleagues, left little doubt that a corrupt South Vietnamese government supported by the United States was no match for Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. His dispatches infuriated American military commanders and policy makers in Washington, but they accurately reflected the realities on the ground.

For that work, Mr. Halberstam shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1964. Eight years later, after leaving The Times, he chronicled what went wrong in Vietnam — how able and dedicated men propelled the United States into a war later deemed unwinnable — in a book whose title entered the language: “The Best and the Brightest.”

...President John F. Kennedy was so incensed by Mr. Halberstam’s war coverage that he strongly suggested to The Times’s publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, that the reporter be replaced. Mr. Sulzberger replied that Mr. Halberstam would stay where he was. He even had the reporter cancel a scheduled vacation so that no one would get the wrong idea.
Obviously, Halberstam's story resonates in these times, though it's clear the forces who question the patriotism of the messenger bearing the bad news now have the upper hand. Such bold reportage as Halberstam's is all too lacking today, enabling a submoronic president and his utterly corrupt administration to fight a war on false pretenses while blanketing a complicit and deferential press with lies that go largely unchallenged in the mainstream media. As Salon's Glenn Greenwald put it:
David Halberstam's death yesterday is certain to prompt all sorts of homage from our media stars describing Halberstam as a superior journalist, someone who embodied what journalism ought to be. And it is true that he was exactly that.

But modern American journalists -- as Halberstam himself repeatedly emphasized -- have become the precise antithesis of those values. The functions Halberstam and the best journalists of his generation fulfilled are exactly those that have been so fundamentally abandoned, repudiated and scorned by our nation's most prominent and influential media stars. And most legitimate media criticisms today are grounded in exactly that gaping discrepancy.
Halberstam generally alternated his books on heavy topics like wars, politics and industry with books on sports. While the latter were anything but puff pieces, Halberstam understood the limits of sport's power in the current age.

I read his Breaks of the Game, a book about the Bill Walton-era Portland Trailblazers of the '70s, back when I was in high school; it's been hailed as basketball's answer to The Boys of Summer, and while I wouldn't go that far, I can't list too many basketball books I'd read again if given the chance. Several years later, I devoured both Summer of '49 and October 1964, two of Halberstam's books on baseball. I've since learned that both have their share of minor errors, but the latter, which covers the rise of the Gibson-Brock-Flood Cardinals and the fall of the Yankee dynasty, remains a touchstone for its illuminating narrative of the impact of integration on the two teams and their respective leagues. I touched on a bit of the Red Sox shameful history of racism here last week. The Yankees, who finally integrated in 1955 with Elston Howard, were no saints in that department either; their reward for GM George Weiss' myopic racism and failure to pursue talented black players was a decade of irrelevance. Another of Halberstam's baseball books, The Teammates remains on my shelf, unread, awaiting its turn at bat.

But the first Halberstam book I pulled off my shelf when I heard the sad news was one he edited, The Best American Sports Writing of the Century. Back in 1999, when it came out, I went to the Union Square Barnes and Noble for a signing featuring him and four of writers represented in the book, Ira Berkow, George Plimpton, Dick Schaap, and Gay Talese. Schaap died in 2001, Plimpton in 2003, and now Halberstam -- perhaps they're all somewhere in the afterlife, talking about ballgames past, telling stories as only they could. So it goes.

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Monday, April 23, 2007


I've Seen It Be-Four

You call that a four-consecutive-homer onslaught? Puh-lease. While a few of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues were frothing at the mouth that the Red Sox' back-to-back-to-back-to-back jacks last night was something they'd never seen, I could only remind them that one doesn't have to go back any further than last September 18 for a precedent.

That's when the Dodgers rolled up four straight homers at the Padres' expense, and while the drives themselves weren't as impressively telegenic -- the Monster and the boisterous Fenway crowd make for better theater than a half-empty Dodger Stadium -- the context was much more important. The Dodgers hit their homers in the ninth inning of a game that came in the heat of a pennant race. Two came off Jon Adkins, a garden-variety scrub reliever, while the other two came off Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader and a likely Hall of Famer. And the call came from Vin Scully.

The Red Sox, by contrast, banged out their four homers in the third inning of an April game. The homers came in the veritable slaughterhouse of Fenway, a park that on a per at-bat basis produced 24 percent more homers than Dodger Stadium did last year. The blasts were hit off Chase Wright, a shellshocked 23-year-old who came into the night with a grand total of fewer than 20 innings of experience above A-ball. Wright is the Yankees' #8 starter only because the team didn't want to take the trouble of adding top prospect Philip Hughes to their 40-man roster. Throw in Tyler Clippard or the rapidly improving Sean Henn and Wright might charitably be called the Yanks' 10th best rotation option. Yes, four homers in a row is still remarkable, but the two occurrences scarcely deserve comparison.

A win is a win, and so props to the Red Sox for taking advantage of a decimated Yankee club. But if you're a Yankees fan, it's hard to get too worked up about the outcome of this past weekend. Yes, the Sox swept the Yanks in Fenway for the first time since August 31-September 2, 1990, but the three wins were by a combined total of four runs. Two of the three games were started by rookies who likely won't be in the rotation for much longer. Hideki Matsui, who returns this week, missed the entire series, and Jorge Posada was limited to three plate appearances due to a bruised thumb. Josh Phelps caught a couple innings of a major-league game for the first time since his cuppa coffee days in 2001. The Yanks showed an ability to reach Boston's new X-factor addition to the rivalry, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who surrendered six runs -- as many as he had in his first three starts combined -- in seven innings.

The most disconcerting aspect of the weekend was the way the Yanks' top three relievers, Luis Vizcaino, Scott Proctor and Mariano Rivera, were smacked around, charged with seven runs allowed in 3.2 innings. Even then there are mitigating circumstances; Vizcaino, Joe Torre's new favorite toy, had been torched for four runs against the Indians the day before his contribution to Friday's meltdown. Proctor had worked the previous two games before last night and had gone seven scoreless appearances between allowing runs. Rivera... well, he's been off to slow starts before, though blowing two high-profile saves within five days of each other still constitutes a kick in the groin, as it's taken the Yanks to 8-9 from a potential 10-7.

Still, the Yanks are grooming some additional bullpen options. It was nice to see Colter Bean get a shot last night, his fourth major-league appearance despite numerous appeals from the stathead crowd for him to get more work. He responded with two scoreless innings of long relief, though he did walk three. Henn had two scoreless appearances over the weekend, and has allowed just one earned run in 11.1 frames so far. Chris Britton made his Yankee debut with a pair of scoreless innings against Cleveland, but he was sent down so that Karstens could be activated just before the Boston series. Brian Bruney has allowed just one run in 10.1 innings after an ugly exhibition season. Torre doesn't need to run the same guys out there every night, but then that's a story that predates this year's model.

• • •

I'm pleased to announce that I've got a regularly occuring satellite radio slot as of today. From now on, I'll be appearing on XM 144's Baseball Beat with Chris Liss every Monday at 2 PM Eastern. If you're a subscriber, please tune in if you get the chance.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007


Glove Story Redux

It's a glorious spring weekend in New York City, the first nice one of the year, sunny with temperatures skirting 80 degrees. With the Tompkins Square Park grass emitting a siren call for outdoor fun, my wife inspired me to buy a new mitt, since the Rawlings Greg Luzinski special (RBG80) I've been using since childhood can no longer answer the bell. After two trips to Paragon Sporting Goods in New York City, where I probably totaled an hour trying on various mitts, some consultation from a kindly old man determined not to let me overpay helped me get out with a Rawlings RBG17NC, a black 11.75 inch model that just felt right in my hand. Total damage was just shy of $50. If it lasts as long as my previous mitt did, I might using it to play catch with my grandkids just as my grandfather did with me.

After bringing the mitt home, Andra joined me for a late-afternoon game of catch, my first of the year. A former softball player, she's got an old mitt of her own (a Ron Cey Wilson model) and a heck of an arm to boot (no "throws like a girl" excuses for her). Our catch only lasted for about 20 minutes -- long enough to get my shoulder barking -- but it was a blast inaugurate the season and the arrival of spring weather nonetheless, to say nothing of how lucky I am that my wife enjoys the activity as much as I do.

With close friends in from out of town the past two nights, I've missed the first two Yankees-Red Sox matches, and it's probably just as well, particularly with Mariano Rivera's meltdown on Friday night. Can't win 'em all, can't watch 'em all, and if it's gonna be a gut-ripping defeat, you might as well put it in that particular overlap of the Venn diagram. Even prior to the two victories, the surging Sox were up to #2 in this week's Hit List, behind the Mets, with the Yanks third and the Dodgers fourth (bummed that I missed Russell Martin's walk-off grand slam last night, but oh well on that too).

Even with the Yanks' two losses, the buzz still surrounds Alex Rodriguez, who though he failed to homer yesterday is still up to an astounding 12 homers and 31 RBI in 16 games. That's an historic start, to say the least. Here's the list that ESPN ran the other day, showing the fastest to 10 home runs to start a year:
G   Player           Year
12 Mike Schmidt 1976
14 Alex Rodriguez 2007
14 Albert Pujols 2006
14 Luis Gonzalez 2001
15 Willie Stargell 1971
15 Willie Mays 1964
Schmidt actually reached 11 in 12 games thanks to a two-homer effort on April 26, 1976. Even that feat was topped by his hitting four home runs on April 17, an exploit I recall reading about in a March 1978 Boys' Life magazine article that it turns out was written by former major league hurler Jim Brosnan (Brosnan wrote the pre-Ball Four diary The Long Season as well as a bio of Ron Santo that I must have read three times during elementary school).

Anyway, Rodriguez matched Schmidt's 12-in-15-games feat, and as BP's John Perroto points out, he's the first to reach 30 RBI in 20 games since Roy Campanella in 1953. Skeptics like to point out that yes, it's only April, and until Rodriguez produces in October he'll struggle to shake off the perception that he's unclutch. But if and when the boo birds inevitably settle on A-Rod's shoulder, they should remind themselves that it's Rodriguez carrying the team through the stretch where three-fifths of the projected rotation plus Hideki Matsui are all on the shelf. A win is a win, and socking a few away in April while the cavalry's kept at bay never hurt anyone. Yes, the Yankees are only 8-8; they would be much worse without Rodriguez's efforts.

• • •

Love him or hate him, you've got to respect the fact that Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. As I pointed out in his player comment in Baseball Prospectus 2007, Ramirez ranks 10th all-time in Equivalent Average, BP's all-encompassing hitter rate stat: Babe Ruth (.366), Ted Williams (.364), Barry Bonds (.356), Lou Gehrig (.345), Albert Pujols (.343), Frank Thomas (.342), Mickey Mantle (.341), Rogers Hornsby (.335), Mark McGwire (.335), Ramirez (.334). As Tony Kornheiser would say, "That's it. That's the list."

As great a hitter as he is, Ramirez has his detractors because he remains such an enigma, mired on Planet Manny (population: 1). This week's New Yorker features a must-read profile of him from Ben McGrath which addresses that very situation:
Ramirez, now entering his seventh season with the Boston Red Sox, is the best baseball player to come out of the New York City public-school system since Sandy Koufax, and by many accounts the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation, though attempts to locate him in time and space, as we shall see, inevitably miss the mark. He is perhaps the closest thing in contemporary professional sports to a folk hero, an unpredictable public figure about whom relatively little is actually known but whose exploits, on and off the field, are recounted endlessly, with each addition punctuated by a shrug and the observation that it’s just “Manny being Manny.” When I asked his teammate David Ortiz, himself a borderline folk hero, how he would describe Ramirez, he replied, “As a crazy motherfucker.” Then he pointed at my notebook and said, “You can write it down just like that: ‘David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker.’ That guy, he’s in his own world, on his own planet. Totally different human being than everyone else.” Ortiz is not alone in emphasizing that Ramirez’s originality resonates at the level of species. Another teammate, Julian Tavarez, recently told a reporter from the Boston Herald, “There’s a bunch of humans out here, but to Manny, he’s the only human.”
McGrath chases down the legend of Manny, the over-reported incidents which have dogged his Boston career -- taking a leak inside the Fenway scoreboard, drinks with Yankee Enrique Wilson while claiming to be sick, the difficulty of locating him at times, the annual attempts to get rid of him on the part of the Sox, the eBay grill auction, and so on. My favorite bit was this one:
[Boston GM Dan] Duquette had been following Ramirez’s career since high school, but he now concedes that he had no idea “exactly how unique” his new left fielder was. “When Manny first came to the Red Sox, he would stand in the batter’s box, and the umpire would call ball four, and he would get back in the batter’s box,” Duquette, who is now the president of the fledgling Israel Baseball League, told me. “He did this in his first series at Fenway Park and again on his first road trip.” After the third such incident, Duquette ventured down into the locker room. “I said, ‘Manny, let me ask you something. I was just wondering why you get back in the batter’s box after ball four.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the balls.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the strikes, either, until I got two.’ Then he said, ‘Duke, I’m up there looking for a pitch I can hit. If I don’t get it, I wait for the umpire to tell me to go to first. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do?’
Absolutely classic. Don't miss it.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Shorted Again [BP Unfiltered]

This ESPN Deportes poll asking readers to choose the greatest Latino shortstop of all time got me to pull out my JAWS spreadsheet. Not surprisingly, the choices ESPN offered -- Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, and Omar Vizquel -- while fine players, are a not-quite-representative trio that conformed to the image of the light-hitting glove man for whom English is a second language. Notably, one player in particular was slighted, while several other worthies were left out of the discussion.

Read more about it at Unfiltered.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007


Paying Tribute

I've been thinking about Jackie Robinson lately, and not just because today is the 60th anniversary of his major league debut, the momentous occasion that broke the big leagues' color barrier and changed the face of this country. Recently I stumbled across a monument to another key step in Robinson's journey, and over the winter he popped up in two seasonal narratives I wrote for the forthcoming It Ain't Over Till It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book.

Robinson wasn't an active player in either of those chapters, one on the 1959 NL race and the other on the 1967 AL race, but telling either story was impossible without him. One can't talk about the Dodgers' success just prior to 1959 without noting the jump they got on the rest of the NL by leading the way in integration. Still based in Brooklyn, the Dodgers won six NL pennants during Robinson's ten-year career (1947-1956). Such was the surplus of black players they signed that they seeded other teams with talent. For example, Sam Jethroe (1950 NL Rookie of the Year) and Jim Pendleton were both traded to the Braves, and Roberto Clemente was lost to the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft. Key members of the 1959 Los Angeles team like Johnny Roseboro, Charlie Neal, and Maury Wills spent five to eight years in the minors waiting their turns, not even cracking the starting lineup until the team moved across the country.

As for 1967, one can't explain the Red Sox's nearly two decades of futility leading up to that point without digging into the franchise's shameful history of racism. The Sox were the last team to integrate, not doing so until July 21, 1959 via infielder Pumpsie Green, but ironically, the club actually had first crack at Robinson. On April 16, 1945 -- a day short of two years prior to his major-league debut -- the Sox granted Robinson, Jethroe, and Marvin Williams a tryout at Fenway Park. That tryout was the result of some political hardball by Boston city councilman Isadore Muchnick, who threatened to block the team's "Blue Law" waiver (required so they could play ball on Sundays in Boston) unless they were willing to consider black players. As the coaches worked the three players through their tryout, the Red Sox brass -- owner Tom Yawkey, GM Eddie Collins and manager Joe Cronin, all with long histories of racist actions under their belts -- looked on in disinterest. One account even had one of those three yelling, "Get those niggers off the field!"

Ultimately the Red Sox judged the players not to be of major-league caliber. Yet six months after the tryout, Branch Rickey drove a golden spike into the Gentlemen's Agreement which prevented clubs from signing black players by signing Robinson to play for the Dodgers' Montreal club the following year.

I knew little about the Boston tryout until I began researching the chapter, but its details, as well as the various dark incidents that followed in its wake over the next decade and a half -- a sight-unseen dismissal of Willie Mays, at whom they also had first crack, manager Pinky Higgins' declaration that "There will never be any niggers on this team as long as I have anything to say about it," and the general tolerance for intolerance that prevailed among the coterie of drunk racists who ran the Sox -- are recounted to great effect by Glenn Stout in Red Sox Century and Howard Bryant in Shut Out: a Story of Race and Baseball in Boston. The happy side of the story for the Sox is that by 1967, the influence of GM Dick O'Connell -- the first non-crony to handle the team during Yawkey's thirty-plus years of ownership -- had resulted in the development of George Scott, Joe Foy, and Reggie Smith, three homegrown black regulars in the lineup, as well as the acquisition of top reliever John Wyatt and, later in the year, reserve catcher Elston Howard. All played parts in the team's 1967 pennant. Only by catching up to the times were the Sox able to succeed.

Back to Robinson, to mark the anniversary, more than 200 players, including six entire teams, will wear his number 42, which was retired leaguewide a decade ago (Mariano Rivera is the only still-active player among those who were allowed to wear 42 under a grandfather clause). The gesture, which began when Ken Griffey Jr. personally requested a dispensation to wear the number, has evoked criticism from a number of different angles. Among players, Torii Hunter spoke out that the number of those wearing 42 diluted the significance, while some writers have pointed out that the the Astros, one of the teams slated to blanked the field with the number, don't have a single African-American player.

All of which points to the awkward timing of the anniversary. According to recent reports, just nine percent of players on major league Opening Day rosters were African-American. That's down from 17 percent a decade ago and from a peak of 27 percent in 1975. Worse, it's less than the 2005 U.S. Census estimate that 12.25 percent of this country's population is African-American. At the management level, things are even more dire. Willie Randolph and Ron Washington are the only African-American managers, and Kenny Williams the only African-American GM. Laments that baseball is losing the inner-city African American athletes to the NFL (66 percent black) and NBA (77 percent black) abound. That's the result of 60 years of progress? Hardly good news.

At the same time, overall minority representation on baseball's playing fields offers a more encouraging picture. According to 2006 figures from Richard Lapchick of the the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, 29.4 percent of major leaguers were Hispanic, while 2.4 percent of them were Asian. Combined minority representation in rosters was 40.5 percent last year, down from the all-time high of 42 percent established in 1997. But outside the lines, the numbers continue to languish even if the management count is expanded to include minority managers (Manny Acta, Fredi Gonzalez, and Ozzie Guillen) and GMs (Omar Minaya).

I don't have the prescription to right the wrongs of minority representation within the game any more than the likes of Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, or any other pundit do. But here's a suggestion: instead of these awkward decennial tributes on April 15, make Jackie Robinson Day into an annual event that benefits the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative. MLB funds RBI at a paltry level of about $1 million a year, which isn't going to go very far. By my back-envelope calculations, if every team donated its April 15 gate receipts, at an average ticket price of $22.21 and an average attendance of 31,307 (both numbers based on last year's figures), that's $10.4 million leaguewide, a huge leg up for a worthwhile program that can help baseball reassert its capacity to lead rather than follow, and to gain some of the ground it's losing to other sports.

But bemoaning the current shape of things shouldn't dominate this anniversary. Instead we should remember Robinson's excellence as a player, his incredible courage and grace under pressure in overcoming the obstacles that were put in his path, and the way baseball led the nation on the issue of integration. Robinson's debut preceded landmark moments such as the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling by seven years, Rosa Parks' bus ride by eight years, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing discrimination based on race color, religion, sex or national origin by 17 years. Jackie Robinson was ahead of his time.

What Robinson did starting 60 years ago today was nothing short of heroic on a level that transcended baseball, and all of sport. It may sound like a hoary cliché, but he showed how one person can make a difference, and that's a story that should never get old.


Friday, April 13, 2007


So it Goes

First things first: this site turned six years old on Monday, and as with last year's milestone, I was too busy to stop and serve notice via this blog. Yes, I wish I'd had the time to bake myself a cake, but I'm hardly complaining. The busyness has become business, and the idea that I could make it through an entire offseason gainfully employed while writing about baseball is something I wouldn't have believed back in 2001. I thank all of you reading this who helped make it possible.

Moving right along, the first Hit List of the regular season is up over at Baseball Prospectus. It's a new time slot, chosen to maintain some domestic harmony (my wife puts up with a lot of writing-induced tunnel vision over the winter, and clearing my schedule for her days off was overdue) and to prevent me having to punt so many of these puppies due to summer weekend travels. Hopefully, it's not quite so counterintuitive as it appears at first glance. Thursday is often an off day for many teams, which helps with turnaround times as far as keeping the list's stats fresh, and Friday marks the end of the work week for most readers, plus it's traditionally a day when BP has been somewhat light in the content department.

The Mets top the list this week, followed by the Indians, Padres, Angels and Brewers -- a nice mix of teams thanks to the early date. The Yanks are eighth, the Dodgers are 14th, and the 30th-ranked Nationals look like they may give the '62 Mets a run for their money. No Simpsons reference in this week's list (d'oh!), but I did get to call upon Sesame Street, Samuel Beckett, Sam Horn, the Sausage Race, and Slaughterhouse-Five.

The last was intentionally topical, since Kurt Vonnegut passed away on Wednesday, and discussions of his demise dotted my conversations and my web reading as I prepared this week's list. The first Vonnegut novel I ever read was as an assignment, but it wasn't for an English class; Galapagos' take on the future of human evolution was required reading for my introductory biology class at Brown (and I note with pride that my professor for that class, Dr. Kenneth Miller, has become a high-profile opponent of creationism who maintains that evolution doesn't contradict religious faith). That Vonnegut would wind up on the Bio 20 syllabus wasn't all that surprising; the brother of a prominent scientist, Vonnegut's commitment to science was a key tenet of his worldview. Such were his politics that he noted just prior to the 2004 election, "No matter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones President at a time when entire vertebrate species, because of how we have poisoned the topsoil, the waters and the atmosphere, are becoming, hey presto, nothing but skulls and bones."

I didn't really get hip to Vonnegut until a friend slid me a musty, dog-eared copy of Breakfast of Champions about a decade ago. How I missed Slaughterhouse when I was such a fan of Catch-22 I'll never know. Vonnegut quickly became one of my favorite novelists and cultural presences. His anti-authoritarian stance, economical style, black humor and ultimately his humanity made for an unmistakable voice that elevated even his most minor works, while placing his major ones among the greatest novels ever written, period. I don't recall him ever writing about baseball, but I've appropriated the title of alter ego Kilgore Trout's novel, Now It Can Be Told, more than a few times here and in the Hit List.

If you're ever stuck in an airport bookstore without reading material for a flight ahead, grab a Vonnegut novel; it's the surest bet there is for a few laughs and some deep thought at 30,000 feet. His is a voice that will be truly missed. As the man liked to say, "So it goes."

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Friday, April 06, 2007


Open Season (Part II)

(continued from here)

Prior to stepping out on Wednesday night, I touched base with Alex Belth, and we mutually derided anyone insane enough to sit through the cold weather of early-season contests. "I'm happy to tough it out in October..." declared Alex. Agreeing, I completed his thought: "But now? Fuck it."

I was quickly forced to contemplate eating my words when Jonah Keri offered me a bleacher ticket to Thursday night's Yankees-Devil Rays tilt. Not knowing that temperatures would graze the freezing point and that snow (!) would be swirling throughout the stadium in a sloppy, disheartening affair that saw the Yankees blow two leads and squander a valiant comeback in Andy Pettitte's abbreviated first appearance in pinstripes since 2003, I readily agreed. After all, attending a ballgame with a friend from out of town, particularly a witty and perceptive fellow writer like Jonah, is a rare treat. So what the hell, right?

Bundled up with a winter jacket (with broken zipper, alas) scarf, gloves, and counterfeit Yankees logo ski hat, I randomly wound up in the same 4-train car as Jonah at 59th Street, and we talked career moves, book proposals and Scoresheet drafts on our way up to the Stadium. Funny thing about that is that last year, on the way out to the Yogi Berra Museum for Baseball Prospectus' big panel appearance, our BP posse missed our New Jersey Transit stop because of a lengthy conversation centered around Jonah's various drafts, and I've been mock-badmouthing him ever since, my motto -- "nobody wants to hear about your fantasy team" -- amended to "nobody wants to hear about your fantasy draft." Be that as it may, Jonah is the one who invited me to fill his slot in this league (NL Neifi), which was organized by Salon's King Kaufman. More of my own words to eat.

The line to enter the bleachers more or less stretching back to the 149th Street/Grand Concourse subway stop, we missed the anthem, the lineups, the ovation for Pettitte and the entire top of the first, but arrived in time to see the Yanks put the first run on the board. Robinson Cano, batting leadoff in the absence of Johnny Damon, reached on an infield single off Jae Seo and then scored on a two-out double off the rightfield wall by Alex Rodriguez. The Rays tied the score in the second when Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay's Japanese-imported third baseman, worked a two-out walk off of a very labored Pettitte, advanced to second on an infield single by B.J. Upton (Cano bobble the ball, but it was ruled a hit), and scored on a single by Josh Paul. The Rays nearly got a second run when Upton took third on a wild pitch (the first of what felt like seventeen on the night but was officially tallied at four plus a passed ball), Carl Crawford walked, and then Upton was thrown out at home when another pitch bounced away from Posada, who threw to Pettitte at the plate in time.

The Rays took a 2-1 lead in the third when Ben Zobrist reached on a Derek Jeter error, advanced to second on Posada's passed ball (you getting the idea yet?), stole third, and scored on a single by Delmon Young. The Yanks delivered a body blow to Seo in the fourth. They'd been swinging at first pitches and getting burned into making meager contact thus far, but here they got a break. Hideki Matsui hit a sharp grounder that required first baseman Ty Wigginton to make a diving stop; Wiggy's throw trailed Seo and produced a collision that found Matsui safe. At least I think that's how it happened; sitting in the unfamiliar territory of the bleachers, where the action is so far away, I always feel half a second behind whatever is going on.

Posada followed with a sharp single to left, and Doug Mientkiewicz, of all people, dunked an RBI single into shallow center as Jonah and I made light of his offensive contributions (including my sushi bet with Steven Goldman). A Melky Cabrera groundout put two runners into scoring position; Cano picked Posada up on another dunked single to center, and then Stinky Minky crossed the plate when Derek Jeter beat out a potential 5-4-3 double-play grounder. Jeter was promptly caught stealing to end the threat.

Pettitte had recorded his first and only 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, but the Rays juggernaut stormed back in the fifth. Crawford beat out an infield hit to first, and took second on a bunt single by Zobrist, with a throwing error Minky tacking on a base for the speedy Crawford. That ended Pettitte's inefficient evening after just 83 pitches (I later learned that he was on a pitch count of 90 given the cold and his recent back spasms). Scott Proctor came on, and after the Yanks conceded a swipe of second base to Zobrist so as to hold Crawford at third, a Wigginton sacrifice fly brought the speedster home. He was followed in short order by Zobrist when Proctor uncorked a wild pitch, and after Young reached on a throwing error by Jeter, he was nabbed stealing second on a questionable call. Tied at four, with all of the runs charged to Mr. Pettitte's room.

Elijah Dukes, who homered in his first major-league at-bat on Opening Day, hit another one out to open the top of the sixth, this one a frozen rope -- and I do mean frozen -- that barely cleared the fence. Singles by Iwamura and Paul chased Proctor in favor of Mike Myers, who yielded a single to Crawford to give the Rays a 6-4 lead.

The falling temperature thinned out the bleacher crowd. Struggling to keep warm, Jonah and I compared notes on numbed extremities (literally; from Jonah's writeup for ESPN Page 2):
Second inning: Really, really cold
Fourth inning: Teeth chattering, knees knocking
Sixth inning: Lost all feeling in toes
With obstructing the views of fans behind us no longer an issue, we at least were able to stand up, thereby removing our frozen asses from the metal benches, but the departures also removed the bodies who buffered the worst of the wind. Though we threatened to leave after every half-inning thereafter, the potential for column fodder continued to grow; we shifted into martyrdom mode as stray snowflakes began fluttering.

Snow. At the Stadium. In April. On the out-of-town scoreboard, noting that the Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit had been called off earlier in the day due to cold weather, we questioned the fortitude of the defending AL champions. "Pussies," we agreed.

The Yanks tied the score in the seventh on a pair of one-out singles by Jeter and Bobby Abreu (the first of which chased Seo in favor of Ruddy Lugo), a two-out walk to Jason Giambi (who yielded to pinch-runner Miguel Cairo), and then a two-run single by Matsui. Frigid despite the excitement, I wondered aloud as to the propriety of setting a trash fire in the sparsely-populated bleachers. With the wind howling, it seemed like a bad idea.

Luis Vizcaino came on in the eighth and promptly stank up the joint. A double by Iwamura, a single by Upton, and then ANOTHER DAMN WILD PITCH put the Rays up 7-6. As Vizcaino escaped without furthering the damage, snow began swirling, blanketing the stadium in an eerie, surreal atmosphere. I snapped a few pictures with my cellphone's Crappicam(TM), but they don't do it justice:

Meahnwhile, the Yanks looked as though they were doing the voodoo that they do so well. Stinky walked but was erased on a bad bunt by Melky, but Cano followed with a single. Jeter grounded back to reliever Brian Stokes, who inexplicably threw -- wide -- to third, loading the bases with just one out and the heart of the order coming up. Lunchtime, right?

But no. Abreu grounded meekly into a fielder's choice that forced Cabrera at home, and then A-Rod popped out meekly to second. The remaining Bleacher Creatures, who'd cheered Rodriguez's RBI double in the first, turned into boo birds, predictably speculating about the third baseman's recent sexual congresses and future in pinstripes. The crowd thinned.
Eighth inning: Horizontal blowing snow!
Ninth inning: My friend Jay died from exposure. I ate him for warmth.
Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated; it was the Yankee offense that perished in the cold. Former Yank Al Reyes, who missed nearly all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but improbably nabbed the Rays' vacant closer role, set Josh Phelps, Matsui and Posada down in order in the ninth inning. Just the type of game the Bronx Bombers almost invariably steal from the Rays, but on this night, the blue plate special was a cold dish of revenge.

All in all, a brutal SufferFest of a night for baseball that only a masochist could endure. Even the rightfielders drectly in front of us, Abreu and Young, were visibly struggling, wth the latter keeping his right hand in his back pocket whenever possible (a source of much colorful discourse from the bleacher crowd). And I have to admit that with the exception of watching a ton of bad baseball and losing the circulation in my toes, I had a blast. Joe Sheehan, replying to my quick summary on BP's internal mailing list, summed up my evening in less than 20 words:
"Sitting in the Yankee Stadium bleachers watching the Devil Rays in the snow" is basically the gold standard for "baseball fan."
Kiss my ass, Murray Chass.

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Open Season (Part I)

It was often said that Manny Mota could roll out of bed on Christmas Day and get a base hit. On Monday, I discovered that I could roll out of bed on Opening Day and do coherent radio for a couple hours, ten minutes at a time. From 7:30 AM until just before 10:00, I did a series of nine radio hits all around the country with various Fox News Radio affiliates who wanted to discuss the new season with a Baseball Prospectus author.

Amped on half a pot of coffee, I talked baseball with WTAM in Cleveland, WERC in Birmingham, Alabama, WILS in Lansing, Michigan, WOOD in Grand Rapids, Michigan, WLOB in Portland, Maine, WGST in Atlanta, WOAI in San Antonio, KODY in North Platte, Nebraska, KVI in Seattle. No sooner would one call end than I'd be picking up the phone for the next one, talking about how I like Oliver Perez at the back end of the Mets rotation, think the Mariners made two of the worst trades this winter, and can't wait to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka. It was exhilarating, and between all of the other radio and promotional appearances I've done this spring plus my preseason predictions and the debut of this year's Hit List, not the least bit intimidating. For every team and every division, I had my talking points down cold. It felt like connecting with batting practice fastballs once you've gotten the timing down. I was in the zone. And oddly enough, I even heard from a couple of long-forgotten college classmates around the country who just happened to tune in at that moment and then decided to drop me a line.

Most importantly, the 2007 baseball season is upon us. Plugging away at my final Fantasy Baseball Index spring update, I didn't have the luxury of sitting still to watch either Sunday night's Mets-Cardinals affair or Monday's Yankee opener, but the magic of TiVo allowed me to get the gist of both. On Tuesday I made my first foray into's Mosaic, as it appeared that would be the only way to see out-of-market ballgames this year; I watched the Dodgers cough up a 3-2 lead on Kevin Mench's two-run homer, and sampled a few other games from the West Coast, impressed at the software's integration with the Mac OS X platform but exasperated by the glitchy sound cutouts and the between-innings Pong bleeps.

I didn't get to see any baseball Wednesday night; instead I went out to see Steven Goldman and Jonah Keri read at the Gelf Magazine Varsity Letters series, where both deviated from the script to read something a bit less... Prospectus-y than BP07 and Baseball Between the Numbers. Steve read some passages from Forging Genius, including my suggestion of the story where Casey Stengel, manager of the Worcester franchise in the Eastern League, sent a letter to Charles D. Stengel, club president of said franchise, requesting that he be freed from his contract so that he could take a better job with the Toledo Mud Hens; president Stengel wrote back, acceding to the manager's surprising request. Jonah read his farewell to the Expos piece from BP as well as a segment from BBTN on Derek Jeter's defense. Also speaking were Cor van den Heuvel, who in three seperate (and somewhat interminable) interludes offered a number of baseball haiku, and Curt Smith, who read from The Voice, his biography of Mel Allen, the famed voice of the Yankees and "This Week in Baseball," making a case for Allen as the greatest sports announcer of all time (my nickel goes to Vin Scully on that score, but I'll grant that Smith may have a point). Afterwards, accompanied by Derek Jacques and Jonah's friend Dave, we went out to dinner, and en route, Derek received an email from a BP colleague telling us the wonderful news: MLB and In Demand struck a deal to keep the Extra Innings package on cable TV.

That happy news meant that on Thursday afternoon, free from deadlines for the first time since, like, October (yes, I made it through an entire offseason gainfully employed from baseball writing, how about that?), I was free to kick back with the Extra Innings showing of Matsuzaka's major league debut against the Royals, with a compelling pitcher on the other end, too: Zack Greinke, making his first big-league start since September 2005 after missing most of last season due to what was termed a social anxiety disorder. For seven innings this turned out to be a hell of a pitcher's duel, though the 36-degree weather and ump Jeff Nelson's wide strike zone had something to do with that.

The Sox scratched out a run in the top of the first against Greinke, with Manny Ramirez doubling home Kevin Youkilis. But even then, Greinke looked promising; the double was sandwiched by backwards-K strikeouts of both David Ortiz and J.D. Drew, with Big Papi especially stunned. Matsuzaka, after surrendering a leadoff single to David DeJesus and then his only walk of the afternoon, needed a double play to escape the first unscathed. He got his first major-league strikeout on a 94-MPH fastball that fooled Ross Gload to end the second, and wound up ringing up 10 hitters, including the entire side in the fourth on a mere 14 pitches.

Matsuzaka's motion (dissected by Will Carroll over at was interesting, featuring a pause at the top of his windup that was noticeable but less pronounced than, say, Hideo Nomo. He went as high as 95 on the gun, but changed speeds effectively with a changeup, a splitter, and three or four breaking pitches, one of which may have been the fabled gyroball (the New York Sun's Tim Marchman does a nice job of describing his repertoire). Sick stuff that will give hitters fits this year, guaranteed.

Greinke, in a heartening comeback, struck out seven himself, including Ortiz twice more (once looking, once half-assedly swinging). But his defense let him down in the fifth, as the Sox doubled their lead when Julio Lugo doubled, stole third, and scored on a throwing error by John Buck. The Royals didn't score in the bottom of the inning, but K.C. phenom third baseman Alex Gordon led off the frame with his first major-league hit, a sharp single to leftfield. They got on the board in the sixth when DeJesus led off the inning with a solo homer to rightfield, and they should have tied the game shortly after. Esteban German singled to follow DeJesus, and then was thrown out at the back end of a strikeout-throwout double play -- which was immediately followed by an Emil Brown double that shoulda coulda woulda tied the game. Gordon struck out looking to end the frame, and that was that. The lines for the two starters wound up looking impressively similar:
        IP  H  R ER BB  SO  NP-St
Dice-K 7 6 1 1 1 10 108-74
Greinke 7 8 2 1 1 7 101-64
With Greinke done for the day, Royals reliever Joel Peralta instantly surrendered two runs in the eighth, and Boston's Jonathan Papelbon came on to close the door in the ninth, more or less completing the checklist of what to watch for. Not too bad for a Thursday afternoon.

(to be continued)

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