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Two minutes to spare

08.21.08 at 8:59 pm ET
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I promised I would be back today, and, at 11:58 p.m., I am.

There has been some truly magnificent blogging today on our Web site, including an extremely insightful entry from Gary from Chapel Hill regarding Tim Wakefield.

I have to go (I didn’t say I was going to have time for a good entry. That will come early Friday morning), but let me throw this question out to you — my kids just stumbled upon Galaga and Pac Man for the first time. What is the best pre-90’s video game ever. My choice: Pitfall. Discuss.

THIS is player development

08.21.08 at 10:35 am ET
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The potential seemed limitless. In just his second major-league start, on the final day of the season, the pitcher tore through the enemy lineup like paper.

The 21-year-old stood just one batter from a no-hitter in which the sole imperfection was someone else’s fault. The right-hander had recorded 26 outs without allowing a hit or a walk, the only member of the Detroit Tigers to reach base having done so on an error. But Bobby Higginson broke up the no-hitter and shutout (perhaps to the secret relief of Felipe Crespo, who had committed the error that permitted the lone baserunner) with a two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth, and the Blue Jays rookie had to settle for a 2-1 win.

Disappointment was inevitable but muted by the broader implications of the exceptional outing. There could no longer be any question about the immense potential of Roy Halladay, whose second major-league start, in retrospect, seemed like a sort of crystal ball that forecast his inevitable emergence as a Cy Young award winner and one of the best pitchers in the game.

But the path between that day in Detroit in 1998 and Halladay’s emergence as a pitching giant was anything but direct. In 1999, though Halladay amassed respectable numbers (8-7, 3.92 ERA), he struggled badly with his command, walking 79 in 149 1/3 innings.

The wheels fell off the following year. The 23-year-old Halladay went 4-7 with a 10.64 ERA, and walked almost as many batters (42) as he struck out (44). He was shipped unceremoniously to the minors, and his 2-3 record and 5.47 ERA in Triple-A did little to suggest either the promising pitcher who burst onto the scene in ’98 or the innings-swallowing beast who elicits respect and awe from his opponents.

The relevance for Clay Buchholz is obvious. The 24-year-old spent most of the past seven or eight weeks looking defeated, in no small part because he was. The steady drumbeat of “L’s” reached critical mass, and Buchholz–who simply destroyed his opponents after beginning his pitching career just a handful of seasons ago–had no context that could soften the failure, particularly given the enormous expectations that grew from a no-hitter in his second big-league start.

But Buchholz’ struggles are far more the norm than the exception. Player development is not linear. Young players, especially pitchers, must endure backwards steps before their careers move onward.

Halladay offered that glimmer of brilliance and cratered almost as quickly. He set aside his adversity to emerge as an ace. Buchholz, who owns a dismal 2-9 record with a 6.75 ERA as a big-leaguer this year, now will find out if he can do the same.

Now, it is back to Double-A Portland for Buchholz, where he will rejoin the team and pitching coach (Mike Cather) with whom he established himself as a prospect last year. It was with Portland that Buchholz outpitched Roger Clemens in a minor-league game, and where he put up video game numbers against overmatched minor leaguers.

Now, he returns to that climate as a humbled pitcher. But the potential ceiling of Buchholz remains unaltered from the beginning of the season. It is merely that the question of when, or whether, he reaches that potential has become more pronounced.

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Player Development, Roy Halladay,

A Rare Byrd

08.21.08 at 9:20 am ET
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Sorry about the tardy post. I’m going to try and get to this earlier in the morning on a regular basis, but packing my bag in Baltimore and getting out of town slowed me down a bit.

I wanted to first make mention of tomorrow night’s starter for the Red Sox, Paul Byrd. I don’t know if you knew, but the newest Sox starter has a book out, “Free Byrd: The Power of a Liberated Life.” It hit the shelves July 1 and hit my book bag two days ago.

I don’t know how much you know about Byrd’s story, but it is certainly book worthy. In it he talks about his struggles with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, pornography, and quite a few other challenges while trying to live life as a Christian. 

Byrd was nice enough to sit down in my make-shift TV studio (the Red Sox dugout) and talk about it. Pretty cool stuff. To see it CLICK HERE.

Speaking of video, some of you have asked about the whereabouts of Sean Casey’s video blog, “City Hall.” I apologize about the delay, but we wanted to present it the right way and get out the technical glitches so the first installment will be Monday. I will say this, it IS going to be a must see. He has already cranked out two of them, the first talking about his favorite wrestling moves and matches of all-time, and the second discussing his progressions of haircuts. Good times!

Guess what? Mike Felger’s first mailbag is in, and it’s awesome! Way better than a Neil Diamond concert.  

Speaking of links, you should check out “Late Night Links” over at our fantasy football writer, Kirk Minihane’s blog. There was also some controversy in the Red Sox press box last night over Kirk’s decision to list Brian Westbrook as his No. 2 running back. 

Also this morning on the WEEI.com blogs:

Behind the Glass reminds us of tonight’s Old-Time Baseball Game, while also checking in with an interview with FOBF (Friend of Bradford Files for you newbies) Jon Wallach. Good stuff.

The Producers has an interview with one of the top college football writers in the nation, Ivan Maisel. Interesting stuff.

The A-Blog reflects on what was promised and what was delivered in regards to Daisuke Matszuaka. Top-notch stuff!

After putting an insightful entry on the return of Asante Samuel, with solid quotes from Ellis Hobbs, Where’s Trags? opens the door for Revolution fans to chime in (and they’ve been walking through via emails). Soccerlicious stuff!

One of my favorite sites, Baseball Think Factory.

Got to hit the road. Be back later today … promise.

Buchholz will search in Portland

08.20.08 at 9:22 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Yesterday I posted that Clay Buchholz might have found something in his delivery which could lead to bigger and better things. Back to the drawing board.

After their 11-6 loss to the Orioles, Wednesday night, Boston is now 3-12 in Buchholz starts, and 70-39 when everybody else starts. Buchholz will be on an eight-game losing streak, the longest since Frank Castillo’s 2002 horror show.

To see some post-game reaction from Buchholz, who was sent to Double A Portland following the game, CLICK HERE.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Buchholz threw 60 pitches (30 strikes) over 2 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on three hits with three walks. We could go on, but it isn’t all that interesting. The simple fact is that Buchholz has to rediscover his confidence before this becomes a Craig Hansen-esque progression. Speaking of Hansen, he has pitched in six games with Pittsburgh, notching a 2.70 ERA with a 1.82 batting average against, although he has walked six in 6.2 innings.

Getting your mind off the obvious, before the game talk turned to some of the best pickoff moves in the game. Before some of the doubts he is laboring with entered his mind, Buchholz was one of the best for a righty. Red Sox manager Terry Francona identified Chris Michalak and Ed Vosberg, both lefties, as two of the best he has seen. But which righty had the best move?

The answer might be Jamey Wright, who surpassed Jack McDowell for the most pickoffs by a right-handed pitcher, this season, notching his 54th. As for Buchholz, Red Sox manager Terry Francona mentioned again after the game about how even the young hurler’s pickoff move wasn’t all there compared to last season, but the coaching staff hesitated to harp on the righty throwing over at ill-advised moments for fear of heaping even more pressure on his already seemingly overloaded shoulders.

Two things from the game you might be wondering about. First, Coco Crisp’s attempt at Ramon Hernandez’ homer over the centerfield wall in which the outfielder leaped onto, and then over, the fence, flipping himself over the barrier. After missing the ball by what he estimated was about six inches, Crisp immediately sprung off the base behind the ball and back on to the field.

“I knew it was padded,” said Crisp of what awaited him behind the wall, “I’m no daredevil.”

And then there was Alex Cora warming up in the bullpen during the eighth inning, with the Red Sox trailing by six runs. Francona said that if the Sox hadn’t scored in the eighth, it was likely Cora would make an appearance. The infielder hadn’t pitched since high school, but he had warmed up before.

Cora warmed up on Aug. 18, 2005 in Anaheim as reliever Mike Remlinger was giving up five runs in two innings. “I didn’t feel that great,” the infielder said of his warm-up tosses.

Jason Bay’s 430-foot, solo home run came on a 3-1 pitch and was his fourth homer with the Red Sox, and 26th overall. By the way, Bay’s sister’s Canadian national softball team was eliminated from the Olympics Tuesday.

Read More: Alex Cora, Clay Buchholz, Coco Crisp, Craig Hansen

Pedroia had enough

08.20.08 at 8:44 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Dustin Pedroia had never been thrown out of game. Not in Little League, high school, college, the minor leagues, or his relatively brief major league career.

His temper had led him away from a promising tennis career in his pre-teen years, and an occasional remark to the men in blue might have cropped up from time to time, but the until line had never been crossed.

So when home plate umpire Bob Davidson handed Pedroia’s first career ejection in the eighth inning Tuesday night, you had an idea there might be something more than the obvious at play. And there was. The Red Sox second baseman had had enough of what he perceived has been a season full of uneven umpiring.

“I’m usually in control about stuff like that. But this year the umpires have taken control over the time of the game and stuff like that, and that affects our results,” Pedroia said. “If I have a good at-bat and the umpire dictates whether I’m out or safe, it’s frustrating. And they don’t care, they have no one to answer to and I think that’s a shame.”

The primer for Pedroia’s reaction to a season of umpiring, which more than just the second-year second baseman has muttered about, came when he was caught off guard by first base umpire Alfonso Marquez’ judgment that Pedroia had swung on a check swing. After running halfway down the line, the infielder was shocked to learn of Marquez’ decision, shooting a reaction his way.

Marquez took a somewhat proactive response to Pedroia’s disapproval; simulating the swing he thought the Sox batter made. So, after grounding out, Pedroia passed along his thoughts while running by Davidson. The home plate ump proceeded to toss the Boston hitter while he was jogging toward the Red Sox dugout.

“It was just one of those deals where I checked my swing, was going to first and I didn’t think I swung. I just looked up and heard the crowd’s reaction and (Marquez) kind of showed me up with the swing,” Pedroia said. “It was very unprofessional by him. You just don’t do that. I ended up grounding out and kind of held my composure until I got to home plate and the home plate umpire, who was horrendous all night, I had choice words for him and he threw me out of the game.’€

“There are certain guys who have been great all year, but a case like (Tuesday) night there was no need to show a player up like that. I know I’ve only been in the big leagues a year and a half, but there’s no need for that. I’ve never done anything to him, so he shouldn’t respond like to players. We’re all professionals here and if he feels the need to show people up he shouldn’t be doing this. He needs to be more professional.

“I’ve never run into a situation like that. That was very unprofessional of that guy. I don’t know if Major League Baseball is going to step in and say Hey you can’t be treating players like that. I walk back to the dugout and the guy throws me out and I’m not even looking at him. There’s two cases. If both teams are on the umpires all game there’s obviously something wrong. I don’t think 50 players are wrong and every coach is wrong. It’ s obvious they’re wrong. You see it all around the major leagues. It’s a part of the game.”

While the run-in offered another first for Pedroia, it was the bigger picture when it came to the umpires’ approach since beginning of May. The notion that the umpires have expanded their strike zone in order to move games along has lived with the Red Sox for some time. 

But while many of the members of a Red Sox lineup have been disgruntled concerning the umpires limiting their trademark patient approach, players like Pedroia haven’t been standing idly by. The second baseman is just one of virtually an entire group of starters who have been swinging at the first pitch more this year than last.

Kevin Youkilis, for example, is swinging at the first pitch 15.2 percent of the time this year, compared to 11.2 percent a season ago.

“I think guys’ approach at the plate have changed,” said Pedroia. “I’m more aggressive, absolutely. I’m not going to get myself into a situation where an umpire is going to dictate whether I’m out or safe. That’s how you have to do it now until they go back to the regular zone, I guess.”

Read More: Alfonso Marquez, Bob Davidson, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis

‘I’m worried’

08.20.08 at 4:45 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Julio Lugo couldn’t hide his disappointment while sitting in front of his locker before Wednesday night’s game.

He had been progressing from a severely strained left quadriceps muscle faster than anticipated, and was scheduled to take batting practice with the team in Toronto over the weekend. But then, early Wednesday afternoon while doing sprints at Camden Yards Lugo suffered a setback.

After what he classified as “four good” sprints, Lugo pulled up lame on the fifth one, ending the recent momentum he had built during his rehab.

 “I tried to push it a little bit, to see where I could go, and I got a pull,” said Lugo, clearly dejected. “Same spot. Not good.

“I’m worried.”

Lugo initially suffered the quad injury on July 11 while running out a ninth inning grounder. His primary replacement, rookie Jed Lowrie, entered Wednesday night hitting .314 while not having made an error in 46 games.

“Now it’s hurt, and it’s been hurt before, so now it’s more damaged than what it used to be,” he said. “It’s not to the extent of the first time, but this is going to cause me to wait even longer.”

Read More: Jed Lowrie, Julio Lugo, Red Sox,

But what about the “Demon Miracle Pitch”?

08.20.08 at 10:30 am ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka showed up at Fenway Park for his introductory press conference in December 2006 as an unprecedented phenomenon. He was treated as a revolutionary, someone who might throw pitches–the gyroball, the shuuto–that would force an expansion of baseball vocabularies.

The plaudits were far-reaching, none more fascinating than agent Scott Boras claim that Matsuzaka was akin to “a surgeon with a chainsaw.”

Twenty months later, the world looks different. Matsuzaka does have warts (metaphorically speaking, of course – dermatologically speaking, the 27-year-old seems beyond reproach) that have made him the most scrutinized 15-2 pitcher in baseball history.

But, in an odd way, Matsuzaka has come as promised this year – he has been unlike almost anything that we have ever seen. He is amidst just the ninth season since 1901 (thanks, baseball-reference.com) of a pitcher who has walked at least five batters per nine innings while claiming 15 wins and producing a sub-3.00 ERA.

Wilson Alvarez was the last guy to do it, accomplishing the feat in 1993 when he went 15-8 with a 2.95 ERA and a beastly 122 walks. Nolan Ryan did it twice, Johnny van der Meer did it a couple of times, and Bob Buhl, Herb Score and Marty O’Toole each did it once.

One other thought: As of this afternoon, Matsuzaka qualifies for the ERA title. As of the first pitch tonight, he won’t. Thanks to his shoulder injury and his remarkable inefficiency, Matsuzaka has pitched 126 2/3 innings through the first 126 Red Sox games this year.

He has at least a fightin’ chance of setting the record for the most wins ever by a pitcher with fewer than 162 innings pitched, which currently stands at 18. Watch out Roy Face! (Face, it is worth recalling, went 18-1 in 93 1/3 innings in 1959. He still owns the record for the highest single-season winning percentage in baseball history.)

Matsuzaka is enjoying a season that will likely distinguish himself in Red Sox annals – just not in the way that anyone expected.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Johnny van der Meer, Nolan Ryan, Roy Face

Don’t wear magnets

08.20.08 at 6:21 am ET
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If ever there was a lesson to be learned, it is don’t cover your body in magnets. Former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu used to do it and look where it got him … arrested.

Irabu was taken to the pokey in Osaka, Japan yesterday after drinking 20 mugs of beer, getting his credit card rejected, and ultimately going nutty on a bartender. The good news? He paid the bill with another card. The bad? He had to do it from jail.

Hideki Irabu, I knew Daisuke Matsuzaka, and you’re NO Daisuke Matsuzaka.

This 180 degree observation was reaffirmed Tuesday night when Matsuzaka improved to 15-2. Red Sox media relations machine Henry Mahegan was on fire last night throughout the Red Sox’ 7-2 win over the Orioles, coming up with a barrage of Daisuke nuggets. (Speaking of which, you should check out our own Gary from Chapel Hill’s latest post.)

Matsuzaka threw 105 pitches, 60 for strikes in going five innings, allowing six hits, and two runs. He also walked five, which gave Matsuzaka the most wins with five or more walks (6) of any American League pitcher since Texas’ Bobby Witt won eight games with five or more walks in 1987. It was the most wins with five or more walks by a Sox hurler since Mickey McDermott had eight in 1953.

Who is McDermott? Just know that he once punched out a reporter and won a $7 million lottery ticket. Haven’t we all?

More Matsuzaka: Opponents are now 0 for 14 against him with the bases loaded this season. The win was his 30th career victory, the most by a Japanese pitcher in his first two seasons, passing Hideo Nomo, who won 29 games in 1995-96.

Here are some notable links before I head over to fill in from 10-2 on the audio portion of this juggernaut we call WEEI:

– As we noted yesterday, the Sox signed former Houston outfielder Jason Lane yesterday. Steve Krasner caught up with both Lane and Kyle Snyder, talking potential Sept. call-up.

The Red Sox Monster gives our latest Will Leitch column some love.

Nobody makes a Fenway Park entrance like Dave McGillvary, the man who runs as many miles as he is years old on each birthday.

– Vegas starts talking about what you were thinking: Kevin Youkilis has entered the MVP discussion.

– The big winner from the Manny trade? Jeff Bailey and The Daily New, covering Lower Columbia.

– If you like pitching mechanics and Joba Chamberlain, you will like this site.

– On the A-Blog, our own Alex Speier has a look at managers having to balance old school sensibility and fundamentals with new school reality.

– WEEI blog updates: Kirk Minihane leads into his Wednesday column with an blogging appetizer. Mike Petraglia has been checking in from Foxboro, including Matt Cassel’s audio file salvo against his critics the most recent edition of “Where’s Trags?” There is a producer on producer blogging smack-down brewing between “The Producers” and “Behind the Glass.” BTG has a good Q &A with Celtics broadcaster Sean Grande, as well.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu, Red Sox, Yankees

Mikey has a list

08.19.08 at 6:35 pm ET
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Was just on the award-winning Planet Mikey show and Mike Adams said he had a list he wanted to read on the air. I convinced him that it would better if he released the coveted info on our new Web site. So, here it is:

Mike Adams can name nine right-handed batters in baseball history better than Manny Ramirez:

Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Rogers Hornsby, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, and Frank Thomas.

Discuss …

Statement from the Yastrzemski family

08.19.08 at 6:21 pm ET
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BOSTON Carl Yastrzemski arrived at Massachusetts General Hospital on Monday after experiencing chest discomfort.  After numerous tests and evaluations, it was determined that he needed triple bypass surgery which was performed this afternoon.  The surgery was a complete success and he is resting comfortably.  We are most grateful for all of the prayers and support we have received.  

Yaz spokesman Dick Gordon told the Boston Herald that the Hall of Famer was admitted to MGH last night after complaining of tightness in his chest. The operation took approximately two hours.

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