Archive for October, 2008

Join the Great Debate: Who Will Be Boston’s Next Championship Team?

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Join Rob Bradford and Alex Speier for a live chat at 3pm on Friday, October 31, to discuss which of Boston’s pro sports teams will win the next title.

Mike Lowell’s road back

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

For whomever might be interested, here is a very small snapshot of some of the rehab work Mike Lowell did over the past week at Fenway Park before heading home to Florida Thursday …

 

 

From Red Sox assistant trainer Mike Reinold: “Early in the rehabilitation program the emphasis is on recovering from the trauma of the surgery itself (ice, compression, gentle range of motion exercises), restoring motion and muscle activity of his hip and entire lower extremity (basic isometric exercises for the hip and strengthening of his other leg muscles) and normalizing his gait (crutches and exercises to help him walk normal again). Once this initial period is over, we can begin to emphasis more of the strength and balance of his legs and core, which will be a several week phase. He can then begin to integrate his normal offseason and baseball activities. At the end of the program, he will likely be even stronger and agile than before.”

Red Sox scouting director reflects on Cole-turned-diamond

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

PHILLIES ARE WORLD CHAMPS – STORY HERE

COLE HAMELS NAMED WORLD SERIES MVP – STORY HERE

The information that Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod can provide about Cole Hamels flows freely.

‘€œI can tell you everything,’€ McLeod said of the pitcher who claimed the NLCS and World Series MVP awards after going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts.

McLeod was a Padres area scout in Southern California in 2002′€”a year that featured an exceptional crop of left-handed pitchers. Hamels, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir were all taken out of high school that year. (Lester was the 57th overall pick, and the first overall for the Sox, who lacked a first-round choice that year.) Three additional college southpaws’€”Royce Ring, Jeff Francis and Jeff Saunders’€”were first-round picks out of college.

‘€œIt was just a talent laden year,’€ said McLeod, ‘€œand Cole was by far the cream of the crop.’€

McLeod recalled seeing the pitcher make seven starts as a senior. Hamels had missed his junior season while recovering from a broken left arm he suffered in a street football game.

The Padres team doctor, Dr. Jan Fronek, performed the surgery to repair the prized arm, and Hamels recovered to produce a spectacular year as a senior at the baseball factory of Rancho Bernardo High School, going 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA. McLeod recalls that time fondly.

‘€œAs far as ability, to this day, he’€™s the best left-handed amateur pitcher I’€™ve ever seen’€”especially coming out of the high school ranks,’€ said McLeod. ‘€œHe had everything’€”size, athleticism, competitiveness, stuff, came from a great family, really good home environment’€”he had everything you wanted to see.

‘€œHe always had that plus changeup. In high school it was a devastating pitch. He had a very good breaking ball in high school. (He was) just exceptionally polished. At that time, he had one of the best pickoff moves I’€™d ever seen. A kid would get on first and he’€™d pick him off.’€

The talent was obvious. A game against Torrey Pines High School, the foremost rival of Rancho Bernardo, proved to McLeod that the pitcher had the makeup to excel at the major-league environment.

‘€œHe was pitching comfortably at 90-92,’€ recalled McLeod. ‘€œHe was just mowing through the team. A kid tried stepping out of the box on him to break up his momentum. Cole threw the next pitch behind him. Then the next three pitches he went 94, 95, 96 and sat him down.

‘€œOnce he punches him out, he was like, ‘€˜Alright’€”now I’€™m going back to 90-92, plus-change, curveball, bang.’€™’€

The incident offered evidence to McLeod that Hamels possessed a remarkable ability to control his emotions on the mound. He could use adrenaline to his advantage without allowing the game to get away from him.

Needless to say, McLeod turned in a positive report on the pitcher. (Though it is unlikely that he included such relevant information, found here, as, “When Cole Hamels snaps his fingers, The Fonz comes running.”) As the 2002 draft arrived, many’€”including Hamels’€”expected that the Padres would select the local star (Rancho Bernardo was roughly 20 miles from the Padres’€™ ballpark) with the 13th pick in the draft.

But it was not to be. Perhaps the Padres’€”like many other teams’€”were skittish about Hamels’€™ medical reports. Or perhaps the opportunity to draft shortstop Khalil Greene, who was named the Collegiate Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award winner as a senior at Clemson, seemed too good to pass up.

‘€œIn the end, I can’€™t say that (the Padres) decided that the medical was too great of a risk. They took a player that ended up being pretty good in Khalil Greene,’€ said McLeod. ‘€œBut certainly it’€™s a little bittersweet (to watch Hamels now) for a lot of us who were area scouts that year and got to see how good he was in person.’€

The reluctance of other teams to draft a pitcher with an unusual medical history created an opportunity for the Phillies, who plucked Hamels with the 17th pick of the 2002 draft. It seems safe to assume that today, with a World Series trophy in hand, Philadelphia has few regrets about that choice.

Fit to be tied (or something like that)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

People are understandably dismayed by the suspended state in which Game 5 of the World Series has remained since Monday night. Those who want to drink from a half-full glass would do well to recall the great moments in baseball history resulting from suspended games. In honor of this year’s World Series, a top six of other great suspended games in baseball history:

6) JULY 18, 2001 – DIAMONDBACKS VS. PADRES

A pair of explosions in the light tower at Qualcomm Park in San Diego prompted the suspension of a game between Arizona and the Padres. The D’backs could be forgiven their dismay about the development, as the suspension of play meant that Curt Schilling (who had retired the first six San Diego hitters of the game) would be unavailable to continue.

Arizona manager Bob Brenley, however, made the most of the situation. With his team leading 2-0 at the start of the next day, he decided to have Randy Johnson, the scheduled July 19 starter, enter the suspended contest in relief of Schilling.

Johnson mowed through the next seven innings by striking out 15 Padres (the most punchouts ever by a reliever) and held San Diego hitless until the bottom of the eighth, when Wiki Gonzalez collected a single for the only Padres hit.

Other Wiki Gonzalez trivia: he once hit into a round-the-horn triple play on his birthday, and he now plays for the St. George Roadrunners of the Golden Baseball League. So it seems safe to say that breaking up this no-hitter ranked pretty high on his list of career milestones.

Schilling, meanwhile, made his next start on two days of rest and produced a dominating seven-inning, one-hit, 12-strikeout effort.

5) MAY 8, 1984 – BREWERS VS. WHITE SOX

The longest game (by time) in baseball history lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes, and had to be broken up over two days. The ChiSox assumed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth and immediately gave it back to the Brewers in the top of the seventh. The Brewers scored a pair in the top of the ninth, only to watch Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers give back a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. A curfew led to a pause after the 17th inning, and the two teams resumed play the next day.

Both teams scored three runs in the 21st (1), before Harold Baines finally won the thing with a fireworks-inspiring walkoff homer in the bottom of the 25th. The game was so long that the White Sox had time to reconsider their mystifying shorts-wearing experiment in favor of other aesthetic atrocities that, at the least, involved pants.

The Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins squeezed 26 innings into a single afternoon in 1920, but with the game remaining deadlocked 1-1, it was suspended due to darkness and replayed in its entirety. The Mets and Cardinals locked down for 25 innings on Sept. 11-12, 1974, and, of course, the mighty, mighty PawSox claimed a 3-2 triumph in a 33-inning battle of attrition with the Rochester Red Wings in 1981. The epic conflict of Triple-A teams–which featured 28 combined plate appearances for future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken–was suspended after 32 innings at 4:06am on April 18 and resumed on June 23.

4) OCTOBER 9, 1912 – RED SOX VS. GIANTS

The first-ever World Series game at Fenway Park ended in an inglorious tie. Game 2 of the 1912 matchup between the Red Sox and Giants produced an 11-inning, 6-6 deadlock (Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was believed to tell New York manager John McGraw that he could stick his pitch count in a pipe and smoke it) that was called due to darkness.

The result of the prolonged series was rather remarkable, as the Game 8 showdown ended in a 3-2, 10-inning walkoff win for the Sox. The Giants appeared to be on the cusp of a startling victory in the series when they pushed across a run in the top of the 10th to take a 2-1 lead, but the Sox scored a pair against Mathewson (who was still pitching in the 10th, and might have benefited from a pitch count on the heels of a 310-inning workload in the regular season).

Tris Speaker had a game-tying single, and then Larry Gardner collected the first-ever walkoff hit in Sox postseason history, lofting a sac fly to score the immortal Steve Yerkes and prompting a series of celebratory kicks to the groin. The World Series title was the second in franchise history, and would spark a Sox dynasty that produced four championships in seven years.

The other World Series games that ended in suspended ties proved less meaningful. The Cubs and Tigers played to a 3-3, 12-inning tie in Game 1 of the 1907 Fall Classic, but the Cubs went on the sweep the next four games. And in Game 2 of the 1922 World Series between the Giants and Yankees (no Subway Series, this–both teams resided at the time at the Polo Grounds), the game got banged at a 3-3 deadlock after 10 innings, but the Giants went on to sweep the rest of the contests.

3) JULY 9, 2002 – AMERICAN LEAGUE VS. NATIONAL LEAGUE

The All-Star Game at Miller Park in Milwaukee was supposed to represent a career triumph for Bud Selig. Instead, it served as one of the worst moments of his baseball life.

Both sides ran out of pitchers with the game tied 7-7 after 11 innings. A distraught Selig–who was the driving force behind the building of the ballpark in his home city–repeatedly flapped his arms in agonized fashion, and appeared to devolve amidst his distress, as most pictures from that night featured him at a loss for opposing thumbs.

2) SEPTEMBER 23, 1908 – GIANTS VS. CUBS

The suspended game to end all suspended games. The Giants (then of New York) and Cubs were tied for first in the National League with roughly two weeks left in the season. The teams played a game that offered further evidence of their evenly matched talents, taking a 1-1 tie into the bottom of the ninth.

The Giants staged a rally in the ninth, putting men on the corners with two outs. New York shortstop Al Bridwell lined a single to center, inspiring pandemonium at the Polo Grounds. But with Moose McCormick having already crossed the plate with what appeared to be the winning run, the runner on first, Fred Merkle, a rookie making his first big-league start, made a beeline for the Giants clubhouse without touching second base.

The practice was standard at the time, in the ur-culture of the walkoff. You did not have players clearing a landing spot around the plate or a base and pointing in exaggerated fashion to cross safely before delivering a pounding.

Instead, players lived in terror of the fans. Typically, at the end of games’€”particularly walkoffs’€”

they were left to run for their lives, fearful of the likelihood that the rambunctious fans of the era might punch them in the nether-regions or torch the premises.

Merkle followed the well-accepted strategy, defined later in ‘€œMonty Python and the Holy Grail’€ as the ‘€œRun Away! Run Away!’€

But Johnny Evers took issue with the tactic, somehow retrieving the ball through the throng, touching second, and informing the umpires that Merkle should be out on a force.

Umpire Hank O’€™Day said that he would think on the matter, largely to ensure that he did not have to soil himself while confronting an angry mob at the Polo Grounds. That night, O’€™Day ruled’€”from the comforts of his hotel room’€”

that Merkle was out at second. Instead of a 2-1 win that would have given New York a one-game lead in the standings, the Giants and Cubs had played to a 1-1 suspended tie.

At the time, teams did not resume suspended games. So, the Cubs and Giants’€”who finished the regular season deadlocked in first’€”had to play a makeup game at the end of the season. The Cubs won to claim the National League crown en route to the World Series’€”the last in franchise history, as it turned out. Merkle’€™

s Boner, as the play came to be known, assumed a place in baseball infamy.

Mathewson, incidentally, pitched all nine innings of the Merkle’s Boner game, and pitched seven innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the makeup game. In retrospect, it comes as little surprise that Mathewson was done as a productive pitcher at the age of 34. It is, in fact, mind-blowing that he squeezed 361 of his 373 wins into a 14-year span.

The centennial of the infamous play passed last month, bringing a rash of excellent retrospectives, including Keith Olbermann’s analysis and this history.

1) JULY 4, 1908 – CHICAGO CUBS VS. IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY ALL-STARS

A scheduled exhibition double-header between the Cubs and a traveling team of All-Stars instead turns into a single game that persists–with breaks for dinner–over the course of 40 days and more than 2,000 innings. The event serves as a black hole that swallows not merely most of the participants but also the historical memory of the contest, most of its participants and an epoch in American history. Or something like that.

SOME BONUS SUSPENDED CONTESTS FROM OTHER SPORTS

–May 24, 1988: Bruins/Oilers Stanley Cup Finals Game 3 suspended in the second period, while tied 3-3, due to a power outage in the Boston Garden.

–January 4, 1987: Canadian vs. USSR World Junior Hockey Championship – The Punch-Up in Piestany produced perhaps the most insane brawl in televised sports history. That designation includes professional boxing, the WWF/WWE and Ultimate Fighting.

ANY OTHERS?

Surely there are other memorable suspended games out there… Anyone? Anyone? Enter suggestions in the Comments section or email me at aspeier@weei.com.

What might the future hold for the Baby Rays?

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Obviously, the Rays have looked like a very different team thus far in the World Series against the Phillies than they did in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. Yet whether or not Tampa Bay proves capable of erasing a 3-to-1 deficit in the World Series, there is an unmistakable message in the mere fact that they are in the Fall Classic, that they beat the Yankees and the Sox to claim the A.L. East this year, that they were indisputably the better team than Boston in the ALCS.

“We belong here. Regardless of what happens with the World Series, it means we’€™ve arrived,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said immediately after his team advanced past the Sox. “I’€™m not only talking about this year but in years to come. Obviously, we’€™re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. I like that.”

It’s easy to see the logic of Maddon’s declaration. The Rays have a young and incredibly talented core, much of which remains under the team’s contractual control through the remainder of the decade:

Evan Longoria, 23, is signed to a six-year, $18 million deal through 2013, with three team options that could secure him for an additional three years at $30 million.
–”Big Game” James Shields, 26, just finished the first year of a four-year, $11.25 million deal that includes an extraordinary three team options that could push the contract to $37.25 million over seven seasons.
Scott Kazmir, 24, is signed from 2009-2011 for $31 million, with a team option for 2012 that would make the contract worth four years and $42 million.
David Price, 23, will earn no more than $3 million over the next three seasons, and will remain under Rays control through 2014.
Carlos Pena, 29, is signed to a three-year deal through 2010 for $24.125 million.
–Carl Crawford, 27, is in the final year of a four-year, $15.25 million deal, but the Rays hold affordable team options for 2009 ($8.25 million) and 2010 ($10 million).
–Though 24-year-old B.J. Upton is not signed beyond the 2008 season, he will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season.
Matt Garza, 24, won’t be eligible for arbitration for another year, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2013.

For the Rays to have such a talented nucleus of twentysomethings is indeed a rare phenomenon. Tampa Bay’s position players, according to Baseball-Reference.com, had an average age of 27.0 this year. Rays pitchers averaged 27.5 years of age. For Tampa to reach the World Series with such young pitchers and position players is nearly unprecedented in the free-agent era.

Since 1976, there have been nine teams with younger pitching staffs to reach the World Series. Of those, five have gotten back to the postseason in the next four years, while three have reached the World Series. Because the health of pitchers is so difficult to predict, the youth of a staff is promising, but does not necessarily guarantee future success.

It may be more significant that the Rays have the youngest position-playing core to reach a World Series since 1970. Since the free agent era began in earnest following the 1976 season, there have been eight teams whose non-pitchers were 28.0 or younger when they got to the Series. The track record of those teams suggests a likelihood of future success in Tampa:

1982 Cardinals (27.8): Won the World Series in ’82, then returned to the Series but lost in ’85 and ’87.
1985 Cardinals (27.6): Lost the World Series in ’85, and the same nucleus lost the Fall Classic again two years later.
1986 Mets (28.0): Won the World Series in ’86, returned to the playoffs but lost in the NLCS in ’88, and got a group discount on rehab for the rest of the first Bush administration.
1987 Twins (27.8): Won the World Series in ’87, and kept its young core together long enough to encourage more Homer Hanky waving with another championship in ’91.
1988 Athletics (28.0): Lost the World Series to a barely-standing Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers in ’88, won the earthquake-interrupted World Series in ’89, lost the World Series in 1990.
1991 Braves (28.0): Though the Braves enjoyed fairly significant turnover over the coming years, some members of this group helped Atlanta to chop lamely through four of the next five World Series (albeit with one lonely championship trophy in 1995). It would, however, be more accurate to identify this “generation” of young Braves as the group that got to (and lost in) the World Series in both 1991 and 1992, and that got bounced in the NLCS by the Phillies in 1993.
1995 Braves (27.9): The reconstructed Chipper generation of the Braves won the World Series in 1995 and got back to the Fall Classic the following year.
2003 Marlins (27.7): Despite a generous payroll that could fund a shopping spree–or at least a gift card–at CVS, the Marlins have not been back to the playoffs since Josh Beckett slapped Jorge Posada with a tag on a dribbler down the first-base line.

Six teams with position players age 28.0 or younger made it back to the World Series within the next four seasons, and all but one returned to the playoffs.

Given that the Rays have so much of their young talent locked up affordably for the long haul, it seems unlikely that 2008 will be the last time that Tampa Bay hosts baseball in October–unless, of course, the Rays manage to relocate to Disney World or something.

The healthy team wins

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Much was made of Tampa Bay’s ability to overcome adversity in order to win the American League East, and rightly so. The Rays endured injuries to every key member of their lineup, whether the broken finger Carlos Pena endured on a nasty Justin Masterson slider, Evan Longoria’s broken hand, Carl Crawford’s subluxation of a finger, B.J. Upton’s season-long shoulder woes…

But somehow, amidst suggestions of a pox upon Tampa’s house (that would be the fabled Tropicana Field), the pitching staff remained intact. Scott Kazmir missed roughly the first month of the season with an elbow injury, but otherwise, the team never had to dip into its organizational pitching depth for reinforcements. It was a luxury, rather than a necessity, to call up David Price in September. He is currently a difference-making member of the bullpen because the same five starters–James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson–kept taking the ball.

Indeed, the Rays finished tied for the American League lead in the frequency of starts by their “top five” (the number of combined starts made by the five rotation members who led the team in starts), having enjoyed 153 of 162 starts from the aforementioned group of five. The Red Sox, by contrast, received just 134 starts from Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz (it is easy to forget that he started the year as the No. 5 starter), a total that ranked seventh.

Interestingly, the three teams that got the most starts from their front five all qualified for the playoffs. Only the Sox proved capable of reaching the postseason from the A.L. despite a test of rotation depth.

Rank    Team    Starts

1    Rays    153
2    White Sox    153
3    Angels    149

4    Royals    141
5    Blue Jays    139
6    Twins    137
7    Red Sox    134
8    Tigers    131
9    Orioles    125
10    Mariners    120
11    Yankees    117
12    A’s    116
13    Indians    115
14    Rangers    110

(playoff teams in bold)

Mut Man and The Breeders Cup

Saturday, October 25th, 2008
Whether you’re headed to Suffok Downs, Mohegan Sun or playing from home, it should be a great Breeders’ Cup Day. First BC on the Pro-Ride causing headaches for some, but Friday’s races proved pretty formful. Don’t over think yourself!
 
These picks are my top three for each race. Looking for win wagers on overlays and prices and exactas. Will fool around in P3 and P4.
 
Marathon
No strong opinion. Sixies Icon looks the one to beat at a short price
 
1. Sixties Icon
2. Delightful Kiss
3. Zappa
 
Turf Sprint
Down the hill they go. Love the horses who have had the trip before. 
 
1. Get Funky 
2. Diabolical 
3. Desert Code (bomber) 
 
Dirt Mile
“Dirt Mile” being run in Pro-Ride. Well Armed is the steam horse in this race.
 
1. Well Armed
2. Lewis Michael
3. Surf Car
 
Mile
Euros always the ones to beat on the grass in the BC. 
 
1. Goldikova 
2. War Monger 
3. Shakis 
 
 
Juvenile
No Vineyard Haven in the most wide-open race on the card. 
 
1. Midshipman (my best bet) 
2. Silent Valor 
3. Street Hero 
 
Juvenile Turf
Looks pretty chalky; which means BOMBS away.
 
1. Westphalia
2. Coronet of a Baron
3. Bittel Road
 
Sprint
Married to First Defence but looks to be in deep.
 
1. First Defence
2. Street Boss
3. In Summation
 
Turf
Free square in the horizontal wagers. 
 
1. Solider of Fortune (most likely winner on the card) 
2. Dancing Forever 
3. Red Rocks 
 
Classic
Hard to root or bet against Curlin here. I won’t do either. Maybe…
 
1. Curlin
2. Taigo
3. Student Council/Colonel John.
 
Have a great day and remember – bet with your head not over it!~
 
Mike Mutnansky
mutt@weei.com