Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dramatic turnaround yields nothing but W's for Bad Luck Fan

It wasn't long ago that Dylan Kitzan couldn't attend a Spokane Indians game without being harassed about being the guy who sealed the Indians' fate before they even stepped on the field.

"It was a tough time for me," Kitzan said. "I didn't like it more than anyone else. But I still enjoyed going to the games, so even if they were seemingly predetermined, I tried to have a good time."

But lately, times have changed for the fan who once drew comparisons to Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman. After Spokane dropped eight of nine games with Kitzan in the stands, the Indians reeled off their fourth consecutive win last night with him in attendance, 6-4 over the visiting Boise Hawks. Timely hitting and solid pitching guided the Indians (31-33) to the victory, though the bigger story was the continued shift in fortunes of Kitzan, who can start to rest easy knowing that the entire season isn't weighing on his shoulders anymore. Last season, Spokane went 1-8 in games Kitzan was at. They went 50-17 in all other contests and won the Northwest League Championship with Kitzan absent for the entire series.

"For a team that was as dominant as Spokane was last year, it was bizarre that they could lose that often when I was there," Kitzan said. "Of course I felt responsible. I wanted to go to the playoff series, but kept myself away from Avista Stadium for the good of the team. What does that tell you?"

But now, with the Indians seven games back of the Tri-City Dust Devils for first place in the division, the pressure of a championship run is gone. The reason for that may be because Kitzan hasn't been in the ballpark enough.

"I suppose it was kind of my fault that Spokane struggled with me in the crowd last season," Kitzan said. "So I guess at the same time, if I would have gone to more games this year, Spokane might be in position to repeat."

For Kitzan, though, the Indians winning isn't the highest priority. How could it be when Spokane went through the stretch they did last season?

"It's just nice to be another fan again," Kitzan said. "It's fun to go to the games with friends and have everyone not fearing the worst. I'm not 'that guy' anymore."

Well, maybe he is. But "that guy" has a bit of a different meaning now that the Indians are winning games.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

He must be in a Francoma

Apparently, the BoSox skipper thought it wasn't worth walking Evan Longoria with a pair of open bases and two outs in the 13th inning of a tie game tonight. I wonder where he got that idea. I'm guessing it wasn't from this line:


Let's break it down this way: The guy has more ABs against the Sox than any other team. He has scored four more runs against Boston than he does any other team. He has more hits against Boston than he does any other team. Same for doubles. Same for home runs. He has more than twice as many RBIs against the Sox than he does any other team. His average is second highest against Boston (1st is the Orioles and who doesn't hit them well?). His OBP is 20 points higher vs Boston than any other team which he has at least 20 ABs against. Slugging is second to Baltimore. And the OPS is .008 behind the O's and .312 higher vs. the Sawx than it is any other team with at least 20 ABs (CHW, CLE, KAN, MIN, NYY, OAK, TOR, FLA). This plethora of stats begs the question:


How do you pitch to him here with the last reliever in your bullpen? Why not take a chance vs. Ben Zobrist or Joe Dillon?

Here's what Terry Francona had to say:

"I wish the ball wouldn't have gone out, but I don't think [walking Longoria] was the right thing to do.''

Well you know what else isn't the right thing to do? Give up 900-foot homers that blow a hole in the roof of Tropicana Field, that's right!

Here's what I would have said:

"Yeah, after we walked Longoria, an obvious move considering his history against us, Zobrist was an easy third out. Fortunately, our bats got going in the 14th and we were able to steal a game that only got this far because Terry pulled Lester too early. Jon threw the ball real well tonight and it was nice to see him bounce back so easily after drilling Pena to lead things off in the 7th and set things up just how we like for our 'pen."

I like my version better. Freakin' Francona...

Friday, July 31, 2009

I'm thankful for David Ortiz! Suck it, every media member!

Allow me to preface this by saying that if I had more time, I would have brainstormed the ideas I'm about to put forth (for anyone looking to recruit me for a potential job opening, I totally brainstormed this. I almost promise).

There's a reason I enjoy reading Bill Simmons' articles more than anyone else's in the world. For as interesting, humorous and accomplished as Simmons is as a columnist, and make no mistake, he's one of the best, he's a fan first and a writer second. That's what I love about him. He writes from a fan's perspective.

That's why I'm thankful for David Ortiz. He's bringing out the fan in me at a time when a diehard Red Sox fan like myself should be on suicide watch. And the fan in me has a few thoughts in times like these.

First, to the media. Hey fellas (this means you Howard Bryant, Dan Shaughnessy, Jay Mariotti, etc.), why don't you give the whole "2004 and 2007 are tainted" claim a break. Yeah, I understand you're desperate for readership and everyone who isn't a Sox fan (and some who are and want to sulk) is going to be on your article like a Yanks fan on "1918" chants in 2003, but that doesn't mean your argument is correct. If you'd like to name me one team that wouldn't have an asterisk next to a World Series title since the turn of the century, I'll be glad to agree with you that Boston should. But since it's generally assumed that just about everybody and their kids were on steroids at some point within the last decade, why does Boston stand out from everybody else? I'm not justifying what Ortiz, or any of the other BoSox did, but let's not be too quick to jump on their championships when we live in a world where no championships would be clean.

Second, to fans of baseball, quit casting stones at players of other teams who are juicing when there's no doubt that every ballclub has someone who's used PEDs at some point in their career. Jose Canseco is quickly being revealed as truthful, as his book's accusations have continually been accurate. He guessed that 80 percent of players were using, though has since adjusted that number to 95 percent (19 of 20 players). Not to toot my own horn (beep beep) but I didn't even jump all over Alex Rodriguez when allegations surfaced about him using steroids. That's because it was only a matter of time before some Sox were alleged to be on the juice. It's so common in the game, that no fans are cheering a squad full of natural-born athletes anymore. Chant "steroids" all you want at opposing players (this includes fellow Red Sox Nation members) but do it only to get inside the heads of the other team. Don't do it thinking your boys are high-and-mighty and play the game the right way.

Finally, to Big Papi himself. Thank you David. You helped bring two World Championships to a city which hadn't seen one in almost 100 years. Sure, you tested positive in 2003, but when penalties became enforced in 2004, you apparently quit, not costing your team games via your suspension. That's something your buddy ManRam can't even say. You have vowed to face this matter head on and despite being faced with the claim an hour before Thursday's game, you managed to keep focused and delivered a huge three-run shot which led Boston to a much-needed win. Thank you, Papi.

As for me, I'm still a fan of Papi. Still a fan of the Sox. Still a believer in our two World Titles. And still a baseball fan. Sure, I grew up in the Steroid Era, but I still love the game. And I'm not putting any asterisk next to that statement.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dear Roy Halladay, come to Boston.

Before I begin, let's get one thing straight. The Boston Red Sox don't NEED to make a deal to win the 2009 World Series. With the current roster in place, there is at least a 30% and maybe a 40 or 50% chance for Boston to win their third title in six seasons. They have a top-3 bullpen, top-3 rotation and top-5 lineup. And they have the best home-field advantage in the game. Tough to beat.

And as recently as 10 minutes ago, before I tuned into Baseball Tonight, I was on the "Why would you make a trade? The team is stacked as is!" train. Well, I caught another one. Thanks, Tim Kurkjian.

If Boston was to send Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard north of the border in exchange for perennial All-Star Roy Halladay, it would all but guarantee the Sox the 2009 championship. What lineup, save for the nine greatest position players in history, could go through the righty-lefty-righty threesome of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Roy Halladay? Send up Mantle, Maris and the Bambino in the heart of your order. I don't care. Good luck winning four of seven versus a team you haven't beaten in eight tries this season, especially when they roll out that rotation.

Whether Boston deems that sacrificing the future for Halladay justifies one guaranteed title remains to be seen. But Beckett and Halladay become free agents together after the 2010 season and the Sox will almost be forced to let one go (ideally Halladay based strictly on age), so any potential trade will mean the Sox are looking only to the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Yes, the farm system is stocked, but Boston could get a handful of prospects and/or proven position players for the Bard/Buchholz tandem in another potential deal.

If you asked me on Friday whether I would want the BoSox to make a deal for Halladay, I would have adamantly said 'no.' But with a 3-game lead in the AL East, and a 6.5 game lead for the Wild Card, Boston can clinch a playoff berth and most likely a World Series appearance with a trade for Halladay.

After an 86-year drought for one, a third title in six seasons sounds pretty good. Bring it on and bring Roy Halladay to Beantown.

Friday, July 17, 2009

There goes another overpaid, underachieving SS

I might have been Julio Lugo's biggest advocate during his 2+ years with the Boston Red Sox. I endured countless snide remarks about his poor play, both at the dish and in the field. I kept the faith, even when he left me no reason to. I remember the days he hit at or close to .300 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and kept waiting for him to hit like he did then. And kept waiting. And kept waiting.

When Lugo blamed his poor 2008 campaign on being lactose intolerant, I believed him. And I still do. His downfall in 2009 wasn't even so much his own fault - he was hitting a respectable .284 with a home run and three steals in 37 games. He never lost the job. Quite frankly, Nick Green won it.

Green, a veteran journeyman, impressed the team with his performance in spring training and kept it going when given the chance during the regular season. That, couple with last year's emergence of Jed Lowrie, gave Boston three players for two spots.

Lugo stayed on the roster after Lowrie went down with an injured wrist, but everyone knew that Lugo stood as the odd man out when Lowrie was healthy enough to return.

Today, Lowrie returns to the Sox. Lugo does not.

Lugo was designated for assignment today by Boston in a move that allows them to activate both Lowrie and Mike Lowell from the disabled list. The Red Sox have 10 days to trade him or to release him outright, with the latter being the overwhelming probability. In either case, the Sox will be responsible for a few million dollars of Lugo's remaining contract.

Nevertheless, it solves a problem at the shortstop position for the Red Sox. Even as a fan of Lugo's, it was a move which had to happen.

Here's hoping he doesn't get picked up by an AL team and go Ronny Cedeno on the Sox during the last couple weeks of September.

Monday, July 13, 2009

This is what the AL has been reduced to?

Remember in the 1990s when Home Run Derbies had, you know, quality lineups in both leagues? In 1992, the AL's Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Carter and Cal Ripken Jr. faced off against the Senior Circuit's Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff and some guy named Barry Bonds. Two years later, KG Jr. and McGriff returned, alongside Ruben Sierra, Frank Thomas, Albert Belle, Jeff Bagwell, Dante Bichette and Mike Piazza. Men's men.

Heck in 1997, when they expanded to 10 hitters instead of eight, the lineup was still a who's who of Major League sluggers with McGwire, Griffey Jr., Walker and Bagwell, as well as Ray Lankford, Nomar Garciaparra, Chipper Jones, Tino Martinez (who bashed 16 and won the event), Brady Anderson and Jim Thome.

But inexplicably, the event has fallen on hard times. What used to be an honor to participate in is now brushed aside for a day off. As a result, only the National League is stocked with today's best home run hitters. Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder are sure to put on a show tonight at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. In fact, the lineups are so one-sided, that the NL could sweep through to the second round.

On the AL side, fluke seasons from Brandon Inge and Nelson Cruz have been rewarded with appearances in the Midsummer Classic's premier event. Inge has 21 dingers at the break. He had 25 home runs total in 264 games over the last two seasons prior. Cruz one-upped Inge with 22 round-trippers during the first half. Ironically, Cruz's career home run total in 176 games entering the '09 campaign was 22.

After those two is Joe Mauer, known more for his batting average than his power. Mauer has 15 homers this season, despite missing 25 games over the first three months. The 15 is two more than Mauer has hit in any season in his career. In 561 games before this year, the Twins' backstop hit just 44 long balls, which averages just under 13 over every full season. Ouch. On top of that, no catcher has ever won the event. Awesome.

The final hitter for the AL, and the only real hope to do much of anything for the DH-laden league, is Carlos Pena, who only received entry into the event after being named Dustin Pedroia's replacement on the All-Star team. Pena has 24 big flies this year, but is hitting just .228 on the season. In fact, chances are the only reason he was named as a replacement is because the Rays made it to the World Series last year, so Rays manager Joe Maddon will lead the team. Although there's also a chance Bud Selig told Maddon that the AL desperately needed someone to represent them that wasn't a 100-1 shot on Vegas lines.

It's sad that in a league with proven All-Star sluggers such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko, the American League settled for Cruz, Inge, Mauer and Pena. Should be fun watching the National League battle for bragging rights among each other since the superior league has been determined before the hitters step on the field.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I knew I should have pursued sports broadcasting...

I make it a rule to only watch BoSox games called by the hometown crew for a couple of reasons. One, if anyone is going to be biased and obnoxious, I want it to be the guys pulling for the same team as me. Two, Don Orsillo, Boston's play-by-play announcer, is respected enough to be assigned playoff games by TBS, which is more than most other broadcasters can say for themselves.

If I have no choice, like when ESPN or Fox picks up a game, or the Sox play the Mariners, I'm forced to sit through three hours of Rick Sutcliffe, Jon Miller or Tim McCarver. None of these guys, however, are more painful to listen to than the guy above, Dave Sims.

In fact, I can come of with four reasons why Sims is the worst of the worst. Enjoy.

1) Lack of knowledge. If Boston has runners on the corners with nobody out, Garrett Olson can't escape the inning with a double play ball because, as we all know, there are three outs per inning. Idiot.

2) I don't really know how to preface this, but just because a player has a name like "Gutierrez" does not mean you are required to try miserably to roll the R's in his name. Stop it.

3) He's exceedingly obnoxious. This should count for about seven reasons, but I'll limit it to one. He laughs at jokes which aren't funny. He's more of a homer than Rick Rizzs. Everything is 50 times greater when a Mariner does it. Routine plays are Web Gems. The list goes on.

4) He's in October July. I understand Seattle makes the playoffs about once a decade and to be within 15 games of first on Independence Day is an achievement in itself for M's fans, but just because you win a road game at Fenway does not mean you've clinched a trip to the World Series. If you were watching last night's game, though, you would have thought the Mariners won Game 7 of the ALCS. Hey Sims, you guys scored twice in the 11th and even when Mark Lowe gave up a bomb to the immortal George Kottaras (his first career blast), you thought it was baseball's greatest and most clutch save of the last 25 years. It wasn't.

Oh, and while I'm here, Theo, feel free to ship Saito anywhere. Maybe you can get a right fielder who swings the bat in return.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Curses or coincidence?

I'm a Red Sox fan. If anyone has been bred to believe in curses, it's me. Boston took an 86-year hiatus from 1918-2004 before winning another championship. And never in the 19-years I was alive prior to 2004 did I think Babe Ruth cursed the Sawx.

But I'm slowly nearing a sobering possibility: Perhaps, for some unknown reason, I'm a curse for the hometown short season Single-A Spokane Indians. Last season, the Indians captured the Northwest League championship and did so in dominant fashion. Yet, in the nine games I went to, Spokane was 1-8. They were 50-17 in all other games.

So far this year, the Indians are off to a horrific start at 3-8. I just got back from my third consecutive game at Avista Stadium against the Tri-City Dust Devils and witnessed the beginning, middle and end of a deflating sweep.

I fully expect to arrive at the next game with a wanted poster outside for my immediate removal from the park. Good thing I'm not a season-ticket holder and good thing this...thing...hasn't latched itself on to my appearances at Chiefs games.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barack Obama is going to the All-Star Game? Whaaaaat?

Oh my goodness! Our president, Barack Obama, is taking time from his schedule to attend this summer's Midsummer Classic. Can you believe this? Instead of fixing the economy, figuring out how to get our troops out of Iraq or passing laws, Obama is going to spend three hours at a baseball game. Unreal.

If this isn't absurd enough, he's probably sleeping on the job right now! I know, right? Sure, it's 3 a.m. in Washington D.C. and that's when most people catch some Z's, but he's supposed to be working right now. Being president is a 24/7, 365.25 job and when our leader is spending his time not fixing what needs to be fixed, he's obviously not fit for his position.

If you didn't catch that thinly-veiled sarcasm, I'm sorry, but people who freak out over the president attending a baseball game need to chill out and gain some perspective. It's been a point of contention for McCain supporters and Obama haters since January that Obama is an avid sports fan. He appeared on SportsCenter during March Madness, filling out his bracket (which had UNC winning it all). He plays basketball regularly. And now, Obama will be at Busch Stadium in July to watch the American League All-Stars take on the National League All-Stars. Big whoop.

If you haven't noticed, Obama has been getting work done while doing all of this. The United States' image worldwide is improving in the post-Bush era. The automotive industry has great potential to rebound and hundreds of thousands of jobs are being created throughout all 50 states. Sure, there are a plethora of problems with our country, both big and small, but there always are and there always will be. When's the last time a president fixed every problem and satisfied every U.S. citizen? OK, just checking.

Listen, I'm not much of a political guy, but to jump on the president's case for being a sports fan is wrong. He's still only one man with a wife and kids and has his own life to juggle while being America's Top Dog. Of course he needs to allocate more time to his responsibilities as president than to his free time or his personal interests, but to those on his case for attending a baseball game or shooting some hoops, I say relax and think about it for a second.

For every hour he spends at a ball game, he's probably spending several weeks or months fixing what's wrong with this country. That's more than I'm doing or will ever do. And chances are, it's more than his critics are doing or will ever do.

Maybe those people should spend more time coming up with ways to better their country, or for that matter their community, and less time whining about how the president spends his.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hey ESPN...

I'm not sure who's in charge of game previews and recaps, but if their cut-and-paste style doesn't work out, I wouldn't mind stepping in:

ESPN's Wednesday Red Sox-Marlins Preview: Ortiz, though, may finally be coming around. He went 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs -- all during a six-run fourth inning -- in Tuesday's 8-2 win over Florida.He is 9 for 23 (.391) with four home runs in his last nine games, also drawing six walks for a .517 on-base percentage over that span."You think about team goals and things like that," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "but there's no doubt we're pulling for him. We're human, and there's no getting around that."

ESPN's Tuesday Red Sox-Marlins Recap: Tim Wakefield's ninth win moved him another spot closer to the AL lead, and the Boston Red Sox think it might finally be the 42-year-old knuckleballer's chance to make his first career All-Star team. "You think about team goals and things like that," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "but there's no doubt we're pulling for him. We're human, and there's no getting around that."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Daye of Defeat?

Most fans of the Gonzaga University men's basketball team might be disappointed about the news that sophomore Austin Daye is passing up on his final two years of eligibility to enter the NBA draft.

I am not most fans. This is great news for the Zags team and program. And awful news for fans of the NBA team which drafts Daye.

Look - Austin Daye is not ready for NBA basketball. He's not even a year away. He's at least two years away from being able to be a 10-15 minute bench guy. And he's about four years away from starting for a mediocre team. That's his ceiling.

Daye is a stone cold lock to follow in Adam Morrison's footsteps as a huge NBA bust. They're both pure shooters with not much inside game. They're both thin as a rail. Both possess great height, but are one-dimensional and don't bring much to the defensive end. What am I missing?

Meanwhile, in Spokane, the Zags will be better off without his presence. When Daye was on his game, he was a great player, but he was cold more often than not last season, when Gonzaga reached the Sweet 16. He was a hothead who clashed with officials and coaches and didn't exactly fit the mold as a true Zag. His length gave the Bulldogs an advantage on the perimeter, especially on the defensive end, but anyone who weighed 180 pounds could post him up and have his way with Daye in the paint.

Heck, Diamon Simpson might be more upset than Zag fans that Daye is bolting. Simpson was a lock for a 20-10 game anytime Mark Few had Daye guarding the St. Mary's forward.

Anyway, the first Gonzaga player to bolt early since Morrison is gone, but not forgotten. Zag fans won't be seeing Daye taking the floor in Spokane in 2009-10, but they'll see him riding plenty of pine in the NBA for years to come.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time to sweep up some trash!

That's so wicked awesome, but I don't think that lonely
broom tells the entire tale of 2009 so far...

That's very nice also, but that only speaks for two of the series the Sox and Yanks have played, and haven't they played three so far?

There. Much better.

See you in August, New York!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I may jinx what's happened so far, but I can't resist...

This is A.J. Burnett. The New York Yankees paid him $82.5 million over five seasons to be a horse behind their prized pitching signing, CC Sabathia, at the top of the Yankee rotation.

Well, $82.5 million apparently doesn't get you out of the third inning at Fenway Park. At least it didn't on Tuesday night when Burnett was pulled 2 2/3 innings in after allowing five runs, three earned, on five hits and five walks while recording just one strikeout. So far this season, Burnett sports a Chien-Ming Wang-like 12.91 ERA versus New York's hated rivals and a very mediocre 4.89 ERA overall. You know how many pitchers in the league have a lower ERA and lower salaries than AJ? Me neither, but I guarantee it's a lot.

However, it would be unfair to Burnett to place all the blame for the Bronx Bombers' struggles versus the Sox on him. After all, he's just responsible for two of New York's six losses in six games to Boston on the season. And this one wasn't wholly his fault. Check out the box score from tonight's game to see what the anti-Burnett, Josh Beckett, did to the vaunted Yankee lineup:

Jeter 0-3, BB
Damon 0-4, K
Teixeira 0-2, 2 BB, K
Roidriguez 0-4, K
Cano 1-4, K
Posada 0-2, BB, 2 K
Swisher 0-3, K
Cabrera 0-3, 2 K
Gardner 1-3

For the record, Nick Green had as many hits as New York tonight.

Anyway, six of 19 games between the teams have been played in 2009 and Boston has (knock on wood) yet to lose to their bitter rivals. They're hitting better, they're pitching better and they're fielding better. Thanks to Baltimore and Minnesota, though, the Yankees are still tied for first in the AL East at 34-24.

But whatever. This isn't about the race for the playoffs - it's still June, by the way. This is about how bad New York is against Boston. The only players on the roster who have played decently against the Sox this season are the long relief pitchers and that's only because they've seen Boston hitters more often than A-Rod has seen Angel Presinal and Yuri Sucart since 2000. The hitters do just enough to lose games. The starting pitching has been atrocious and the Sox haven't even had the chance to knock CC out of a game before the all-you-can-eat-buffets close at 8 p.m. Joba has been beaten. Pettitte has been beaten. Burnett has been torched. Rivera blew a game that Marte took the loss for. Some guy named Jonathan Albaladejo has been beaten. And Phil Hughes also chalked up an 'L' for the Yanks.

Yeah, four of the six games have been played in Beantown, but the Sox have beaten New York with hitting (16-11) and pitching (7-0, 4-1, 7-3). They have beaten Yankee starters (thanks, AJ) and relievers (same to you, Mariano). They've won blowouts (7-0) and nailbiters (5-4, again, thanks Mariano). But most importantly, they've won. It doesn't matter how it gets done, 6-0 speaks for itself.

Tomorrow, Wang (who started the game in which the Yanks lost to Cleveland 22-4) faces Tim Wakefield (always a mystery, but more trustworthy pitching at Fenway Park than at the Yankee Silo) in a game the Yankees might want to win to avoid playing with the pressure of a third consecutive Sox sweep looming.

New York isn't winning, though. I don't care if they knock Wake out in the first. Boston has their number this year. They'll find a way. I'm not saying the Red Sox will go 19-0 versus the Yanks in 2009, but they aren't going 6-13 either. Win number seven on the season comes tomorrow at Fenway.

New York might as well warm up the long relief now. Wang, like AJ Burnett tonight, won't see the fourth inning. And the Yankees won't see their first win of the year versus Boston either.

I could get used to saying that a few more times...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Really? That's what this is like?

I suppose it all started in 2003 when University of Miami (FL) tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. lost his cool after a game versus the Tennessee Volunteers. In a postgame rant to reporters, Winslow compared a football game to war and claimed "I'm a f---ing soldier!"

There was a lot of outcry regarding the outburst, as the media skewered Winslow for comparing a simple game to a life-and-death matter such as war. Winslow wasn't on the 50-yard line dodging bullets - he was dodging safeties. Just a bit different.

Well yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded star outfielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for a handful of prospects. This didn't sit well with many Pirates players, some of whom felt that the team was very much still alive for the postseason, despite that they are 6 and a half games out of first in the underachieving NL Central and despite that they are, in fact, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

One of these players, Andy LaRoche, unleashed his feelings about the trade to reporters and must have been speaking from experience, because if he wasn't, may not have the analogy correct.

"There ain't a guy in here who ain't [ticked] off about it," said first baseman
Adam LaRoche, according to the report. "It's kind of like being with your platoon in a battle, and guys keep dropping around you. You keep hanging on, hanging on, and you've got to figure: How much longer till you sink?"

So let me get this straight: Losing a player who you'll see on your next trip to Atlanta or their next trip to Pittsburgh is basically the same as your fellow soldiers dying? I understand LaRoche is upset and frustrated, and rightfully so, but there has to be a more appropriate way of conveying your thoughts. Like, say, "It's kind of like being on a Triple-A team, and guys keep moving up to the bigs around you. You keep playing, playing and you've got to figure: How much longer till you move up to the bigs?"

Come to think of it, playing for the Pirates is exactly like being on a Triple-A team. And let's face it - the only way LaRoche and the rest of the Pirates are escaping losing season after losing season is to move up to the bigs. Or in this case, the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox (Jason Bay)
, New York Yankees (Xavier Nady) or any other team with a legitimate chance of winning at the highest level.

The Pirates organization is synonymous with losing and the problems run much deeper than losing great outfielders. Perhaps LaRoche should recognize that sinking to the bottom of the NL Central is just slightly different than dying on a battlefield.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

And Tonight's Guest...

Hey everybody, Aaron here.  My man Dylan was kind enough to let me contribute to his fine bloggity blog, so I've decided to celebrate the occasion with a wholesome, nutritious list.  Let's call it... "Top 5 Reasons To Hate The NBA After Game 1 Of The Finals."  Engage.

1)  Orlando Already Won.  For the first time since Shaq's Junior season in the mid-90's the Magic are back in the Finals.  To get there, they defeated the defending champion Boston Celtics (obligatory asterisk of no KG) AND the heavily-favored Cleveland LeBron James.  No one expected them to beat topple those foes, much less the Lakers, and no one is going to be upset with them even if they get swept.  They've accomplished far more than they anticipated this season, and it showed in their lackluster defense and general sloth Thursday night.

2)  No Ringless Lakers Deserve It.  The list of LA Lakers worthy of a title reads: Phil Jackson (9 rings), Kobe Bryant (3), and the case could be made for Derek Fisher (3), who has enjoyed surprising success considering his embodiment of PG mediocrity.  Past that, THERE IS NO LIST.  Pau Gasol is a post presence in the style of Eric Piatowski.  Lamar Odom is the most unreliable player since Brian Washington.  Luke Walton is, god forbid, a Walton.  Then, I think they have 3 more point guards worse than Derek Fisher and Tracy Morgan standing on Vern Troyer.  Not that Orlando fares much better in this regard, but Patrick Ewing is listed on their roster as an assistant coach.  He alone is more deserving than the entire Staples Center minus dancers.

3)  Violations Are Not Enforced.  I have two calls in mind: charging and illegal screens.  Charging seems to be called only if a perimeter player is driving the lane or if a post player is battling inside.  Why isn't it called when any offensive player dislodges their immobile defender?  A topical example is Kobe Bryant backing down whichever poor sap is assigned to guard him, creating a few feet of space to hike up a turn around J.  While it looks pretty, the defender's position was clearly manipulated by 24's  initiation of physical contact.  TWEET.  Next up is the screen.  I can't quote directly, but I believe a screen is illegal if the screener's movement provides an advantage to the oh-ffensive player.  Now, maybe NBA officials are unable to discern movement (it helps explain the continuation rule), but I approximate that 90% of NBA screens feature movement of an illegal fashion.  The worst part is, the NBA is teaching generations of children that power forwards operate like offensive tackles and I have to deal with them acting all Antonio Gates-y.  That analogy wasn't very strong, but you get the point.

4)  Where's The NBA Been For The Last 8 Months?  Thanks to an awesome new TV, I was blessed with the gift of free cable for a month before Comcast got wise and shut it off.  During that time, I got to watch the NBA basically every night, and could even cycle between a couple different games at times.  However, upon rejoining the poor, cable-deprived masses I realized that the NBA does not exist on network television.  Even during the playoffs no more than two games per week were shown, and those were always on Sunday.  Unless my math fails me, there are 15 best-of-seven series in the NBA playoffs, and of those potential 100+ games I got to see, like, 10.  Go to hell.  The best basketball of the season has already been played, just ask the Bulls and Celtics.

5)  The Van Gundys are Insufferable.  Jeff Van Gundy is a so-so coach with an annoying voice and a propensity to make ridiculous statements during games for shock value.  I bet if you put him and Bill Walton in the booth together you could a) make a sitcom and b) repel alien invaders.  My favorite is when he affirms his affection for the hip-hops because it makes him feel so street.  His brother, Stan Van Gundy, is a so-so coach that looks like a porn star, and not the good kind.  In fact, he's such a good coach that his assistant had to privately tell him, "Gimme the map, Scott."  (Pro Tip: For that last sentence, change "good" to "bad," "assistant" to "star player," "privately" to "in the post-game press conference," "him" to "the world," and "map" to "Goddamn ball").  Put them together and you have a winning recipe for me jumping off a balcony.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sizing up the Finals: NBA Edition

I was really hoping to analyze both the NBA Finals as well as the NHL Finals and write lengthy pieces on each. Both plans fell through, however, as I am already two games behind in the Red Wings-Penguins series and any aspirations I had of another 1,000-word Kobe-LeBron blog went out the window with King James' Cavs career.

So rather than delve into how the Lakers can combat Superman or how Kobe will fare after the Magic just stopped one legend in the making, I'm going to see if I can, on a whim, list 10 reasons to get me to watch the NBA Finals. This is completely impromptu, so here goes.

1) Super Bowl-esque commercials. Unless the Niners are playing or I have hundreds of dollars on the line, neither of which have happened in a while, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Super Bowl are the commercials. If I knew that during the NBA Finals, I would see terrific beer ads or the rare sleeper for a company I've never heard of, I'd put myself through six games of Orlando taking it to the Lake Show. Heck, I don't need nonstop new ads and they don't have to be of Super Bowl quality, but a Sonic or Geico commercial once or twice a game would have me tuned in.

2) Every other channel running an Two and a Half Men Marathon. I don't think I really need to go into depth here, but the only thing worse than Charlie Sheen's Hanes commercials is this show.

3) I'm at Flamin' Joes or Swinging Doors. Sure, both of these restaurants have several TVs tuned in to a variety of stations, but if all I'm forced to pick between are the NBA Finals and the Mariners-Orioles game, I'll watch a bit of roundball. Though, if the Scripps Spelling Bee comes on, I might switch over to that instead. Even on mute. Without captions. I'm not really excited about the NBA Finals.

4) The NBA changing the Continuation Rule before Game 1. Delonte West drove the lane in Game 5, was fouled by Anthony Johnson and then took two complete steps before tossing in a bucket. And one. I can't even think of an equivalent to this in any other sport. I guess it would be like the defense touching up the puck on a delayed penalty in hockey, except if the offense could still play on for two or three seconds to try to get a shot off. That's honestly the closest I can come, which should prove how ludicrous the rule is. But if the NBA announced before tipoff that once the whistle blows, the play is over unless the shooter is in the air, I might be interested, if only to see the players complain about their layin not counting after they were fouled at the elbow.

5) A guaranteed Kobe Bryant face. Yeah, I'm taking a page out of Bill Simmons' book with this one, but if I got to see the Kobe Bryant face (pictured above), I'd be watching. This is the one where he looks at a teammate, or into the crowd, knowing he's better than everyone on the floor, but the rest of his team is too much for him to overcome. He's blaming the rest of the roster with one glare, frustrated that people like Derek Fisher are taking 22-foot jumpers with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, down by two and 20 seconds left on the shot clock. It's inevitable that the face will make an appearance as the Lakers are headed for their second consecutive NBA Finals loss. I might be watching just for that.

6) Rashard Lewis playing for a championship. After playing in relative anonymity in Seattle in the shadow of Ray Allen, Lewis is playing in his first Finals. His play might make or break this series, as Orlando lives and dies by its perimeter play. He's a guy who can look rattled at times, so on the big stage, it could be bust for Rashard Lewis. You can take Rashard Lewis out of Seattle and you can take the Sonics out of Seattle, but you can't take the Seattle or the Sonics out of Rashard Lewis. And yes, this entire paragraph was dedicated to making that joke.

7) The Chick Flick Rule. I'm not ashamed to admit I do enjoy sappy love movies. But I don't enjoy watching them alone, so I don't watch them. It would take a girl to say "Hey, wanna watch The Notebook tonight?" for me to be on board. Well, same with the NBA Finals. Unless a cute girl comes up to me and asks if I wanna watch a game, I don't care enough about it. Call me shallow or a fair-weather sports fan if you want (I'm not sure which insults me more) but that's the way it is with me and the NBA.

8) David Stern bending the rules and allowing the Magic to trade Dwight Howard and Lewis to the Cavs for LeBron James prior to Game 1. If you're Danny Ferry, you have to think there is a decent to strong chance that LeBron is bolting via free agency. Why not get something in return? And if you're Stern, you would what...triple or quadruple your ratings by setting up the Kobe-LeBron feud in the Finals? I don't know enough about the salary cap to know what would be feasible in this situation, but I don't envision most of the other things on this list happening anyway, so I'm going with it. It's my blog, I make the rules - apparently as I go. And that is precisely what Stern should do with the "trade deadline." And you thought I didn't know what I was talking about...

9) A guarantee that the Lakers would exact some revenge for the Hack-a-Shaq strategy the Kings employed several seasons ago. Hedo Turkoglu, who played for Sacramento in the early part of the decade, was part of a team which sent Shaq to the line roughly 3,400 times in their 2002 seven-game series. Well now, Turkoglu plays with Howard, who shoots like Shaq in his prime from the charity stripe. Regardless of how far ahead the Magic may be in any fourth quarter of the series, Phil Jackson may remember what went down in 2002 and spend the last 10 minutes of the game using scrubs Adam Morrison (that felt good) and Shannon Brown to wrap up Howard 40 feet from the hoop. If this happens, I want to see the look on Hedo's face as Howard is 4-18 from the line and a double-digit lead is down to one with 90 seconds left and the ball in Kobe's hands. There will be a lot of 4-letter words roaming around in his head, I'm pretty sure.

10) Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy facing off in a Game 7. I'll actually throw an interesting subplot into the mix here. Stan "The Man" Van Gundy has broken out as one of the game's most underrated coaches in this postseason. He led his team to a win in the Garden in Game 7 against the defending NBA Champs (admittedly without KG, but still...), then figured out a way to dethrone the King, and it only took six games to do it. His team fell behind by as many as 22 in the first quarter of the Eastern Conference Finals, but his demeanor and coaching style allowed his players to rally each time, even if they fell to Cleveland twice on the road. His postgame press conferences are candid, entertaining and straightforward. Every talking head in America who watches the NBA loves that the Ron Jeremy lookalike is on the verge of a title. Now, the only coach standing in his way is one of the all-time greats. If this series goes the distance, it will be very interesting to see how Orlando fares in the Staples Center. Surprisingly, the coaching matchup is one reason I love the Magic in this series. Jackson carries a been-there-done-that attitude, which would work if anyone other than Kobe and Fisher have had success in the Finals. But Jackson hasn't won a title unless the greatest player ever or Kobe AND Shaq have taken the court for him. And I expect that trend to continue.

Hey, that only took two hours. And it would take two more just to get to 11 reasons. Time to take my Kobe Bryant face off for the night - I could not have done more than I just did.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Learning from Sweet Lou

Between Lou Pineilla and Carlos Zambrano, temper tantrums aren't a rarity in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse. But after a close play at home plate yesterday, Zambrano took flipping out to a new level. If you haven't caught a glimpse of it on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight, here's a rundown of what happened.

During a 7th inning passed ball, Zambrano was covering home plate to try to tag out Pittsburgh Pirates runner Nyjer Morgan. The bang-bang call went to Pittsburgh, causing Big Z to lose it. Shortly after getting in the umpire's face, Zambrano was ejected.

Now, when I first saw the video, I didn't see what happened. Apparently, following his ejection, he threw the baseball far, far away. I never saw the ball, so when the replay came on, it appeared that Zambrano was ejecting the home plate umpire. I like my version better.

Anyway, Zambrano went on to slam his glove against the dugout fence. He was just getting started.

I'm not sure whose bat he grabbed from the rack - hopefully, it was his own - but he unleashed several swings of fury onto the Gatorade machine in the dugout. The Cubs may suffer from dehydration tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers, because there has to be an "Out of Order" sign taped to that machine. The guys in Office Space were gentle to the copier compared to how Big Z treated the drink dispenser.

Zambrano only received a 6-game suspension, which gives him plenty of time to finish destroying the rest of the clubhouse. If you know anything about the guy, you know he's probably not over this latest tilt.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Do your part!

Tonight is the night that the war of words between the WWE and the Denver Nuggets centered around. World Wrestling Entertainment was scheduled to have its show in the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO until the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The NBA had Game 4 of the series slated to be played tonight. However, the WWE had signed a contract last year to hold Monday Night Raw in Denver tonight as well.

When the NBA released the schedule, the conflict became headline news and Kroenke simply said "see ya" to Vince McMahon and the WWE was forced to scramble and find another place to host the show. Several cities offered, before the WWE settled on Los Angeles.

The entire situation was handled poorly by Kroenke, who could have attempted to reach an agreement with the McMahon family. Instead, his primary concern was his team and his arena.

McMahon fired back admirably, rubbing in the fact that Kroenke didn't have enough faith in his own team to keep that date open. It was awesome.

So what does this have to do with anybody reading this? Well, you can help stick it to Kroenke, even if you don't like the WWE.

At 9 p.m., tune in to USA for Monday Night Raw. If you have DirecTV, do the same, but at 6 p.m. Help boost ratings for the WWE. If you don't want to watch, put it on mute or something. As long as it's on.

Also, pass up on watching Game 4 of the Lakers-Nuggets series. First off, it's not even the Finals. Second off, it's the NBA, which is much less entertaining than the college game. Third, it would stick it to Kroenke. Finally, it's the right thing to do. The WWE had the building reserved and were unceremoniously booted by the guy who owned it, despite having an agreement. There really isn't a great way to voice your displeasure, but the ratings would help reflect the public's sentiment to some extent.

If you feel like I do, whether you like or dislike wrestling, tune in to Monday Night Raw tonight. I'll be working from 6-11, but my TV will be turned to wrestling, even if I won't be watching. Hopefully, you'll be doing the same.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The best sport nobody on this side of the Mississippi knows about

Has anyone besides me watched lacrosse? Maybe it's the similarities to hockey that I love about it (hard hitting, fast, methodical) or maybe it's the fact I haven't seen a lot of it, so the sport is relatively new to me, but I could see myself glued to the tube for a lacrosse marathon if ESPN ever decides to run one.

Right now, Cornell is destroying the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers 15-6 with just a couple minutes left and have a two-man advantage for 60 seconds. Now, I don't know much about lacrosse, but even I know that Virginia has been awful on both ends of the field for all four quarters of the game.

Lanes have been left open all afternoon for the Big Red to shoot through, while the Cavaliers tallied just one goal in the first 25 minutes of the game. Virginia hasn't been within five goals since about the early part of the second quarter.

Despite the blowout, however, I'm enthralled. The goaltenders record save percentages that would have NHL netminders pulled and released in a matter of minutes, but are All-Stars. There are power plays. Teams can move the ball 80 yards and score in seconds, like Cornell did late in the second quarter. If the ball goes out of bounds on a missed shot, whoever is closer to it where it rolls out gains possession, but if a pass goes out of bounds, it's a turnover.

It can be fast and hectic or slow and deliberate, depending on a team's style of play. Lacrosse has its fair share of highlight-reel goals, but also highlight-reel saves. The players don't really stop moving, whether on offense or defense. And games are fairly high scoring.

A lot of these qualities are what people love about sports, but nobody realizes that lacrosse has them.

Fortunately, I'm here to spread the word. If you get a chance, check out a lacrosse game, whether on TV or in person. If you like speed, hitting and scoring, you won't be disappointed.

It's basically the opposite of soccer in those aspects. You can't go wrong.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I can't believe I'm rooting for the Lakers

As one of Bill Simmons' readers said, "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack."

Well, this isn't quite on the same level as that, at least in my eyes, but for the next six games (since Game 1 is in the books), I'm rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers to defeat the Denver Nuggets. I know, it's gross.

It's not that I'm upset Denver bounced the Dallas "If I had a favorite team, they would probably be it" Mavericks from the postseason or anything. In fact, the Nuggets torching of New Orleans in Game 4 of their first-round series made me like them more. Except for Kenyon Martin. I hate Kenyon Martin.

But if anything is going to suck me away from the NHL playoffs and attract me to the NBA, and at this point, it may be the only thing that could do it, it would be a Kobe-LeBron finals.

The best thing about the NHL playoffs so far has been Ovechkin-Crosby and all six people who were watching it got to see that matchup seven times. I was one of those people, at least for a few games, and it was as enthralling a series as I've ever seen in hockey, save for the Chiefs-Americans playing five of seven games in OT a season ago, and that still wasn't top-level hockey.

But a Kobe-LeBron duel would top it for several reasons, and these are coming from somebody who doesn't even like the NBA.

First, Bryant and James would be on the court for just about all 48 minutes. Hockey plays in shifts, so when Crosby and Ovechkin are on the ice, it's electric, but only for 60 or 90 seconds at a time. Kobe and LeBron, meanwhile, spend nearly every second on the court. There are no breathers while the clock is in motion, unless one of the coaches wants to throw his team out on the hardwood at a disadvantage. For either team to win, their superstar has to outplay the other for an entire game. In hockey, it simply doesn't work that way.

Second, each player plays both ends of the court. Sure, you hear about the offensive talents of Alex and Sidney, but neither are a huge factor on the other end of the ice. But as good as #23 and #24 are with the ball, they're just as good without it. Both Bryant and James were All-Defensive First Team Selections this season and while it was James' first appearance on the list, Bryant has been a mainstay for the better part of the decade. Since the 1999-2000 season, Kobe has been a First- or Second-Team choice every year except in 2004-05. Amid the points and assists these players would rack up, you'd also see blocks and steals to add to the quality this finals matchup would produce.

Third, this meeting would be for the title. Crosby-Ovechkin was amazing and I don't want to take away from it, but they were only playing for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. After their dramatic Game 7 clash, the victor still had two win two series to hoist the trophy. Kobe and LeBron would be going head-to-head to be crowned champions. A series pitting these two against each other would end the NBA season, so there's zero doubt that absolutely everything would be left on the court and both players would exhaust every ounce of energy to top the other. Is there any doubt this series would go the distance? It would have to.

Fourth, each player is attempting to put their stamp on history. Kobe has a few rings, but it's often noted that he hasn't been able to win one without Shaq Diesel. He failed spectacularly a season ago as the Boston Celtics stomped LA in Game Six in the Garden by 39 and hasn't reached an NBA Finals in any other season without him, while Shaq won a title in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade.

LeBron might be the successor to MJ as "The Best Player Ever" but Air Jordan won six titles. James is still seeking his first. Of course, Michael had a great supporting cast with Scottie Pippen, BJ Armstrong, Toni Kukoc and the best NBA Head Coach ever in Phil Jackson, but critics aren't going to have much sympathy for King James, despite his second best player being Mo Williams and his head coach being the anti-Phil Jackson. Sports greatest players find ways of winning championships (unless their name is Dan Marino). This would be LeBron's second, and best, chance in his young career.

Finally, this would be the optimal setting to finalize the debate about who is currently the NBA's best player. Kobe Bryant won the 2008 MVP. LeBron James won the 2009 MVP. Each are compared to the other at all times during the season and every spors media member has pondered the question at one point or another. A great case can be made for either player, but if they face off in the 2009 NBA Finals, the analysts, writers, spectators will almost be forced to choose the player who leads his team to the title. And you know for an absolute fact that neither wants to be runner-up to the other when they know that everyone who follows sports will be eying this series if it happens.

But that's still a big "if" considering that Denver gave the Lake Show a run for their money in Game 1 and Orlando got the best of the Cavs during the regular season.

I think it's safe to say, however, that I'm not the only one swallowing their pride when I say "Go Lakers."

Oh, and uh...Go Cavs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The best thing since the NES

One of my best friends of All-Time, Aaron May, just proved why he's reached that status, sending me this gem from It's basically a portable NES system.

About the size of a Nintendo DS, the system allows you to plug in any NES game, while serving as the controller and the television, and take it wherever you'd like.

The gadget also comes with A/V out cables, allowing you to hook it up to your sweet 60" Plasma TV and play RBI Baseball, River City Ransom or Tetris all day long.

In a world with the most realistic video game features imaginable and some of the highest-quality games ever produced, the makers of this product have managed to sneak up on the entire world and take them all down with one 2.4" screen.

Now, all I need is $50 and 4 AA batteries and I'm set for life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And since I'm on a hockey high...

ESPN's Poll currently asks which is the best head-to-head rivalry in sports right now?

Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal (30%)

Alexander Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby (27%)

Kobe Bryant/LeBron James (34%)

Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson (9%)

I'm here to make the case for my vote: Ovechkin/Crosby.

If you want to take the question literally, it has to be Ovie and Sid the Kid. Federer and Nadal haven't met in a tennis final in a while. Kobe and LeBron are still a couple weeks away from being the best of these four. Woods and Mickelson aren't the best, since neither are playing at their best right now anyway.

Ovechkin and Crosby are about to head to Game 7 of their second round series. In Game 2, Washington defeated Pittsburgh 4-3. Ovechkin had a hat trick. So did Crosby. In the series, Alex has 13 points, Sid has 10. Ovechkin has 10 goals in 13 playoff games. Crosby has 10 goals in 12. They've played their best hockey against the other and who knows what lies ahead tomorrow night.

If you want to take the question figuratively, though, it's still the hockey rivalry. What does it matter if Tiger and Phil are battling atop the leaderboard at the Masters if they both falter and neither winds up in contention? And it isn't like they're solely battling one another - they're up against everyone.

Nadal and Federer is good, but with Federer's troubles lately, it's typically a foregone conclusion when the two meet. Even when Roger was the top-ranked player, you knew almost always who would win between the two. On clay, Nadal dominated. On anything else, Federer had the edge. This isn't anything close to Sampras-Agassi and never will be since each has a clear-cut advantage on their surface of choice.

Kobe and LeBron are the two best players in the game without question, but how is it even a rivalry when they meet once a season? It should get better in a couple weeks and over the next few years when they meet in the finals year in and year out. But until that happens, they're playing their own game. Bird-Magic was a great rivalry because the Celtics and Lakers engaged in several NBA Finals appearances, but Bryant and James haven't done that yet.

But Ovechkin and Crosby are the best in the game and they see plenty of each other. Being in the same conference, the Caps and Pens play each other several times in the regular season. They just added seven meetings over the past week and a half. Each are matching the other goal for goal and win for win. Ovechkin is the better goal scorer and physical presence, Crosby the better overall offensive player. And each will bring out the best in the other in Game 7. The game's best player might be judged by many as the one who leads his team to victory tomorrow night. There's your rivalry.

By the way, don't forget to read the blog below this. I posted them within about a half hour of each other, so there are two new ones. Hope you like reading about hockey.

The best postseason nobody is watching

If the National Hockey League is EVER going to burst back onto the scene in the United States, it will happen after the 2009 playoffs are through. With very few people having Versus (a TV channel) and ESPN bumping most hockey headlines down in the pecking order, how many people aware of what's been happening through the first two rounds?

If something like this was happening in the NBA, we would be getting baseball highlights on ESPN Deportes, because ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic and ESPNU would be flooded with three seventh games, including one between Kobe and LeBron (in this case, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin), the news that the regular season's best team was knocked out by an 8 seed in six games in the opening round and the next two best teams are headed home for a do-or-die Game 7. Instead, only Washington and Pittsburgh will get much air time on Sportscenter, as the major sports networks will likely defer to news about Brett Favre sending medical reports to the Vikings and Manny Ramirez not apologizing to his teammates and give Boston-Carolina and Detroit-Anaheim five total minutes with the token Barry Melrose analysis included.

In the NBA, the storylines revolve around who will be defeated on the road to the inevitable Cleveland-Los Angeles Finals and who was just lost for the season with an injury.

Sure, the Magic and Celtics are heading for a Game 6 in Orlando and likely a seventh game in Beantown, but when they advance to Cleveland, will either have a prayer? Orlando can't beat the Cavs without Jameer Nelson and Boston couldn't defeat Cleveland with KG, so they probably won't win one game without him.

In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets have torched New Orleans and Dallas, but only have a puncher's chance against a team with two superstars and a solid supporting cast. As long as Kobe and Pau Gasol are healthy, the Nuggets can't win. Yeah, they'll win a game or two (maybe three), but Kobe's play will dictate the series and you can bet he'll be salivating over the chance to face LeBron for the title.

And when the Cavs and Lakers face off for the championship, everyone should be amped. It will be a memorable series and a career-defining one for both Kobe and LeBron. But that's still a couple weeks away.

In the NHL, the Stanley Cup is completely up for grabs with seven teams still alive. Boston is the best team remaining, but Carolina has been the hottest over the last few weeks. Washington has the game's best player, but the Penguins have the best 1-2 punch in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Anaheim has already knocked off the league's best team in convincing fashion, but Detroit is the most experienced team and are the reigning champs. And the Blackhawks have the top young core in hockey, with an experienced netminder and a very capable defense. Plus, they just came off a seven-goal outing against the league's best goaltender, Roberto Luongo, to wrap up their second-round series.

The Hurricanes and Capitals are entering their second Game 7 in as many series, while the Bruins and Red Wings are playing a Game 7 after first-round sweeps.

And a slew of goaltenders are making a name for themselves after a season, or career, spent in relative anonymity, even to hockey fans.

Caps goaltender Simeon Varlamov was in the pipes for six games during the regular season, backing Jose Theodore. But after Theo's struggles in the first game of the first round, Varlamov has taken over and started 13 consecutive games, leading his team to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Anaheim's Jonas Hiller split time with Jean-Sebastien Giguere during the regular season before bursting onto the scene by knocking off the San Jose Sharks and is on the verge of doing the same to the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Six seasons ago, Giguere led the Ducks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and two seasons ago, Giguere won the title with Anaheim. Now, he's taking a seat to the young upstart Hiller.

Vezina Trophy finalist Tim Thomas had never been out of the first round of the playoffs until 2009. The Bruins' 35-year-old netminder played in his first postseason last year, losing a seven-game heartbreaker to the Montreal Canadiens. This season, he led Boston to the Eastern Conference's best record after posting the best goals against average in the league and has maintained his level of play into the Eastern Conference semifinals. His reward, should he defeat Carolina in Game 7? Ovechkin or Crosby.

What's not to love in the weeks to come? The possibility of the upstart Hiller facing some of the best offensive young talent in the league in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks? Or that explosive offense facing another in the Detroit Red Wings?

In the East, the best team could face the best player or best players. Or Carolina, a team which already went through all-time wins leader Martin Brodeur to get to the Bruins, could face one of the best young goalies in Varlamov or another in Marc-Andre Fleury, who's been overshadowed by Crosby and Malkin.

Beyond that, both two seeds could face in the finals or both six seeds could battle. There could be a rematch of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, or the West's lowest seed could go through both conference's top seeds to capture the Cup. There could be an Original Six matchup in the Finals if Boston faces either the Wings or Blackhawks.

The last three times Detroit won the Cup, they defeated the Penguins (2008), Hurricanes (2002) and Capitals (1998). The last time Pittsburgh won, they beat Chicago, which was the last time the Blackhawks were in a Stanley Cup Finals. The last three champions are all still alive.

The possibilities are in anything-can-happen mode.

And everyone is missing it, thanks to none of the major networks airing hockey, except for a game or two on the weekends.

Here's hoping ratings are high on those days. The NHL Playoffs are as good as they've been in recent memory and have the potential to get better in the coming years.

And in the coming series, if you can believe it.

P.S. Don't miss Game 7 tomorrow between Pittsburgh and Washington (sigh...on Versus). If you don't believe what I've written, just watch that game. You will believe me by the time it's over.

Friday, May 8, 2009

It's amazing he isn't in the Big Leagues yet! Oh wait...

Pat Venditte is a minor league prospect in the New York Yankees' system. I'm not being biased when I say he isn't a great right-handed pitcher. But he's a decent right-handed pitcher. And I'm not being biased when I say he isn't a great left-handed pitcher. But he's a decent left-handed pitcher.

That's correct. Venditte is ambidextrous and is dominating the minor leagues. His glove is six-fingered to allow him to switch hands from hitter to hitter. The minor leagues had to implement a rule to prevent switch hitters and Venditte from going back and forth on which side of the plate to hit from and which arm to throw with, causing the game to stall. He has a 0.00 ERA so far this season.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx, A.J. Burnett has a 5.26 ERA. Mark Melancon is at 5.40. Jonathan Albaladejo stands at 6.43. Jose Veras is at 7.20. And then it gets ugly.

Damaso Marte is at 15.19. Chien-Ming Wang more than doubles that at 34.50. And poor Anthony Claggett sports a robust 43.20 ERA, thanks to allowing 8 earned in 1.2 innings.

So what does it say about the Yankees' organization when a guy who can throw with both hands is stuck in Single-A at 23 years old? Either that they're awful at managing their rosters or that the kid is nothing more than novelty.

In the last paragraph of his article, Reilly claims that the kid is still a few years away from joining the Yanks. But the rest of the paragraph is nothing more than a joke.

Red Sox Nation: Is this kid worth worrying about in the near future?

Uh, no.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

He probably thought it was a Flintstone vitamin

No, this isn't Manny Jr. This is what Manny Ramirez looked like as a rookie with the Cleveland Indians in 1993.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and take shots at Manny Ramirez for testing positive for a banned drug. The man was instrumental in securing not one, but two World Series Championships in a Red Sox uniform, so to sit here and drill him while staring at the banners in Fenway Park on NESN (Sox are up 1-0 in the 2nd) would be very hypocritical.

Whether or not he was on the juice with Boston might not be known, though the evidence is mounting that he probably wasn't clean. But really, it doesn't matter. This isn't about the player that he is or was. It's about his legacy in Beantown.

Boston tried desperately to jettison Ramirez over the years, not just through trades, but also through waivers. They never had a taker. And, like I mentioned earlier, they won two titles.

Then, in 2008, with Manny in a contract year, he tanked a couple months, blaming a balky knee (which, oddly enough, hasn't bothered him in LA). Finally, after a seven-and-a-half-year relationship, the Sox acquired Jason Bay in a three-team trade which saw Ramirez head west. For the rest of the season, it turned out to be a win-win for Boston and Los Angeles (Pittsburgh, unfortunately, got Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen from the Sox. Ouch.). Bay and Ramirez torched pitching throughout the rest of the regular season and into the postseason before the Sox and Dodgers were bounced in the ALCS and NLCS, respectively.

In April of 2009, both Bay and Ramirez got off to hot starts. That trend won't continue in May, June and part of July. For the next 50 games, Boston can bask in the fact that they have a left fielder. The Dodgers, not so much.

Sources have claimed the positive test was due to a sexual-enhancement drug. Others have their own doubts. Regardless, it doesn't change anything for me.

I grew up in the steroids era, so I'm pretty indifferent to anybody, even superstars such as Ramirez, being found guilty of steroid use. Call it cheating if you are old school, or because it's fashionable or whatever. By the late '90s, however, virtually everyone was on the same playing field. It wasn't even illegal until recently.

But under the new rules, Ramirez will pay the price and rightfully so. Not only will the 50-game suspension cost him almost $7.7 million, but it will also irreparably damage his legacy in the eyes of many.

When Manny hangs up the cleats for good and is Hall of Fame eligible in the coming years, I may look back on his career and his impact on Boston from 2001-2008 and feel some sort of sympathy for one of the greatest players to don a Red Sox jersey. I hope I do. For now, I don't. The terms under which he left don't help matters, but it's more than that. I guess as long as Jason Bay is being Jason Bay and Manny is wearing another uniform, I can't feel too bad for the guy.

Regardless, I haven't forgotten what he did for the Sox during the prime of his career. I hope that when he does retire, people remember what he helped do for the city of Boston, whether he was on steroids, Viagra or Flintstone vitamins. That, above anything, should be his legacy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Spo- prefix

I hinted that this was coming in my last blog and now I have the time to address it, so here goes...

Can someone explain to me what the allure is to referring to Spokane as Spo- whatever? It may have been cute when it started, but after a good 30 seconds, it had worn out its welcome.

A few years ago, Spokanada and Spokompton broke onto the scene. I could see the parallels regarding both of these to a point - Spokane's weather and winter sports scene is reminiscient of that in Canada (OK, you got me...that's just speculation since I've still never been to Canada...sigh) and Hillyard is most definitely Compton-ish (again, never been to Compton...stay with me).

I kept waiting and waiting for these nicknames to go by the wayside. Years passed. Now, in 2009, their staying power has resembled that of Keanu Reeves' career. It should have ended a long time ago, but for some reason, hasn't.

This trend reached heights it never should have on Sunday morning at Bloomsday when a group of individuals stumping for the legalization of marijuana donned "Spocannibis" T-shirts roadside.

What does that even mean? What's the connection between Spokane and cannibis? I understand the Spokanada and Spokompton monikers even though I don't like them - both are geographical areas with similarities. But Spokane and weed? Really? Both are green, I guess. That's it.

It's been out of control for too long. We already have Spokandy. How long is it before a local store markets Spokan-openers and Spokandles. What if REI manufactures Spokantenes?

I gotta get out of here... I Spokan't take it anymore.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monkey see, monkey do

Stretching to play the first seven innings, guys?

With Alex Rodriguez out of action for another week or so, somebody had to step up when the game didn't matter as much and choke on the big stage. That's where the Yankees' $180 million man comes in.

After blasting two solo home runs to cut Yankee deficits to the Boston Red Sox tonight, Tex came up with two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth with New York trailing the Sox 6-4. His third home run of the game would have given the Bronx Bombers a dramatic 7-6 walkoff win. Instead, like his injured third baseman, he came up empty in the clutch, striking out against Jonathan Papelbon, who ended the game two hitters later in Boston's 6-4 win.

If New York wants, I know plenty of places where they can find guys who can hit a few homers and do nothing when it matters (like Staten Island and Trenton), but I guess they'd rather shell out hundreds of millions for big names. At least Teixeira and Rodriguez can put people in the seats in the new Yankee Stadium.

Just kidding. That place held more Sox fans than Yanks fans tonight.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I came here to run, not to join the cause

Another year has passed and another dreadful Bloomsday run is in the books. This year, I broke down near Mile 1 and probably ended up finishing around 1:15. More than ever, Bloomsday 2009 wreaked havoc on my body.

What wreaked havoc on my mind, however, were the attendees roadside who were there for no other reason than to promote their cause. Mile 5 was definitely the worst as Doomsday Hill was lined with individuals looking to get marijuana legalized, looking to get a person elected to office and looking to recruit paintball players (the paintball posse was also located on Miles 1 and 3 of the 12k race). On Mile 7 was a religious group handing out advertisements for their church or organization or whatever. I just saw "Jesus" and "Christianity" and decided not to reach for one of their handouts.

I understand that this is well within their rights and all, but come on ... can't this shameless stumping for one agenda or another happen another time? I also realize Bloomsday is a great way to get tens of thousands of people to glance at whatever you're braving the cold for at 10 in the morning on a Sunday, but these individuals were eye sores in a sea of crazed Spokanites (I can't believe I just used that word...) cheering on friends, family and complete strangers. Which reminds me...

It wouldn't hurt for these crusaders to offer up the occasional "Great job runners!" as people fly by or, in my case, limp by. It would even draw eyes to what you're about (which is the goal, right?). But each time I passed these groups, I encountered marijuana propaganda (Spocannibis? Really? Look for a blog in the coming days about Spo - fill in something that sounds like it has Can in it here.), people staring blankly at passing runners with their arms stretched out (the religious front) or silence (from the people who wanted me to vote for what's her face?). I'm sure these people weren't above rooting runners on from the race's beginning to end, but when I passed, the only "You're doing great's" came from the people there to watch others run a race.

And that's all I wanted to do in the first place: run the race. That is what Bloomsday is about, correct? Unfortunately, maybe not for much longer.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I'm not surprised...I'm a Sox fan

Usually when teams win 11 straight games, they can hang with any team at any time. Even after losing the heartbreaker to the Cleveland Indians which snapped the streak, they came back and won the next night to get back on track. Then they went to Tampa Bay.

If you're not a Sox fan, you don't understand that a series in Tampa is not as fun as it was earlier in the decade. The Rays can play now. They hit well, they field well and they pitch well. Especially against Boston.

In game one, the Sox got as many baserunners in nine innings as Tampa did ... hitting off of Jonathan Van Every. Boston's right fielder allowed a hit and a walk in 2/3 of an inning. Matt Garza allowed a hit and a walk in 7 2/3 innings before Grant Balfour finished the one-hitter. The Rays won 13-0.

Coming back tonight with Justin Masterson on the bump against Andy Sonnanstine, I figured it would be a close contest. And it was. Until the fifth inning. Up 2-0 when the inning began, Tampa cut the lead to 2-1 and had the bases loaded with two outs for Evan Longoria.

Understand this about Longoria (and yeah, I'm writing in the heat of the moment, but I mean every word I'm about to put down). He is the scariest hitter in the game. Not Alex Rodriguez. Not Ryan Howard. Not Albert Pujols. I repeat, not Albert Pujols, just so you know I knew what I was writing. Evan Longoria puts a fear into me that nobody else does. Derek Jeter has hit like .836 in his career against the Red Sox. But Longoria is easily around .900. And he's 23 years old, so unless the Sox pony up a few hundred million in a few years, Boston fans will be sitting through this for a couple more decades.

Anyway, when he came up, two thoughts ran through my head. One is that the Sox should just walk him intentionally, bring in the tying run, and take your chances with Carlos Pena. I understand there were two outs and I understand that nobody since Barry Bonds has been issued a free pass with the sacks full, but I didn't care. That was thought one.

Thought two was that I was following the game on ESPN Gamecast and I didn't even want to look at the screen, figuring I was about to see the equivalent of a bad train wreck. But, like the result of a bad train wreck, I couldn't look away. And on a 2-2 pitch, Longoria, obviously, hit a grand slam, his seventh home run of the season and fourth (in five games) against Boston. To go with that, 13 of his 28 RBIs are against Boston and he's hitting just .455 on the season against the Sox.

In last season's ALCS, Longoria was only 7 for 27, but hit four homers in the series. In his rookie year, he ended with a .272 average, 27 homers and 85 RBIs in being named Rookie of the Year. Pujols was considerably better in his 22-year-old season (.314, 34, 127), but I'm stubborn and am saying that Longoria is the league's best player right now. Even if Pujols is at .356 and nine homers.

As a Sox fan, given the choice, I'd send any pitcher to the mound and would rather face Pujols than Longoria. And if I could have either on my team, give me Longoria.

As far as I'm concerned, that's how I define the game's best player.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A-Rod is a bad, bad man

Believe it or not, Alex Rodriguez is back in the news for bad reasons. This time, allegations surfaced that he used performance-enhancing drugs in high school and during his time with the New York Yankees as well as that he would tip pitches to opposing hitters he was friends with in blowouts so that they would return the favor in similar situations.

Because of the report, ESPN's morning poll asked which was worse: using PEDs or tipping pitches to opponents. And really, the fact that it wasn't 100% one way is alarming, because one is clearly worse than the other.

That one is tipping pitches in blowouts. Heck, that's worse than betting on your own team to win a baseball game and Pete Rose is being banned from the Hall of Fame because of that.

It doesn't matter if the score is 15-0 0r 150-0 with two outs in the ninth inning. Giving opponents an unfair advantage is sickening for several reasons.

First, it violates the purpose of sports. Say what you want about using steroids and HGH, but the players who use them are ultimately doing so to help their team win, even if they're only doing so as a byproduct of getting themselves into the record books. Barry Bonds may have wanted Jeff Kent's head on numerous occasions in San Francisco (and sure, if he had killed him, you could raise the "roid rage" argument to contradict this entire paragraph), but when Bonds was at the plate and in the field, he was helping the Giants win those games. And if Kent was on base when Bonds went yard, that's one more run scored in Kent's career.

But when someone is tipping pitches to their opponents, blowout or not, that player is not just hurting his team, but he's also throwing his pitcher under the bus. How many times did Ryan Drese enter a 10-1 game in the ninth and see his ERA inflated because Player X was sitting on an 0-1 slider?

Second, (I know it's far-fetched to think about, but...) baseball is the only one of the four major sports (yes, I'm including hockey) which isn't timed. It's not like in the NBA, where if a team is down 25 with a minute to play, it's over. In baseball, if a team is down 10-1 in the ninth, there's still a slight, slight possibility that they could rally. It's slight, but it's possible.

The 10-1 thing is just an example, obviously, but teams score nine runs in an inning from time to time. Heck, if you get a guy on the hill who can be rattled by a few baserunners, who knows what could happen? The Cleveland Indians scored 14 in an inning about a week and a half ago. So to tip pitches to an opposing player, especially when you're doing it in a blowout, so they'll return the favor to you in a similar situation (which might be the most selfish act of all time - putting your teammates stats at risk for a chance to increase your own later on) is the lowest of low. Unlike Rose, Rodriguez wanted his team to win, but only if the game was close. If the game was thought to be in hand, A-Rod apparently couldn't care less what happened.

Finally, going forward, how do you trust him as a member of the Yankees? Sure, he's now the third baseman, so the chances of him tipping pitches when he can't see what's being called isn't great, but if he's willing to sacrifice the other 24 guys on the team for his own benefit, what else is he capable of? Would he be a guy to bet on an opposing team, then botch an easy double play ball and give away four plate appearances when New York has been eliminated from postseason contention in mid-September? Why not ... nothing matters at that point in the season anyway. And here's a hypothetical that may never happen, but is definitely a point to ponder regarding his character: Say the Yanks needed a win to get into the playoffs in the final regular season game of 2010. A-Rod comes to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. And say Rodriguez needs just one more home run to tie Bonds' record of 73. Is Rodriguez swinging for the fences instead of trying to put the ball in play to secure a win? Figuring there are two hitters behind him to pick up the slack if he fails, what are the chances A-Rod is taking three vicious hacks at history? Judging by his track record, it's somewhere between 175% and 550%.

So nobody should be comparing his PED use to him tipping pitches. Yeah, steroids are unethical and violate the sanctity of sports, but they don't compromise what professional sports are all about, which is to see which player (individual sports) or team ( sports) is the best. Taking steroids gives someone an advantage(fair or unfair), but playing 26 on 24 is a whole new ballgame.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hit, check. Throw, check. Catch...uh...

I'm not going to blame tonight's 9-8 loss strictly on Javier Lopez, though when you botch a play that an 8-year-old could make, you're somewhat to blame. But Boston had several chances to win tonight and failed, snapping their 11-game winning streak.

Brad Penny, who I dropped from my fantasy team during tonight's game, allowed the Cleveland Indians to score in the first, second and third innings immediately after the Sox scored in the first, second and third innings, before Terry Francona mercifully yanked him after giving up seven runs and getting just eight outs.

Mike Lowell threw a ball away, allowing a run to score and another runner to get to third, which led to a sacrifice fly and another run.

Julio Lugo screwed up a double play by attempting to transfer the throw from Dustin Pedroia too quickly, leaving Penny out longer than he should have been. The next batter, Ben Francisco bombed a 3-run shot to left to tie the game.

Takashi Saito, staked to a one-run lead in the seventh, took eight pitches to give that lead back up.

Nick Green, who should have been saved as a defensive replacement for Lopez instead of Lugo, struck out on three pitches with one out and runners on the corners in the ninth inning before Jacoby Ellsbury lined out to leave both runners stranded.

That led to Lopez, who PITCHED well, allowing a bloop single before getting an out via sacrifice bunt and strikeout. But with two outs, Asdrubal Cabrera bounced a ball to Kevin Youkilis' right. Youk did his job, fielding the ball. Lopez, however, dropped the simple flip from his first baseman and instead of going to extra innings, Cleveland prevailed.

Now, I'm not getting paid $1,350,000 and can't pitch as well as Lopez (even though I can probably throw as hard), but if the Sox need someone to teach the guys how to watch the ball into their glove, I think I'm qualified to give lessons.

I mean, I did play tee ball...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Glad I'm not a New Orleans Hornets fan!

It's not too often that Jason Bay hits another dramatic 9th-inning home run to help the Boston Red Sox win their 11th game in a row and it isn't what I want to talk about most, but what Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets did to the New Orleans Hornets tonight warrants top billing at Unforgivable.

In the first two games of their opening round series, Denver cruised, winning in the Mile High City by 29 and 15, respectively.

In Game 3, the Hornets responded, squeaking out a two-point win to cut the series gap to 2-1.

But in Game 4, the Nuggets could have spotted the Hornets 57 points and still won. No, I'm not kidding.

The Nuggets 121-63 statement win should count as two and this series should be over, because there is NO WAY New Orleans is coming back from that loss.

The jokes (albeit bad ones) are endless. The Hornets could have had Chris Paul cloned twice, played Denver 7-on-5 and not won tonight. The Nuggets could have been shut out in the second and third quarters and still won 69-63. New Orleans played like they were coached by Byron Scott. Like in hockey, every foul against the Nuggets should have resulted in a 2-minute score-at-will power play for the Hornets and it wouldn't have mattered. Our Hoopfest team could have thrown on Nuggets jerseys for the fourth and still won by double digits.

The embarrassing blowout tied the largest playoff win in NBA history, which happened in the pre-shot clock era. New Orleans had 25 turnovers and 17 field goals. If it weren't for the Hornets going 27-32 from the stripe, who knows if they would have made it to 50 points.

I hate the NBA. But I love novelty. What a spectacular beatdown. If only it would have happened to the Utah Jazz...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Just kidding

There was no actual commentary from the game at all. It was an inning by inning recap of the game. Oops.

Busting out the brooms?

For the series finale between the Sox and Yanks, Just South of North's Brandon Hansen, his friend Colin and myself are going to be throwing our two cents about the game on here as it progresses. Hopefully, a lot of cheers follow instead of a lot of curse words.

Boston's top three relievers are unavailable tonight, so hopefully Sox starter Justin Masterson can go deep into the game.

End Game, 4-1 Sox: Sox have now won 10 straight after SWEEPING the Yankees. Saito made it a bit interesting, giving up a 2-out single and falling behind Johnny Damon 2-0, but Saito rallied to induce the fly out and secure the 9-0 homestand.

End 8th: Hopefully the bottom of the 8th doesn't come back to bite Boston. They loaded the bases with nobody out, but Lowell, Varitek and Green all failed to knock in the runs and the score remains the same with Takashi Saito coming out for the save. 4-1 Sox after eight innings.

Middle 8th: Bowden has been awesome in his appearance tonight, getting Teixeira to fly out, Swisher to ground out and Cano, New York's hottest hitter, to strike out. Now, Boston's 4-5-6 hitters will come up looking to add a couple insurance runs before the 9th.

End 7th: I'd make this as short as the Sox's 7th, but it's already too late. Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz went down on about five pitches. Teixeira, Swisher and Cano coming up in the 8th. 4-1 Sox after seven innings.

Middle 7th: What started off ominously for Michael Bowden in his 2009 debut ended splendidly. Bowden fell behind 3-0 to Berroa before coming back to retire him. Brett Gardner suffered a similar fate, as Bowden fell behind 3-1, but induced a fly out. Finally, Bowden struck Jeter out on a fastball at the knees to keep the three-run lead intact. Top of the order coming up for the Red Sox.

End 6th: Quick inning for Boston, as Lowell and Varitek went down on two pitches apiece. Green laced a single to left, but was picked off by Pettitte, leaving Ellsbury at the plate. Might be for the best as far as Ellsbury making history. He needs to steal third to steal every base possible in the same game. Stay tuned. 4-1 Sox after six innings.

Middle 6th: Well I spent the last five minutes not breathing. After Masterson allowed a pair of baserunners, Francona brought in Hunter Jones for the second time in his career to face two Yankee hitters who represented the tying run. Hideki Matsui hit a laser off Jones, but right at Drew for the second out. Then Jones sat down a hot Melky Cabrera on three pitches to escape the jam. Bottom third of the order due up for Boston.

End 5th: Wow, what an inning. The Sox had one in on an RBI double by Ortiz and the bags loaded with two down for Drew. On the third pitch of the AB, Ellsbury took off and stole home, sending Fenway into pandemonium. A few pitches later, Drew drove a pitch down the right field line for a ground rule double and another RBI before Bay struck out looking to end the inning. 4-1 Sox after five innings.

Middle 5th: Masterson survives a scare from Teixeira who drives the ball to right with two outs and Jeter on first, but Drew made the catch on the warning track to keep the game tied at 1 halfway through (hopefully). Varitek, Green and Ellsbury due up for the Sawx in the home half of the fifth.

End 4th: Pettitte strikes out the side with a walk and stolen base to Bay in between. I don't know how Drew is hitting over .300 against Pettitte in his career, but he's seen six pitches and struck out twice, so... 1-1 after three innings.

Middle 4th: For the second straight inning, New York mounted a threat against Masterson, but with runners on the corners and two outs, Melky Cabrera grounded the first pitch of his at-bat to Pedroia to end the inning. Sox have the middle of the order coming up, which got some runners on against Pettitte in the second.

End 3rd: Sox return the favor, as Ellsbury gets on via fielder's choice, steals second, reaches third on Angel Berroa's second error of the inning and scores on a David Ortiz sac fly before Pedroia is picked off to end the inning. 1-1 after three innings.

Middle 3rd: Yanks took a lead after a clean single, a bad hop, a sacrifice bunt and a sac fly. After a Lowell error, Masterson escaped further trouble by getting the only automatic out not named Angel Berroa in the New York lineup, Mark Teixeira, to fly out on the first pitch. 1-0 Yanks after two and a half.

End 2nd: I thought Varitek made it 3-0 and just about jumped out of my seat. Instead, the ball failed to reach the monster and ended the inning, leaving Bay and Lowell on after they reached with 2-out singles. Pettitte is still getting hit pretty hard by the Sox who swing the bat (hint hint, J.D. Drew). 0-0 after two innings.

Middle 2nd: Another 1-2-3 inning for Masterson, including a strikeout, groundout and flyout. The way this is going, it could be the first Boston-New York game since 1947 which was finished in under three hours.

End 1st: A great start for Boston turns into nothing, as Pedroia follows up an Ellsbury single with a fly out and Ortiz lines into an inning-ending double play. Sox got much better swings off of Pettitte than the Yanks did off Masterson. O-O after an inning.

Middle 1st: Great first inning for Masterson with two ground balls and a strikeout of Mark Teixeira. Time for the Sox to come out swinging against Andy Pettitte in their half of the first.