NEWSMAKERS TO THE END: They were playing games before anyone else had started (in Tokyo last March) and they were playing games after everyone else had finished (last night in the makeup game of Saturday's rainout). There was no easing into, or coasting out of, the 2008 season for these Red Sox.
So it couldn't have been any surprise that the first bombshell of the postseason was dropped -- where else? -- in Boston.
Josh Beckett (above) is out, at least for the first two games of the ALDS, because of a strained oblique muscle suffered during a bullpen session on Friday. (projo.com) The Sox sat on the news for more than 48 hours, but when the Boston Herald reported on its blog sometime around 8:30 last night that Beckett could be out 'for the postseason,' the Sox quickly scrambled to spread the word. Terry Francona made the announcement in his postgame press conference.
Steve Buckley, who broke the story, voiced the fears of Red Sox Nation with the following passage:
Even in announcing Beckett as his Game 3 starter, Francona, who is as good a communicator as there is in the managing/coaching ranks, had a hard time getting out the words. Asked if he is confident Beckett will be able to make the start, the manager said, "Umm . . . yeah . . . I'm . . . Yeah . . . I don't think we would slot him in, I mean, now certainly if he goes the wrong way, we're going to use pretty good, hopefully very good, judgment. But I think that we're slotting him in there because we think he can pitch there."
Translation: Get ready for Tim Wakefield to start Game 3.
Beckett, as to be expected, was nowhere to be found after Francona spoke (though he did text WEEI.com's Rob Bradford with the news that the injury was "a freak deal" and that he felt better Sunday than he had Friday and Saturday). The Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin got some generic, "We'll-get-through-this" quotes from Jason Bay, and colleague Adam Kilgore posted a partial transcript of Francona's remarks. But as near as I can tell, there's been very little reporting/commentary on this at the moment. (You can hear what the intelligent fan is saying over at SOSH.) Because let's face it: If there was ever a time when as few people as possible were paying attention, last night -- meaningless makeup game populated by minor-leaguers, playoffs about to begin, a trip to the West Coast and a slew of late-night games (more on that in a second) on tap -- was it.
We'll know more today; the Red Sox will have media access starting at 3 p.m. prior to Rally Monday, and the Beckett issue should be front and center. (If you'd like to attend Rally Monday, by the way, Carolyn Thornton tells you how.) Check back here for the news as it develops.
IT IS WHAT IT IS: The Boston Herald's Rich Thompson talked to him before the news broke, but Jon Lester doesn't seem to mind when he pitches. If it's Game One, so be it.
'GET THE COFFEE AND NO DOZE READY': That's Kevin McNamara's advice upon release of LDS game times for the first week of the playoffs. The Red Sox will be playing at 10 p.m. Wednesday night and 9:30 p.m. on Friday night.
STEPPING FORWARD: Terry Francona said he was "encouraged" by J.D. Drew playing seven innings in the day game yesterday; now, he adds, the next step is to see how he recovers from the activity. (projo.com)
READY, WILLING AND ABLE: If he can't go, Mark Kotsay will assume a pretty important postseason role for the Sox. (Boston Herald)
I FEEL STRONGLY BOTH WAYS: Jim Donaldson thinks the Red Sox could sweep the Angels in the upcoming ALDS. He also thinks the Angels could sweep the Red Sox.
FOR THE RECORD . . . There were games this weekend, yes. Joe McDonald has the story of the Sox' being officially eliminated from the A.L. East race in a 19-8 loss Friday night, and Thornton reports on yesterday's doubleheader split. She also tells us that Jonathan Papelbon wasn't at all happy with his Game One performance.
ONE MAN'S FLOOR IS ANOTHER MAN'S CEILING: But the games weren't meaningless to everyone. McDonald has a nice story on Gil Velazquez and George Kotteras making their major-league debuts and getting their first big-league hits. Velazquez' tale, with his family in the stands and the memory of his late father in his mind, was particularly touching.
TIME IN A BOTTLE: McDonald also has the stories of PawSox manager Ron Johnson and Portland manager Arnie Beyeler, who've been in uniform with the Sox this month and are enjoying their moments in the sun.
JOHNNY BE GOOD: But the best news to emerge from the weekend, without a doubt, was the retiring of Johnny Pesky's Number 6 in ceremonies prior to yesterday's first game. (It was pushed back from Friday because of the weather, and even yesterday it was raining during the festivities.) He's the sixth ex-Red Sox player to have his number raised to the roof and he continually says he doesn't deserve the honor, and I suppose if you just look at the stats you have to say he's right. But over the course of the last 60-plus years, has anyone been more loyal to the Red Sox? Has anyone served as faithfully, and as well, in as many different roles? Has anyone been a better good-will ambassador for the franchise, and for the game of baseball itself? These are the things we should remember and pass along, and no one embodies them more than Johnny Pesky. No one appreciates them more, either, judging by the number of times he broke down during the festivities yesterday.
Note to Jim Rice: You've had plenty of good things to say about Johnny over the years, both privately and publicly, and your blog would be a wonderful forum to say even more.
DIFFERENT, BUT NOT NECESSARILY WORSE: That's Indians manager Eric Wedge's take on the Red Sox heading into the postseason -- offered before he knew of Beckett's injury, obviously -- as reported by the Boston Globe's Tony Massarotti.
IF I HAD ONE WISH . . . For Charlie Pierce, it would be that Curt Schilling "and his opinions . . . absent themselves to the Fox News Channel or to the moons of Neptune until the elections are over and the Red Sox are finished with this baseball playoff business. If he doesn't, it's going to be a long couple of months." (boston.com)
MILESTONE REACHED: The big news coming from the Yankee side of the field yesterday was Mike Mussina reaching the 20-win circle (New York Daily News) for the first time in his 18th -- and perhaps last -- big-league season. Peter Abraham, for one, thinks Mussina will now hitch up and ride off into the sunset (LoHud Yankees Blog), having reached every goal there is for a pitcher to reach . . . except one.
AND A BIG ONE IT IS: That goal, of course, is a World Series championship, something the Yankees stopped winning as soon as Mussina came on board in 2001 (as Red Sox fans reminded Jason Giambi -- a member of the free-agent class of 2002 -- with signs displaying the last year the Yanks won the Series.) Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News and Kevin Kernan of the New York Post begin looking at what the Yanks have to do to get back on top. Most of it revolves around signing CC Sabathia.
AND BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T DISCUSSED THIS TOPIC IN ABOUT 15 MINUTES . . . the Daily News revives the Joba Chamberlain, starter-or-reliever? debate.
HEY, GET YOUR OWN SONG: 1,200 fans greeted the Rays as they returned home last night and the Tampa Tribune reported they celebrated the A.L. East title by singing Sweet Caroline.
IT ALL GOES RIGHT THROUGH THE TROP: The St. Petersburg Times' John Romano -- saying it's now "permissible to dream the impossible" -- says home-field advantage means everything in the postseason, which is why winning the A.L. East was so important.
A.L. RACES: Still on. The White Sox beat the Indians (Chicago Sun-Times) and remain a half-game behind the Twins, who beat the Royals. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) So now Chicago has its makeup game with Detroit this afternoon, which it must win to force a one-game playoff with Minnesota tomorrow for the A.L. Central title. The Twins will gather at the Metrodome to root for the Tigers (mlb.com) and, they hope, have a champagne celebration afterwards. If not, they'll get on a plane to Chicago for Tuesday's game.
The Mets, wrote the Post's Bart Hubbach, repeated "their September 2007 meltdown virtually note for note, right down to the same scrappy opponent in the same last game." It wasn't quite that bad -- New York's N.L. East lead never reached 7 1/2 games, as it did in 2007 -- but the Mets did become the first team in history to blow division leads of 3 1/2 games or bigger in consecutive Septembers. The division title was gone by the time they took the field yesterday, but they still had a shot at the wild card. Then that, too, went by the boards after a 4-2 loss to Florida that, according to the Post's Joel Sherman, "betrayed their identity again: They could not get a big hit and they could not register enough meaningful outs from the bullpen. It was a losing combination for losers." (The Marlins, incidentally, thoroughly enjoyed their reprise role as skunks at the garden party, according to the Palm Beach Post. I'd encourage them all to read Sparky Anderson's views of 'spoilers'.) It made a winner out of the Brewers, who beat the Cubs (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) and thus qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
EASING THE PAIN: A half-hour after the final out, the Mets held their closing-down-Shea-Stadium ceremonies -- yesterday was the final game at the old ball orchard in Flushing -- and the New York Times' Joshua Robinson writes it was "was a moving scene and, in that moment, 2008 did not really seem to matter."
SAFE AT HOME: Even though they didn't win, the Mets will probably retain Jerry Manuel as manager. (si.com)
THANKS FOR YOUR HELP: General manager Doug Melvin sent an e-mail to Ned Yost, whom he fired as manager two weeks ago, to express his appreciation for all Yost did in helping the Brewers make the playoffs. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) Milwaukee's making the playoffs, says Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal, proves the Brewers did the right thing in getting rid of Yost.
HERE AND THERE: Randy Johnson won his 295th career game as the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies (Arizona Republic) . . . The end of disappointing seasons meant changes in the coaching staffs in Detroit (Detroit News) and Washington (Washington Post) . . . The Cardinals are about to sign Kyle Lohse to a four-year extension (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) . . . Chipper Jones says he wants to finish his career with the Braves. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
OLD FRIENDS: Pedro Martinez wants to pitch in 2009, but it probably won't be with the Mets. (New York Post)
-- ART MARTONE