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August 27, 2007
Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Showdown feels more like An Afterthought
BY SEAN McADAM
Journal Sports Writer
NEW YORK – A week ago, it seemed like The Showdown. Today, it feels more like An Afterthought.
The Red Sox begin a three-game series with the Yankees Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, but the meeting has lost much of its urgency. When the Red Sox began this 10-game road trip, their once roomy advantage in the American League East had been cut to a rather snug four-game lead.
But while the Sox steamrolled the Devil Rays and White Sox, winning six of seven, the Yankees stumbled in Anaheim and Detroit, losing four of their first six prior to last night's series finale against the Tigers, putting some distance between the two.
The Sox will carry a comfortable seven- or eight-game edge into Tuesday night, meaning the Yankees’ best chance lies with a sweep. Even that scenario would leave the Sox with a four- or five-game cushion and just over four weeks remaining in the regular season.
A Red Sox sweep, however unlikely, would put an end to any hope the Yankees have of winning their 10th consecutive division title and cement the Sox’ first division championship since 1995.
Since executing a neat turnaround to their season at the end of May, the Yankees have, by virtue of their explosive offense, inched closer to the Sox, who have sat in first place since the third week of April.
When the Yankees emerged from the All-Star break as if fueled by jet propulsion and feasted on some of the American League’s weakest links, comparisons to 1978 were not inevitable, but perhaps appropriate.
But invariably, the Yankees cooled and a more challenging patch of their schedule coincided with a more favorable stretch of sub-.500 opponents for the Red Sox. In winning 24-of-36 since July 20, the Red Sox have played at a .667 pace – less spectacular than the Yankees’ more torrid streak, to be sure, but impressive nonetheless.
And because the Red Sox held the lead to begin with, they had more of a margin with which to proceed. The onus fell to the Yankees to continue playing .800 ball, a pace no team could sustain. When the Yankees fell some, the Red Sox responded by pulling away enough to turn this week into the Yankees’ last, best hope.
''I don’t think the Red Sox have gotten enough credit for being (in first) as long as they have,'' said one baseball executive. ''People kept waiting for the Yankees to get hot and catch them. Well, they got very hot. But the Red Sox never gave up the lead. That’s impressive. It’s not easy to be in first place for five straight months.''
Some cited 1978 as the historical precedent, but that was never entirely appropriate. For one thing, this edition of the Yankees lacked a dominant starter like Ron Guidry, who won 25 of 28 decisions in ’78 and whose presence on the mound virtually guaranteed a victory that summer.
For another, the team’s aging rotation led to an overworked bullpen, necessitating a late-summer makeover by GM Brian Cashman. Gone are Mike Myers and Scott Proctor; here are Joba Chamberlain and Edwar Ramirez. Both have sparkled, but may have arrived too late to help facilitate a change in the standings.
Others saw the 2006 season as the blueprint, when the Yankees overwhelmed an injury-plagued Red Sox club with a five-game sweep at Fenway and pulled away like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973. But unlike last season, the Red Sox have been the beneficiaries of extraordinarily good health this year. No starting position player – unless one counts backup catcher Doug Mirabelli – has spent time on the disabled list.
Even the seven-week absence of Curt Schilling didn’t crush the Sox; the team went 22-18 while he recovered from a weakened right shoulder.
Once this series is finished, the Red Sox will have just 10 games remaining on the road; the Yankees, by contrast, will have 15, including three in Boston in the middle of next month.
By then, postseason positioning should be that much clearer. Unless the Yankees can replicate their play from late July and the Red Sox correspondingly hurdle downhill at breakneck speed, the Yanks’ long division reign will be at an end and they – and not the Red Sox, as has been custom – will spend the final weeks extolling the virtues of the wild-card slot.
Posted by Art Martone at 4:55 PM | Permalink
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Projo SoxTalk with McAdam: Four blowouts in Chicago; a bad decision in Detroit
Sean McAdam joins us today for our latest edition of projo SoxTalk. Click here to listen to the full audio file. The topics today: the Red Sox' weeklong offensive explosion; the return of David Ortiz's home-run power; the continued success of the pitching; the stunning decline of the White Sox; Manny Ramirez's health; and Friday night's late, late game in Detroit.
Here are some excerpts from Sean's comments:
The Red Sox lineup, hot from top to bottom at last: "It took a hundred and twenty something games or so, and it's difficult to perhaps isolate what they were able to accomplish from who they were facing -- they were up against arguably the two worst teams in the American League right now -- but I think that they strung together enough good at-bats, got some terrific performances from Mike Lowell and David Ortiz in particular in the last week, and who knows. This may be them finally kicking it into high offensive gear, it may have been an aberration, but in any event it was a stretch that saw them go 6-1 and add to the lead over the Yankees rather than have it shrink."
On Ramirez's being held out of Sunday's game: "I think there was some soreness [in his back], and it was also the attraction of giving him consecutive days off prior to a big series here. He had sat out Wednesday, and this is a rare stretch where he missed two games in five."
On the Detroit game Friday night: "I saw that Major League Baseball was not happy that the White Sox and the umpires on hand didn't wait longer on Thursday night, when the first Red Sox game of the series was rained out after a 2 1/2-hour rain delay, in a city that experienced significant damage because of the storms. There were hundreds of thousands of people without power overnight, there were thunder and lightning strikes well into the night. When I got back downtown into my hotel, there was lightning as late as midnight or 1 o'clock. There's no way that game could have or should have been played, and to think that they waited until 11 o'clock in Detroit the next night as part of a reaction to that is stunning. I do not understand the thinking there."
Posted by Mike McDermott at 11:17 AM to McAdam
Baseball Today: Monday, August 27
SMILES ALL AROUND: And why not? Coco Crisp, Dustin Pedroia and Bobby Kielty -- left to right in the above AP Photo -- weren't the only happy members of Red Sox Nation yesterday after an 11-1 pasting of the White Sox, recounted here by Sean McAdam, that increased their A.L. East lead over the Yankees to 7 1/2 games. McAdam reports that the weekend in Chicago was one for the books, as the four consecutive blowouts, by the combined score of 46-7, accomplished various feats that hadn't been accomplished since 1920, 1922, 1946 and 1950, among other years. The Boston Herald's Tony Massarotti beat the field in becoming the first member of the local media to declare the division race over. The White Sox' Ozzie Guillen agrees, calling Boston ''the best team in the American League . . . I think Boston is the team to beat this year.'' (Chicago Sun-Times)
AGREED: Well, maybe not with the Boston-is-the-best-team-in-the-A.L. sentiment -- he may, but he hasn't written it -- but the Journal-News' Peter Abraham also thinks the division race is probably over.
PASSION PLAY: Our own Kevin McNamara's first-hand look at the devotion of Red Sox Nation reminds him of the deep, unconditional love many college football teams enjoy from their fans in other parts of the country.
TRY SELLING THIS ONE TO RED SOX NATION: The blog MVN isn't convinced Jonathan Papelbon is the best reliever on the Red Sox, let alone in the American League.
SO THAT EXPLAINS IT: SI.com's Jon Heyman has been watching Curt Schilling for years, and -- in light of his Tampa Bay comments last week -- has concluded: ''He's nuts. OK, maybe he's not insane in any clinical way. But insane nonetheless. Insane in his own way.'' Why? Because, according to Heyman, Schilling has no need to say anything about where he wants to play next year; he'll probably be the best available pitcher on the free-agent market this winter, and all he can do by saying things like he'd like to play for the Devil Rays or he'd never go the Yankees is lower his market value. In a related note, the blog phillyBurbs.com -- while admitting it would be intriguing -- doesn't think there's anything to the whispers that Schilling would return to Philadelphia to close out his career.
WHY I LOVE THE SONS: A new thread on the Sons of Sam Horn bulletin board is examining the impact the new, spaced-out postseason schedule will have on postseason roster construction. I suppose there's a level of fandom that has no use for this kind of stuff, but if you're in the level that does . . . it's fascinating.
DOWN MEMORY LANE: SOSH also found a link to a North Shore Sun story on Chuck Schilling, who played second base for the Red Sox from 1961-65 and was the closest friend Carl Yastrzemski ever had among all the teammates he played with. Now 69, Schilling's been playing softball ever since retiring from the major leagues in 1966, though he's thinking of hanging them up after this season.
EXPOSED: It wasn't long ago -- just a week, to be exact -- that the Yankees were four games back and charging, and this week's Boston-New York series at Yankee Stadium looked like it would have serious A.L. East implications. But the New York Post's George King, in reporting on the Yanks' 5-4 loss in Detroit yesterday, says a week of playing elite teams (the Angels and Tigers) has proven the Yankees ''don’t have enough starting pitching to be a serious threat to the Red Sox in the AL East or catch the Mariners in the wild-card chase.'' One of the problems, writes his Post colleague, Joel Sherman, is that the Yankee rotation has both the oldest (Roger Clemens) and youngest (Phil Hughes) starters in the American League.
REPEAT AFTER ME: HE'S A ROOKIE. HE'S A ROOKIE. HE'S A . . . The Daily News' John Harper says Hughes has great potential, no doubt, but he ''hasn't quite been the phenom this team needs.'' The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog does some research that shows the Yanks -- and their fans -- shouldn't expect too much from Hughes this season.
THE ART OF HANDLING YOUNG PITCHERS: In Sunday's Post, Sherman had a fascinating column on why the Yankees have to be so careful with their youngsters -- Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy -- especially since Joe Torre's history has been to use ''favored relievers until their arms resemble overripe bananas.'' (Incidentally, in his subscribers-only ESPN blog, Buster Olney makes the comment that ''some relievers who pitched for him will tell you privately that they were concerned that [Torre] would do -- or did do -- damage to their careers'' with his pattern of riding relief pitchers so hard that they eventually broke down; while not disclosing who said it, Olney specifically mentions how Torre overused Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, Tanyon Sturtze, Ron Villone and Scott Proctor.) Sherman looks at the case of Joe Girardi and the Marlins, noting that all of Florida's impressive young pitching from 2006 has been either injured or less effective this season and notes it may have been one of the reasons Girardi was fired. Almost on cue, the Yanks announced that pitcher Andrew Brackman, their top pick in the June draft, will undergo Tommy John surgery. (New York Post) And it they needed further proof, Tiger rookie Jair Jurrjens had to leave yesterday's game against the Yanks in the second inning because of shoulder pain and was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of rotator-cuff inflammation.
LAST CHANCE? The Yankees need to win tonight in Detroit to avoid opening the series against the Red Sox with an eight-game deficit. Their starter? The struggling Mike Mussina, who may well be pitching to protect his spot in the rotation. (New York Post)
THE REAL SHOWDOWN: While the Red Sox-Yankees series mave have lost a little of its luster, there's no denying that this week's Angels-Mariners matchup -- which will impact both the A.L. West and wild-card standings -- still has plenty of juice. It starts tonight in Seattle. (Los Angeles Daily News)
IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED HERE: Starting Friday night's Yankees-Tigers game at 11 p.m. EDT certainly seemed ridiculous, but the New York Post reports the umpires were under strict orders from MLB to get the game in at all possible. MLB is trying desperately to avoid doubleheaders or makeups down the stretch, and, in fact, was very upset Thursday night's Red Sox-White Sox game was postponed. ''We got a notice from baseball after the game in Chicago was rained out that we were to make every effort to get every game in,'' said the umpiring crew chief, Rick Reed.
BACK IN FORM: Johnny Damon may still want out of New York at season's end, but as for now he's playing like the Johnny Damon of old. (New York Post)
BOOM TOWN: David Wells made a strong debut with the Dodgers, pitching them to a win over the Mets. (Los Angeles Daily News) The Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliott says the Dodgers were impressed with Boomer.
NUMBERS GAME: The Reds retired Dave Concepcion's No. 13 before Saturday night's game. (Cincinnati Enquirer) The Astros did the same thing Sunday with Jeff Bagwell's No. 5. (Houston Chronicle)
CAN YOU SPELL M-E-L-T-D-O-W-N? When Phillies closer Brett Myers called Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sam Carchidi ''retarded'' -- after Carchidi reacted skeptically when Myers said the two home runs he allowed in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Padres were both ''pop-ups'' when they left the bat -- Carchidi asked Myers if he knew how to spell ''retarded''. The result was a shouting match that nearly escalated into blows, with the pitcher and the reporter having to be physically separated. Carchidi didn't mention it in his game story, but Matthew Cerone's Metsblog has the details.
YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN: The Indians say they have no interest in bringing back Bob Wickman, who was designated for assignment by the Braves. (Cleveland Plain-Dealer) One of the reasons might be the way he alienated people in Atlanta with his behavior. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
COMING AROUND: One start after getting battered by the Red Sox, Scott Kazmir turned in a 13-strikeout performance for the Devil Rays. (St. Petersburg Times)
LITTLE ANGER: Grady Little is upset with the Dodgers' offensive approach, and says they need to have more intelligent at-bats. (Los Angeles Daily News)
TURNAROUND? Writing for the Kansas City Star, Joe Posnanski thinks the Royals might be on the verge of a giant improvement.
HERE WE GO AGAIN: 88-year-old Andy Rooney has apologized for a column he wrote for Tribune Media Services in which he expressed sentiments that some interpreted as racist against Latins in baseball and have created something of a firestorm. (New York Times)
TRADE TALK: To be eligible for the postseason, players must be on a team's roster by Aug. 31 . . . which means this could be a busy week for waiver deals. Among the rumors: The Tigers, hampered by the loss of Gary Sheffield, are looking for a bat (Detroit Free Press) . . . Sheffield, incidentally, has no idea when he'll be returning (Detroit News) . . . It looks as if the long-rumored Jack Wilson-to-Detroit deal is dead (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) . . . Even though the Phillies are still in the hunt in the N.L., they're sellers, and not buyers, as the deadline approaches (Delaware County Times) . . . So are the Giants, whose playoff hopes died long ago (San Francisco Chronicle) . . . Scouts have been following the A's, apparently interested in Mike Piazza and Esteban Loaiza (San Francisco Chronicle)
QUICKLY: It doesn't look as if Torii Hunter will be returning to Minnesota (Minneapolis Star-Tribune), and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com thinks Hunter will get an $18 million-a-year deal on the open market . . . Nor Luis Gonzalez to the Dodgers, though, unlike Hunter, this will be the team's, and not the player's, choice (Los Angeles Daily News) . . . Mark Prior thinks he'll be ready to pitch again by Opening Day and would like to do so in a Cubs uniform (Chicago Sun-Times) . . . Freddy Garcia's rehab is going so slowly that the Phillies aren't counting on him for any down-the-stretch help (Philadelphia Inquirer) . . . The Dodgers cut loose Brett Tomko (Los Angeles Daily News) . . . Carlos Pena wants to stay in Tampa, but he may be too expensive for the Rays (St. Petersburg Times) . . . Alfonso Soriano will return to the Cubs' lineup tomorrow (Chicago Sun-Times) . . . The Mets' Billy Wagner says he's fine after complaining of a dead arm (New York Daily News) . . . Aaron Boone, now with the Marlins, will undergo knee surgery and miss the rest of the season (South Florida Sun-Sentinel). That knee, of course, is the one he injured after the 2003 season, setting in motion the wheels that landed Alex Rodriguez in New York.
AND FINALLY . . . Happy anniversary, Joy of Sox!
-- ART MARTONE
Posted by Art Martone at 6:39 AM | Permalink