Monday, October 29, 2018

World Champion Boston Red Sox!

Having posted twice on the World Series, might we well go for the trifecta. The Red Sox have won again, 4th since 2004, starting this century like they started the last one. This time, maybe they won't sell off Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and company to finance a broadway show. It does look like this won't be the last time they hoist the silverware with this lot. It's interesting how much turnover there was between the previous squads - Papi was there for all three, and a bunch of of the 07 team - which had a good young core, like this one - were still around in 2013 (and might have been still around this year, if Pedroia were healthy or the team had resigned Jon Lester like everyone thought they should)... Otherwise, the only 2013 players active in both world series' were Xander Bogearts and Joe Kelly - though he was on the other side then. Workman was around for most of the post-season of both, but not the world series. Jackie Bradley was around the 2013 team, though not in the post-season. But this team - Betts and Benny and Xander and Raffy are all young; Vazquez as well (and he reminded people in the series why he's going to be a premier catcher in the league), Bradley isn't old; JD Martinez can DH for a few years yet. The pitching is all about 30. They can ride that core for a while. They'll have to pay them sooner or later, but they are rich - they ought to find some better young talent to replace the older guys, but that's a problem for the future. This team has a couple more runs it in without major changes - though so do the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, maybe even the Cubs, never mind if the Indians decide to spend, or the Braves and Phillies and such can keep moving in the right direction. Anyway...

The last couple games were vintage 2018 Red Sox. Game 4 looked scary for a while - great pitching duel that blew up when Vazquez threw a double play ball away, and Puig lost one - but that's not the end of the story. The Sox looked drained by those 18 innings, but so were the Dodgers - and the Sox held all their bullpen guys to an inning each, while a lot of the Dodgers worked a couple. And so Baez and Urias, who'd been the best the Dodgers had had to that point, weren't around at the end of game 4, and it showed. Homers and then cue shot doubles and line drive singles and hustling to beat out a double play and squibs in the infield set up Steve Pearce to gap them, Bogie to get a big hit. The Sox meanwhile had Barnes and Kelly in the pen - and Kimbrel, who made a 5 run lead look all too inadequate - he might have hit his wall, since he'd been very good in the world series.

And game 5 was a perfect masterpiece: Pearce goes bridge in the first, and after Price started the game with a bad pitch, he didn't give them much else. Maybe next year, the Sox should use Price on 3 days rest all year, and let him close between starts - why not? He went 7+ and looked like he could have found a way to the end, and started game 6 as well. He dumped his reputation as a choke artist in the post season, but it's notable that he had always been effective out of the pen in the post-season - for Tampa, for Toronto, for Boston, last year. I always thought, why not accept it? move him to the pen outright, let him pitch 2 innings every day - he seems to thrive on it. Cora said something like that - he wants to be involved in every game - maybe he should be their closer. Though would be be better than Sale? who, in fact, did close it out, as dominatingly as you could ask. Struck out the side - Manny Machado (favored enemy of Sox fans everywhere), down on his knees waving helplessly at a slider. Yes.

And there it was. This post-season looked more tense than it was - it felt like the Dodgers, Astros, even the Yankees, were making the Sox work - but they ended up winning 3-1, 4-1, 4-1, dominating a bunch of those games, with even the nail biters being the work of uncertain relievers (Kimbrel), who still always got the last out. For all the appearance of angst, there was almost never any real drama. I suppose overcoming a 0-4 deficit in the last three innings of game 4 counts - but compared to the 04 or 07 championship comebacks, or the Big Papi grand slam against Detroit in 2013, it was just a nice comeback. That 18 inning game made this series epic - and game 4 was a good one too, though once the Sox started hitting they didn't stop, especially against the second rank of Dodgers relievers... but the 2013 series felt more competitive - you could imagine that team losing. This one - hard to picture, though it was easy to forget it. From day one - they had a nice lead over Tampa, and Joe Kelly gave it all away - then they didn't lose for a month. They could start to look ready to fade, and they'd run off 6 in a row. Mookie would go 0-14 or something, and you'd think - shit, he's choking! - And he'd hit a home run to break a game open. It was a thing to see.

And finally - how gratifying is it to see a game turn on a great starting pitcher? Price in game 5 - though this came after Hill in 4 (and E Rod until the defense and Cora messed up), Buehler, Price in game 2 - Eovaldi at the end of game 3... Granted we got the usual second guessing, including someone at the white house using Trump's account to weigh in on taking out Hill. Yes, the bullpen promptly failed - but if Roberts had left Hill in and he got tagged - what then? It's doubly ironic because Cora made exactly the opposite decision with E Rod in the 6th, with exactly the same results - 3 run bomb! Cora handled his pitchers brilliantly, I think; Roberts stayed closer to the script - though in a way they were both playing the rosters they had. The Dodgers had bullpen depth; the Sox had half a good bullpen, and a bunch of starts with rubber arms and the willingness to use them. The Sox guys did their jobs; the Dodgers did in a couple games, and didn't in the others. And the Sox starters kept them in every single game, better than LA's. So there you have it.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

World Series Madness

Ah, baseball. I stayed up last night to watch every minute of that stupid baseball game - it was - well, literally: the most epic world series game ever. Longest in time, longest in innings, most players - 18 innings, 7 plus hours, 46 of 50 players, 18 pitchers (plus Kershaw, pinch hitting - almost forgot that) - and bookended by two of the best pitching performances of the post-season - Buehler dominant to start; Eovaldi dominant out of the pen, his third straight game, going 6 plus, 97 pitches, and losing on a home run by Max Muncy who, shall we say, also had a game for the ages, in the form of a home run, a walk and a hustle extra base. The whole thing was a mind blower - but that 13th inning:

There are lots of extra inning games in baseball - the monsters, 16, 17, 18 innings don't come along often, but you get a couple every year, maybe one fo them really ridiculous. All that gets exaggerated in the post-season, where 10 or 11 innings can feel like you've been playing for a month - rather shocking to note that before this, 14 was the most innings anyone had played in the series (Sox and Dodgers, in their Robins guise, a complete game by the greatest baseball player of all time, completed in a bit over 2 hours.) This on was, in a lot of ways, just another long night where no one could hit and everyone swung for the fences on every pitch after the 12th or so - except for that 13th.

Sox up - Holt walks, goes to steal, the ball rattles around the batters box and the catcher upends Eduardo Nunez. Nunez writhes around - can he walk? it mattered, by then, because the Sox had emptied the bench - Vazquez was playing first; Pomeranz and Sale were all that remained on the bench. He shook it off - he took a swing - a dribbler toward the pitcher. He ran (so to speak) down the line and dove into first - ahead fo the throw, which went wide - Holt came in to score! 2-1 Sox - but Nunez was on the ground, more writhing... but he made it up - went to the dugout for celebration and managed to head butt poor Rick Porcello... Okay: back on the field. The sox got runners to second and third, two outs, Mookie up - walk, Xander up - failure! (A theme...) Bottom of the inning, Eovaldi (unhittable through the post season as a starter and reliever and for a couple innings already this night.) So: he walked Muncy to lead off the inning - rare, but just one baserunner, etc. Machado pops out. Then Bellinger up, did what most fo the hitters did in the second game they played last night - swung for the downs, late, popped it up, in this case on the third base side foul. Nunez was playing almost straight up the middle -0 ran all the way over, caught the ball and flipped into the stands, all Derek Jeter like.

And Muncy saw and scampered on to second.

What the sox did to score in the top of the inning felt like something out of an LA nightmare; but it wasn't just LA's nightmare. The baseball gods, or whatever malignant force rules these games, was not going to make it that easy. Puig hit a sharp grounder toward the middle, but easily gathered byu Ian Kinsler, multiple gold glove winner, who grabbed it went to turn, and the earth moved under his feet, he slipped - just a bit - and threw the ball past Vazquez, letting Muncy in to tie the game.

Games like this, with my team up 2-0, I can usually let go. it gets past midnight, past 1, and you say, all right, they're either going to lose it (which I was resigned to before JBJ went yard), or they win it, either way, there's a bunch more games to watch, and I can read about this one in the morning. And I was close, there in the 11th or 12th - but I hung around, mostly because of how good Eovaldi has been this year - and thought I was going to be rewarded. I was not. Instead - after that 13th, how can you not do them the service of watching them finish it? 5 more innings! or, really, 4 1/2 and a batter - but hell's bells. That inning changed it from being a tense, scary long post season nail biter into something surreal, something almost inconceivable. I didn't really know what I was watching after that, didn't know how it could end - because at that point, anything that happened was going to feel like Fate - but couldn't stop. Mind blowing.

So they do it again this evening. Drew Pomeranz might well get the start - pretty terrifying stuff. Maybe they push up Sale - maybe Eduardo Rodriguez gets a shot at Eovaldi/Price style heroism. Hell, maybe Price gets in there. Maybe they figure if the Babe can go 14, so can Eovaldi, and put him back out there for 7 more. I don't know. I have seen lots of second guessing of Cora for this game, much of it for the pitching - but he didn't really do anything strange with the pitching. He did what he has done all along - expect all his relievers to pitch every single day; NOT expect them to go more than an inning (other than Kimbrel, though only when he can save it) - which meant he was down to three pitchers by the 12th, including Eovaldi - who was, after all, supposed to start today. So he got in his start in the morning instead fo this evening. Even losing, Eovaldi's contribution was immense - he gave them every chance to win; he saved those last two pitchers for this evening. And the fact is - everyone else is still going to be around tonight. Eovaldi and Porcello are probably the only guys off limits tonight. In the end, both teams used up their pens - the Sox pen might be fresher, after all of that, thanks to Eovaldi. I have no problem with Cora's use of his pitchers, and Eovaldi - that's a guy making himself very very rich, this October, assuming he still has an arm attached when it's over.

I'm not so thrilled with Cora's lineup handling. He managed to maneuver himself into a spring training split squad lineup at the end, no one on the bench, two non-hitting catchers (who both got on base a couple times, so - that might not be the problem) in the lineup, Eduardo Nunez taking more abuse than a football player - tipped over int he batting box, diving into first, tumbling into the stands, tripping over the pitching mound - though through it all - getting the outs, getting the hit, just, somehow keeping the game going, and getting up and doing it again... Cora managed to leave Benentendi out of most of the game, then lose both him and JD Martinez, and both hitting first basemen, and - a lot of it, without really getting anything out of the change. Sure, the specifics matter, but as a manager, if you have the weapons he has, you have to have a decent team on the field in the end. You have to find a way to keep Benny or Martinez in that game - you have to. For all the talk about Mookie at second, they didn't do that - they put Vazquez at first, and Holt in left. That is not how you do it. Robert beat him up and down the field at this part of the game - the Dodgers had Turner, Machado, Muncy, Bellinger and Puig in there at the end - that's a lot of pop left in the lineup, and sooner or later one of them is going to connect.

It was a strange one. Down to this: the reason the Red Sox lost, in the end, is that none of those offensive powerhouses did a goddamned thing. Betts and Bogaerts did nothing. JD did nothing, Moreland did nothing, the pinch hitters did nothing. It was more telling because Leon, and Vazquez and Nunez and JBJ were on base - generated all the offense and gave them more chances besides. Strange game.

And tonight? the Sox may not have a starter, but the pen is relatively fresh; they got nothing out of their stars, but - how often do those guys disappear for two games in a row? It took 18 innings, the best start of the post-season, a magisterial bullpen performance, a couple fantastic defensive plays, their own best players taking the night off, a gold glover slipping on a relatively easy grounder, their OWN best defensive play of the night advancing the tying run to scoring position, to lose last night - so - I can take comfort. Sox is 6 still looks like a good bet.

Monday, October 22, 2018

World Series

A month and a half after my last post - does anyone know I am still alive? it doesn't matter.

The Red Sox are in the World Series! Could I say this was inevitable? Obviously not - but I am not going to pretend I am surprised. I predicted winning the east, and got it right: the Yankees got a lot better this year - the Red Sox, already a better team, got even more better. (There's some grammatical ugliness for you, but quite possibly correct. It reminds me that among Mookie Bette' accomplishments this year, he managed, during an interview in a raucous clubhouse after winning the ALCS, to to use a double negative correctly: "look at our regular season - we are not here for no reason" - more or less. Baseball, bowling, rubik's cubes, grammar - what can't he do?) I thought the Astros would get past them in the series, but only on paper - that's how it worked. The Indians didn't show up in the post season, the other three teams really did, even if the Sox smoked the Yankees a couple times. A hit here, a passed ball there, a couple fewer highlight real catches, and we could have last year's world series again. Or even a repeat of the late 70s! So - that was close. BUt the team that found a way to 108 wins in the regular season, found a way past the teams that could only muster 100 and 103.

And so it's Sox Dodgers, which apparently happened in 1916, back when the LA Dodgers were the Brooklyn Robins. The Red Sox won that one - odds are pretty good they'll win this one. They have questions - is Sale healthy? will Price revert to post-season form, or continue whatever changed last time out? Will Porcello be dominant or throw a home run derby? Eovaldi, of all people, is the only starter who seems completely trustworthy. But at the same time - all four of them could be brilliant. Healthy Sale is dominant; Price - whatever he did last time worked - Porcello can get people out, and gives them an extra bat in the NL park - so....

They are a fun team to watch. They catch the ball, better than any Red Sox team I remember. They have superstars and regular stars, and the whole lineup can rise up at any given moment and hurt you. They grind out everything, they run, they slap hit, slug, hit doubles - it's a good team.

The Dodgers? Well - led the NL in runs scored and ERA - I guess they are doing something right. They underperformed during the year, but got there (in 163 games) and outlasted the Brewers in the playoffs. They have a ton of power, they have premier starters, they have a decent bullpen - they will be dangerous. It should be a tense series - though the Red Sox have been able to put teams down like rabid dogs more than once this year.

Which adds up to what? Sox in 6? and some late nights over the next couple weeks for poor east coast me.