Friday, October 24, 2008

Playoff Diaries Volume IV: The Epilogue

1st inning – Well they gave that one away didn’t they? After watching seven games of Rays-Sox playoff baseball I think it was pretty clear that the Rays were the better team this time around. The most telling stat of all came in game seven…8 men left on base, 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position…ouch.

That was the key difference in the final game of the ALCS. While the Sox got on the board early they got their lone run from the little pony’s homer and the Rays cashed in with clutch hits from the surprisingly awake Rocco Baldelli and who else but Evan Longoria and added an insult to injury late homer by Willy Mo Aybar.

Even though I’ll admit that the Rays were the better team this year I can’t help feeling like the Sox let this one get away. They were limping along but they had managed to climb back into the series, which is really a credit to the players and manager but in the end the just didn’t have it this year.

The ending kind of reminded me of what it was like in 2005 when the Sox lost to the White Sox in the ALDS. It was kind of like ‘oh well, sucks that they lost but how much can we really complain?’

Whatever your feeling is you have to admit that the Red Sox glaring weakness during the series, fittingly proved to be their undoing. By that I mean the weakness at the end of the lineup and a catatonic Big Papi. The team certainly got a couple of key contributions from Varitek (the bomb in game six), Kotsay (some great D at first) and Cora (veteran savvy & getting himself on base when he needed to) but they seemed to keep coming up in clutch situations and weren’t able to get it done.

I know we all love Tek. He’s given us so much over the years but after he hit the homer in game 6 you had to think that was about all the offense he was going to give you. He just had nothing at the plate.

With Kotsay I kept feeling like he was do for a ball to land somewhere other than in
an opposing players glove but it never happened. He just missed that ball with the bases loaded and in every other situation he drove the ball right at someone. In fact according to baseball-reference he shattered Brian Daubach’s record for THTBRAS or Times Hitting The Ball Right At Someone. Amazingly Kotsay broke Daubers single season record in just 11 games.

As for Cora, I think you expect him to come up with something to help you out. He did, sort of, when he reached on an error in the top of the eighth but beyond that he wasn’t going to give you much at the plate. He played good defense in the field but with even if he managed to get on base the lack of production from Big Papi left him stranded.

After a season of lowly numbers we’ve come to expect little production from the bottom of the lineup but the heart breaker was watching Big Papi miss pitches that normally become souvenirs. A year ago with two on, one out and Papi representing the go ahead run at the plate you know the Red Sox are taking the lead (or at least tying the game) bringing in Papelbon for a two inning save and going to the World Series but that wrist injury just took all the life out of Big Papi.

It might not have been meant to be in 2008 but it still feels like they gave that one away. Hey at least we didn’t have to deal with instant replay because of those stupid catwalks.

2nd inning – The Rays bats were ridiculous…I don’t think I’ve ever seen an offense stay that hot against a good team for that long. Beckett was able to keep them in check and Lester pitched a great game seven they just were not going to be stopped. I don’t think I’ve ever been as afraid of a hitter as I was of Evan Longoria…maybe Jason Giambi when playing at Yankee Stadium with the short porch but Longoria was playing wiffleball with a mongo bat for seven games.

Game seven came down to one of the things I’ve mentioned a ton of times and that’s timely hitting. In the clutch the Rays were trying to hit beach balls while the Sox were seeing nothing but peas. Take a look at the Rays three runs in game seven and how they were scored.

Bottom of the fourth down 1-0 – Lester gives up a single to Iwamura, K’s Upton then erases Iwamura at second with a fielder’s choice from Carlos Pena. Now there are two outs with Pena at first and Longoria at the plate – things are looking good for the Sox, the way Lester is going you have to feel pretty good plus a double doesn’t guarantee them a run…oh no…Longoria hits a two out double and Pena hustles home beating out a good relay throw from Pedroia. All tied up at 1-1.

Bottom of the fifth tied at 1-1 after Matt Garza mowed down the big three Kotsay, Varitek and Cora – Lester gives up a lead off double to Aybar and a bleeder to Navarro (Key for the Rays here is that they didn’t make a base running error – Youk caught like 4 guys napping on the bases in the postseason) then Baldelli hits another weak single through the infield and Aybar scores to make it 2-1. Things could have been a lot worse but Lester settled down and got the next three guys to get out of the inning.

The third run was obviously just the broken-bench-at-the-end-of-Tommy-Boy ‘I could have done without that’ homer by Willy Mo Aybar. The worst part about it wasn’t that it gave the Rays an insurmountable two run lead but the fact that we had to listen to that stupid Rays home run song. Congrats on winning and everything and the Rayhawks and vajayhawks and what not but seriously that song is laaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmeeeeee.

Really…Feel the Heat? That is weak…it might be worse than the San Diego Super Chargers song.

If you really must know it’s called ‘feel the heat’ by Living Under Venus. I will now smash my head into the wall repeatedly.

3rd inning – At least the Sox pitching came together at the end. Whoever you are a fan of it was a great game to watch. Both pitchers where phenomenal and Matt Garza officially stole the moniker ‘Big Game’ away from James Shields with his two lights out performances.

Seriously when you lose the two games you start in the ALCS you lose the Big Game moniker…I was willing to let it slide in game one because he settled down and only gave up a couple of runs but after losing a game that could have sent your team to its first World Series ever at home against a team that was done three days before you’re not big game anymore. Big Game Matt Garza, that’s something I feel comfortable with.

It was good to see Beckett get it together in game 6 and like I said you can’t blame Lester for the game seven loss. When you strand 8 runners on base and go 0-for-6 with RISP that’s not on the pitcher that’s on the hitters.

The Sox bullpen didn’t have nearly the depth of the Rays’ but they got some clutch innings out of Okie, Masterson and Papelbon in the final three games of the series. In the past when the Red Sox have been all but finished they’ve had their pitching and hitting come together in unison to stage their rallies.

Unfortunately this year they couldn’t get in sync save for a few innings, which happened to get them to game seven. When the pitchers where rolling they hitters couldn’t get it going and when the hitters were getting it done the pitchers couldn’t hold on. Like I said it just wasn’t meant to be.

4th inning – Rays bullpen and by bullpen I really mean David Price. Not to knock the rest of their bullpen but holy shnikes David Price is going to be good. It is kind of cool/creepy that Joe Maddon calls him their new toy but he’s right. I felt like they knew they had game seven so they were like ‘lets have some fun and make them face David Price they won’t know what to do. It’s going be great!’
Would you like to know when I knew the 2008 Boston Red Sox season was officially over? I’m going to tell you anyway.

Top of the eighth, two outs, bases loaded, go ahead run on first with JD Drew at the plate. David Price replaces Chad Bradford on the mount and promptly tricks the shit out of Drew with a first pitch slider. That’s when I knew that Drew had absolutely no chance of doing anything but striking out. That was the David Price Experience, have fun with that one Phillies fans.

5th inning – I don’t like the Trop…at all. I want to be clear about this, I am in no way blaming Tropicana Field for the Red Sox losing. Nor am I in some way applying that it is unfair, I just don’t like it.

I have never been there but I don’t like it. Something about the stadium just aggravates me. For example, when watching games on TV it doesn’t feel like I’m watching a baseball game at a baseball stadium. The place feels like a hockey rink or basketball arena.

Interestingly enough the Trop was formerly the Thunderdome the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Construction started in 1986…was finished in 1990…and the first team to call it home was the Lightning in 1993…when a 130 million dollar stadium can’t find a tenet until it’s third year of existence, that’s probably not a great sign for the stadium.

Ok, ok, Tampa lost out to Miami and Denver for MLB expansion teams in 1993 and then got the Rays (or Devil Rays) so I guess you have to cut them some slack there.

I’ll also cut the place a little bit of slack because it’s older than I had originally thought but they dropped 70 million to renovate the place to get it ready for the Rays. Ah…what…where did that money go…I don’t think a baseball field worth of turf and a giant manta ray tank cost 70 million.

I won’t even mention the catwalks, it’s a dome, I guess that’s what you get with a dome but how boring does that place look. I can’t say too much because I’ve never been there but every picture I’ve seen makes it look like a practice facility. It looks dark and dingy.

I’m not a huge fan of domed stadiums in general and gladly retractable roof stadiums are becoming all the rage. I understand its in Florida and there are daily afternoon rainstorms so a dome makes sense but domes suck for baseball. It’s a summer time game and putting it inside takes a lot of the feel away. That’s why I don’t like the place.

One potential positive is that it was the first pro stadium to use FieldTurf…which some might think is a good thing and others might say is a bad thing. I tend to think it’s a good thing because AstroTurf was weak sauce.
I should probably try to go to a game there at some point thought. Maybe I’ll change my mind. I am, after all, making this judgment on only my observations from TV.

6th inning – Can someone please get Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat pictured on the back of milk cartons every where?

I’m concernacus about this. In 2007 he established the existence of Playoff Jacoby then in the 2008 ALCS he was MIA or the Trop is his kryptonite.
Jacoby got similar playing time in both the 2007 World Series and the 2008 ALDS and his numbers were pretty similar.

2007 WS – 4 games – 16 at bats – 4 runs – 7 hits – 4 2B – 3 RBI – .438 BA - .500 OBP
2008 DS – 4 games – 18 at bats – 2 runs – 6 hits – 3 2B – 6 RBI - .333 BA - .400 OBP

In similar action Jacoby looked like a consistent performer then in the 2008 ALCS he hit a wall.

2007 ALCS – 4 games – 14 at bats – 0 runs – 0 hits – 0 2B – 1 RBI - .063 OBP
I’m not saying Jacoby is a choke artist. I don’t think that’s it at all I just wanted to point out that he was very consistent then he had a bad series. That’s really why the Red Sox didn’t have it this year. They had too many guys that had a bad week at the same time.

It’s certainly not Jacoby’s fault. I have a feeling he’s going to have a lot more series like the first two than the last one.

7th inning – There are plenty of positives that came out of this series despite its sour ending. One of the biggest ones is Jason Bay. I could not be happier with the Jason Bay trade. The guy came up with some huge hits during the playoffs and was one of the few guys in the lineup that you felt like could get on base during all of his at bats.

The best part of the Jason Bay deal. Now we don’t have to worry about the Manny circus that this offseason. Can you imagine how aggravating that would have been? Now we can watch somebody else deal with his shenanigans now. He’s so good but so aggravating, you want to hate him but he’s so good that you love him.

His shenanigans are not cheeky and fun they are cruel and tragic…which makes them not really shenanigans at all…evil shenanigans…

While I’m still a little pissed that we had to give up Manny and Brandon Moss to get Jason Bay (I don’t could Craig Hansen as someone we gave up…more like unloaded) but I still maintain that teams should get some kind of compensation for a player tanking so they’ll be traded and the team having to give up more to get a fair trade.

All in all I am glad to have Jason Bay to root for now. We will miss Manny at times but overall we should be stoked about a full season with Jason Bay in 2009.

8th inning – I have to be honest as a sports fan I can’t be that upset. Sure it sucks that the Sox lost and we don’t get to enjoy another World Series at Fenway but how much can we really complain?

We’ve been really lucky as a fan base to have the success that Boston has had in the last decade. I can’t think of many other places that have had the run of success that the teams here have had over the last few years.

We have the defending NBA Champions getting ready to take the court again, it’s not like we’re in Philly were they’ve gone 25 years without a championship from any of their pro teams. Lets not get too douchey and entitled here.

I know everyone hates Boston fans for a million different reasons. They call us Pink hats and fairweathers and make all other forms of disparaging comments but I don’t really care how long you’ve rooted for the Red Sox to be honest. If you are rocking a pink hat great…I wish you wouldn’t buy all the tickets but I don’t really have much scratch anyway.

That’s why I can’t hate on people for rooting for the Rays. Sure a lot of them came out of the woodwork but the same thing happened here a year ago with the Celtics. No one cared about the Celtics, I got laughed at for saying I wanted to watch Celtics games as little as two years ago and now we’re painting the town green

Mound visit - It was a little bit funny seeing the Rays fans with their sad faces and their heads in their hands on TV (because really what have you been through?) but at least they showed up.

I came to this ‘I don’t really care about bandwagoners anymore’ realization last year at the Celtics opener. After watching them flounder for years and getting over excited about guys like Gerald Green and Shammond Williams I was stoked to see Garnett.

While waiting in line for an adult beverage or four I over heard a kid behind me talking in an overly loud manner about how he never had to wait in line for beers the season before. Really? I wonder if that’s because they lost a NBA record 19 games in a row (I was there for number 19 by the way) or if it was because the highlight of the season was Gerald Green winning the dunk contest by emulating Dee Brown? Had to be one of those right?

It was then and there I decided that I don’t care. I just want to enjoy the game and see my team win, or at least play well. No wonder why everyone hates us.

9th inning – As for who I’m rooting for in the World Series…to be honest I’m probably not going to watch much of it. I guess I don’t really want the Rays to win but you kind of have to root for them a little bit. If the whole unbelievable story thing weren’t over blown I’d probably root for them at least a little. I can’t really root for an AL East team thought, unless they had beaten the Yankees to go to the World Series.

Plus they already have Hulk Hogan and Nasty Knobs rooting for them.

I guess I’m rooting for the Phillies. After 25 years and no titles in any sport I have to side with that fan base. That is brutal. I also have to admire any group of fans that is so bitter they’ll boo Santa Claus…wow…When the only title you’ve seen in the last 25 years came from a fictional boxer you have my support.

Go Phillies…Why Can’t Us or in this case I guess it would be Why Can’t Yous!

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