LONGSHOTS: The race is on as baseball enters September
by Dave Long
Who in the name of Bowie Kuhn came up with the idea to place the latest apocalyptic Yankee-Red Sox series dead center in the black hole of my deadline? It means the series starts after I write this and is halfway done by the time most folks see this column, sometime around the fifth inning on Wednesday. Grrrrr! Itís going to make me go out on a limb to mix in a series of predictions for what has happened amid the other baseball thoughts Iíve got today as the pennant race enters the final month.
There is nothing in sports like a great September pennant race. In a football playoff fight, you have a big game and then have to endure an entire week before the next one arrives. In baseball, you can get right back on the horse the very next day to wipe out the sting of a bad loss.
Hereís what I was wrong about going into the season: I thought Dustin Pedroia was in over his head, and David Ortiz and Manny, whoís having his worst year ever, would be as productive as in years gone by.
Hereís what I was right about: they VASTLY overpaid for J. D. Drew, couldnít count on Curt Schilling for more than being a third starter (because of age related issues), Josh Beckett had to win at least 18 to win the division, Coco Crisp would be solid in center and it was a must that Jonathan Papelbon be the closer.
Iím not sure which category Julio Lugo and Tim Wakefield fall into. I was against signing Lugo, but while he had as bad a first half as anyone can, he was still productive. Donít believe me? Did you know, that, as I write this, he has 19 more runs batted in than Drew? As for Wakefield, I doubt Iím alone in not seeing him in the race to lead the AL in wins. I was expecting maybe 13.
I think after this, when itís finally over, around 2031, Iíll bet Wake falls into the Red Sox nationís beloved former player category.
Yesterdayís game (Iím writing this on Monday) was a paradox. A classic irresistible force meets an immovable object. That is after being just the fourth team in almost 60 years to reach double digits in runs in four straight games the bats were white hot. But, when Dice-K pitches theyíve been shutout twice, scored a lone run twice and scored two on three occasions.
Once Michael Vickís attorney is done clearing up the final details, maybe he should retain his services to sue for lack of support. Or, if he wants to go local, I suggest he get the number off the sign going into F-Cat games and hire former Central hoopster John Kacavas to be his lawyer.
Whoís the MVP to date? Beckett, Papelbon, Hidecki Okajima or Mike Lowell? My vote goes to Lowell, but let me ask, whenís the last time three of the top four candidates for any season were pitchers? Bet it was before the Curse started.
And while Dustin Pedroiaís surprising year should earn him votes, Okajima is the 10th man, right?
Speaking of Lowell, who came here as a human ransom note because they had to take on his salary to get Becket ó what do you think the brass will do with the free-agent-to-be? I know one thing: if they try to get him to take a two year deal, doesnít he have a right to ask why in the name of Matt Young they lavished a five year deal on the brittle Drew if policy is for shorter deals?
Youíve got to get what you can, but one thing I hope Lowell realizes is that Fenway Park puffs the numbers. If you donít believe me, pick a player ó from Fred Lynn to Nomar, to Nick Esasky to Mo Vaughn ó and find me anyone who hit better outside of Fenway. OK, Iíll spot you Edgar Renteria, but name another.
Speaking of Mannyís worst year ever, here are two stats you wonít like. The 20 double plays heís hit leads the AL, and heís been called out on strikes a whopping 35 times. Hereís a third: his last homer came on August 6th, and itís his only one this month. Is it a bad year, or a sign of things to come?
Of course, now that I put that in the paper, Iíll bet he has at least one in N.Y. by the time you read this.
Remember the big deal people like me made about the great fielding when the Sox recorded a lowest-ever 65 errors in 2006? Well, with 68, theyíve already passed that mark, but theyíre on track for the second-best season ever. Thirty-one have been committed by two guys ó Lugo and Lowell, with 16 and 15 respectively. Pedroia has just five, Kevin Youkillis three and Coco Crisp one. Yet we havenít heard a peep about the fielding this year. Why?
I know it seems like Iím picking on Drew, who incidentally has six errors in right now, but what we donít know is how much worries related to the illness of his youngest child have contributed to his struggles. Iím guessing a lot.
If you like to look ahead, the Crisp rumors will be flying even more furiously in the winter now that center-fielder-in-waiting Jacoby Ellsbury has a club record 20-game hitting streak at Pawtucket to go with everything else. Especially that speed.
But given Cocoís reversal of fortune, the salary-cap-friendly Crisp will bring back a lot more this winter than he would have when the naysayers wanted to dump him for anything in May.
Which brings me to Theo. I have been critical of the revolving door at shortstop and his choices in free agency Ė but with the presence of Papelbon, Youkillis, Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ellsbury and others, Theo has revitalized a farm system that hasnít been this productive since the early í80s when Bobby Ojeda, John Tudor, Oil Can Boyd, Bruce Hurst and Roger Clemens came out of the farm system around the same time.
And, finally, I purposely put in a few things here from the ďglass is half emptyĒ perspective, which may seem odd, since the Sox went to the Bronx with baseballís best record. I did it to illustrate what I feel is best about the team: the future. Because in a year filled with uneven hitting issues and big money free agents living on the border of Bustville, they still have the best record. And itís because, unlike the previous administrations going back to 1920, this group knows that you win with pitching, and thatís just how they are doing it. That speaks well for what lies ahead.
And, finally: I say they take at least two of three in NY and knock Roger out of the box early.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).