August 30, 2007

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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).


8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate

8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 Mís for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat