October 25, 2007

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LONGSHOTS: A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
by Dave Long

How good is it to be a New England sports fan these days? The Patriots are undefeated and headed to what I hope is still a clash of unbeaten teams in Indianapolis in 10 days. BC football could be number one in the country after Michigan takes out Ohio State as they usually do on rivalry weekend. Thereís a high degree of anticipation for the Celticsí season. And the Red Sox are inspiring dynasty talk from the yahoos after being in their second World Series in four years.

Iíll talk about those other teams in the coming weeks. Today, I offer a bunch of things that are nice to know but you donít need to know about the baseball series just concluded and the one that lies ahead.

The single-elimination format is credited with making the NFL Playoffs and NCAA Basketball Tournament so great. But a really great seven-game series is even more interesting ó the twists, turns, ups and downs create more drama than a Hitchcock thriller. It intensifies personal and team bitterness and rivalries in way a one-and-done format canít and eventually provides the same sudden- death ending when it gets to a game seven.

No argument here over Josh Beckett being MVP, but has anyone with a series like Kevin Youkilis had in going 14 for 28 with three homers and seven RBI ever not been MVP? The only one I can think of was when the Yanks swept the Cardinals in the 1928. Lou Gehrig hit .545 with four homers and lost out to the Babe, who hit .625 with three home runs. Still, even though I was just a kid when it happened, I demand a recount since Gehrig drove in nine of their 27 runs in those four games to the Babeís four.

I know I am tilting at windmills here, because people just donít get what seems so common-sense clear to me. But what does a manager see that I donít, when he lifts Jake Westbrook after only 94 pitches when he has retired eight straight, five on strikes, and is in total command, as Eric Wedge did after six innings on Sunday? I know Rafael Betancourt had been lights out, but itís removing a certain thing (or as close as you can get) for an uncertain one.

Those clamoring for Jacoby Ellsbury looked pretty good when he got a big hit Saturday, then was in the middle of two rallies while making two very good catches in Game Seven. Of course many of those same folks were calling for Alex Cora over Dustin Pedrioa and all he did was get five hits and five RBI over the weekend. So since they were right about one thing and Tito the other, letís call it even.

Incidentally the two cases were different. Even though he didnít hit early in the series, the better player was playing at second base. The opposite was true in center. After watching Ellsbury hit .350 when he got the chance to play, is there anyone out there, Tito included, who doesnít think the kid is just better than Coco Crisp?

Speaking of which, hereís what Theoís farm system provided in Game Seven: the save, two important run-down outfield catches in crunch time, two home runs, six scored runs and seven knocked in.

And speaking of his two-inning save, did anyone notice that 15 of Jonathan Papelbonís 16 pitches went for strikes?

OK, if youíre so smart, name six Colorado Rockies. Todd Helton, Matt (Roman) Holiday, ahh, Kaz Matsui, err .... Jeff Frances, uhm Troy Tulowitzki ... ah, uhm, ah ... I saw manager Clint Hurdle play for the Royals way back when, does that count?

Now look at the roster and tell if there are five guys you actually heard of before they won 21 of 22. For me itís Helton, Holliday, Matzui, Latroy Hawkins and then there are John Mabry and Steve Finley, who I thought retired five years ago. Of course thatís pretty much what people said about the Patriots before they beat the Rams, at what historians 30 years from now will say was the start of the, er, Patriots dynasty.

Hereís the skinny on Frances, whoíll open the series on Wednesday. In going 17-9, he gave up 234 hits in 215 innings with an ERA of 4.22. Thatís a lot of hits, especially without facing designated hitters. But remember half his games were in the thin air at Coors Field. So being 2-0 in the postseason when he gave up 12 hits in 11 innings and had an ERA of 2.13 in two road games is more apples and apples.

The offensive statistics are remarkably close between the teams: both hit dramatically better at home than on the road. At home the Rockies scored 478 runs and hit 164 doubles, 103 homers and .298 overall. For the Sox it was 472 runs, 191 doubles, 79 homers and .297 overall. On the road Colorado scored 382, with 149 doubles, 63 homers and hit .261. For Boston it was a .262 average, 161 doubles, 87 homers and 352 runs scored.

But while the Rockies scored three more runs at 860 they scored just 102 more than their opponents. For the Red Sox it was an 857-to-657 advantage.

Hereís a question for Bill James and the work the always count crowd. For the season the Rockies hit .391 on the first pitch. In 110 at-bats Tulowitzki hit eight homers, knocked in 24 and hit .400. For Holiday it was .470, 13 and 36 in 116 first-pitch at bats. So should they still take the first pitch as a matter of course as stat geeks everywhere believe?

In case you are wondering: the Red Sox hit 80 points above their season average on the first pitch. And amazingly the same .357 is what the bad guys hit against them too! Thatís why I say unless youíre facing a top gun like Beckett or Pedro (whoíll wear down) youíll probably need a pitch count to get him out of the game ó swing away.

Prediction: The most important thing in the postseason is whoís playing well now. So if this series had started nine days ago I might go against my homer instincts and side with the mystical run like the one inspired by Roy Hobbs in The Natural the Rockies were on. But since I think the 21-of-22 karma will be gone after their huge lay-off, the run differential is the big stat. It says Red Sox pitchers held teams using a DH to 100 fewer runs than the Rockies did in a league without one. So I like the Red Sox pitching better ó plus I think theyíll be hitting homers in Denver too. So itís the Sox in six.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM-Nashua.


10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag

10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
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