The Baseball Desert

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Eyes right!

I'd love to spend all week going on and on about the Devil Rays, but it's going to be a crazy few days - work is hectic and I'm moving house - so I won't have much time to blog between now and the beginning of next week.

In the absence of my pearls of wisdom (?!) on the summer game, check out the rogues' gallery of bloggers listed on the right - they come in all sizes and flavours, and you're sure to find something to suit your tastes.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Cause and effect?

Over a year after defecting from Cuba, the Yankees' Jose Contreras was finally reunited with his family this week. Up until now he has been something of an enigma on the mound, but in tonight's outing against the Mets his pitching line read:

6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 10 K

Maybe this really is the first day of the rest of Contreras' career in pinstripes.

Sad b*stard

Interleague play has once again worked its magic and lured me out of the late-afternoon sunshine and into the office on a Sunday evening. I love firing up the computer and logging on to on days like this - it's like looking the menu in your favourite Italian restaurant: "Do I go for the pizza? Lasagne? Spaghetti con vongole?" I'm tempted by Mets / Yankees and Phillies / Red Sox, but I think I'm going to plump for the team du jour, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who last night tied the record for consecutive interleague wins, as they see how they match up against the Marlins' red-hot Carl Pavano, who has an ERA of just 1.39 over his last four starts.

Update: The answer to the Pavano question was: "Not very well" - Pavano threw a lot of strikes and gave up just one earned run over seven innings. The Rays trail the Marlins 10-1 in the bottom of the eighth.

Update: Marlins win 11-4. I'm off to check out the last few innings at Fenway before I head on home for the night.

Hats off... Oakland's Eric Byrnes, who made two great catches in the A's wild 10-inning victory over the Giants last night. The catch he made to end the 3rd inning was a joy to behold - the sort of catch that is worth the price of admission to the ballpark: an over-the-shoulder full-stretch diving backhand grab of a line drive to center field. A heartbreaker for A.J. Pierzynski at the plate, but a gem for any real fan of baseball.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Ease their pain

Never was suffering so eloquent.

Red Sox Nation, I salute you.

Regular Roger

Not content to be one of the most dominating pitchers of his era, Roger Clemens is proving that he likes to wrap his milestones together in nice little round-numbered bundles. Last season Clemens' 300th career win also coincided with his 4,000th career strikeout, and last night's win against the Pirates was his 10th of the year (making him the first pitcher to reach the figure this season), the 320th of his career, and just for good measure he also threw in career strikeout # 4,200.

Clemens' team also hit the headlines elsewhere yesterday by signing Carlos Beltran in a three-way deal with the A's and the Royals. All three teams stand to benefit from the deal - Beltran's bat should help the Astros make a serious run at a World Series title, the A's got the closer they need so badly and the Royals got some fine prospects. Jayson Stark argues that, although Royals' GM Allard Baird was pretty much forced to trade Beltran, he actually got the best out of the deal. As Baird himself said:

"I feel good. I hate to lose Carlos Beltran. That's not easy. ... But I feel like we got maximum value for a rare player."

However, Dave Pinto begs to differ.

Only time will tell who's right...


You know the one about never leaving the ballpark early because you might see something you've never seen before? Well, it happened last night: against my better judgement I 'left' the Devil Rays / Blue Jays game after a couple of innings to go watch England play Portugal in the quarter-final of Euro 2004, and I paid the price. The Devil Rays rapped out a franchise-record 24 hits on their way to a 19-13 victory (a score reminiscent of some - in fact, most - of the games our ballclub has played this season...).

To make matters worse, I made a 50-mile round-trip to watch the England game with Tim, a friend who is a die-hard England fan, only to see them crash out of the tournament after a penalty shoot-out.

For a moment during the game, I got a brief glimpse of what it must be like to be a member of Red Sox Nation. I'd told Tim that I wasn't going to watch the game with him, because we've been there too many times before - England playing crucial games in the latter stages of major soccer competitions and losing them in penalty shoot-outs - and this is the reply I received:

"There'll be lots more Tampa Bay / Torontos to enjoy during your lifetime. England taking on the host country in the quarter-final of a Euro tournament... it's perhaps not a one-off but definitely a rare delight. I suggest therefore that you opt for the football! What if it all goes horribly right for once? You wouldn't want to miss out on it...".

So I watched the game, and as the penalty shoot-out drew closer, there was a sense of impending doom. Just as Red Sox fans know that no lead against the Yankees is safe, so I knew that the penalties were a disaster waiting to happen - it was just a case of waiting to see which player the gods would choose to carry the weight of England's guilt and misfortune for another two years. In the end, the gods demonstrated a delicious sense of irony in choosing a footballing legend, but it didn't really matter, because we knew there was the game was lost before it ever began. Just like Bill Buckner and Grady Little, Beckham was merely an unwitting bit-player in a much bigger ongoing tragedy...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

(Tell me why) I do like Thursdays

My idea of heaven - day games from the East Coast.

I think tonight proves once and for all that I am a lost cause as far as soccer goes - I'm forsaking the big Portugal vs. England Euro 2004 game for Devil Rays vs. Blue Jays at the Skydome.

The D-Rays had their winning-streak stopped at 12 by Toronto last night, but they seem to have just shrugged their shoulders and picked up where they left off on Tuesday - they've already got three runs off Ted Lilly in the top of the first. Lilly seems to be having trouble getting on the same page as his catcher and looks a little rattled - he balked home the third run after getting his signs mixed up on a previous pitch.

I like watching Toronto, if only because it's nice to see your own surname on the back of a major league ballplayer's jersey. I know it's just living vicariously, but a guy's allowed to dream, isn't he?

It looks like it's going to be one of those games in Toronto - the Blue Jays have responded with 4 runs of their own off Rays' starter John Halama in the bottom of the first.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Ya gotta believe!

Manager Lou Piniella was quick to point out on Saturday that it took the Devil Rays 40 games this year to record two consecutive wins, but even a manager with 1,414 career wins has to be enjoying his team's eleven-game winning streak.

Food for thought

I didn’t get to see any baseball over the weekend (I don’t live under the Curse Of The Bambino, but rather under the Curse Of The No Internet Access), but I did spend quite a bit of time in the company of one of my favourite baseball writers, Thomas Boswell. What I like about Boswell is that there he spends little time on detailed statistical analysis – How Life Imitates The World Series, for example, devotes just two of its thirty-plus chapters to analysis of stats – but instead attempts to step back and write about the bigger picture, even when writing a piece on a particular game or player.

How Life... begins with a chapter entitled ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’, about the one-game play-off for the 1978 American League East title between the Red Sox and the Yankees. In his analysis of the game, Boswell writes the following, which, I think, perfectly encapsulates not only what I love about baseball, but what I love about this type of baseball writing:

It is a unique quality of baseball that the season ticket holders who see all of a club’s crucial games believe they can also read the minds of the players. Each team’s season is like a traditional nineteenth-century novel, a heaping up of detail and incident about one large family. After 162 chapters of that tome, chapter 163 is riddled with the memories, implications and foreshadowings of the thousands of previous pages. Any play that rises above the trivial sends a wave of emotion into that ocean-sized novel of what has gone before. Since everyone is reading the same vast book, the sense of a collective baseball consciousness can become enormous. With each at-bat, each pitch, there is an almost audible shuffling of mental pages as the pitcher, hitter and catcher all sort through the mass of past information they have on one another.

It’s always struck me that the length of the baseball season – and the fact that we often get to watch players over a period of 10-15 years – means that there is a sense of an ongoing story, punctuated by remarkable events. Independently of Boswell’s piece, I’d often thought of baseball as a kind of permanent soap opera, where we follow characters for years at a time – sometimes they change very little, sometimes they disappear and come back with a new haircut, a new face or a new ballclub. We get to see their ordinary day-to-day lives – those Tuesday-night games in May against the Royals – but we know that we’ll get to see extraordinary things too: a no-hitter, a player hitting for the cycle, 500 career home runs. In recent years baseball has also given us a series of October moments worthy of the best soap-opera cliff-hangers, classic “but surely [insert character’s name here] can’t be the father of my child??!!” moments – impossible playoff wins by the Diamondbacks, the Angels and the Marlins. No other sport has the power to comfort us and enthral us in equal measures.

As I re-read through How Life... I found myself saying wanting to copy out passage after passage because the analysis seemed so spot-on. It’s a tribute to Boswell’s writing that the fact that the pieces deal with games and players from 20 years ago and yet they still ring true today, as if they contain some higher truth that has nothing to do with specific players or events and everything to do with baseball’s own unique space-time continuum.

I could spend all day quoting passages from the book, but I don’t have the time, so I’ll take the easy way out and just recommend that you go read it yourselves.

Gift ideas for Father's Day

How about the very exclusive 'Career Home Run #500'?

Friday, June 18, 2004

The magic number

And whilst we're on the subject of Junior, Jayson Stark examines how the public perception of him has shifted once again now that he's about to break the magical 500-homer barrier.

When he gets there (probably sometime over the weekend) he'll be in some pretty rarified company. Even if the injuries of the last few seasons mean that he no longer has a shot at Hank Aaron's 755 home runs, he's within fairly easy striking distance of some of baseball greatest-ever sluggers: Ted Williams (521), Mickey Mantle (536), Mike Schmidt (548), Reggie Jackson (563). Who knows? If he stays healthy, he might have a shot at Willie Mays (660), but whatever happens, he'll be ranked alongside some of the all-time greats.

Stark's article also points out that it's not just about the home runs, either:

This guy has more home runs than Lou Gehrig? Driven in more runs than Johnny Bench? Has a higher career slugging percentage than Hank Aaron? Produced more extra-base hits than Joe DiMaggio?

All true. No wonder those people in Cincinnati are asking themselves what the heck they've been booing.


In the end, it turns out, all people ever really wanted was the chance to see that Junior Griffey they used to root for -- the human highlight film with the golden smile -- materialize again before their eyes.

And now, voila. That guy is back, on one of the surprise teams of the year, with a mythical milestone as the lure to make us all pay attention to his every move.

"It's amazing," [Cincinnati teammate Danny] Graves said. "The guy went through so much for so long, you almost forgot what he used to do. And now he's doing it again."

For that gift, we can all be thankful. And we can also thank that magic number -- 500 -- for reminding us of what Junior Griffey once meant to this game, and what he has come to mean again. Finally.

Eight straight

OK, so nobody's under the illusion that the Devil Rays are going to make a run at the AL East title, but as I said yesterday, I'm just enjoying the fact that they're putting together a nice string of wins. Last night they won their eighth straight game, beating the Padres 4-1.

The game also featured a doubly-historic homer by Fred McGriff: it was McGriff's 493rd career home run, which puts him in a tie with Lou Gehrig for 21st place on the all-time list, and it was also the 43rd different ballpark in which he has homered, which is a major-league record. McGriff signed a minor-league contract with Tampa Bay at the start of the season in the hope that he could continue his pursuit of the mythical 500-homer milestone. There seems to be a lot less fuss surrounding him than there is surrounding Ken Griffey, Jr., who is just one blast short of the same 500-homer mark, but I'm crossing my fingers for McGriff, as it would be a fitting curtain-call on a fine 18-year major-league career.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The tools of ignorance

One of our baseball team's catchers - who knows all about the hardships of squatting behind the plate - pointed me in the direction of this FOXSports piece on just how tough a job it is. Ouch - my knees hurt just thinking about it.

Whilst searching for the origins of the phrase "the tools of ignorance" (it's generally attributed to Yankees catcher Bill Dickey) I also came across a related article from last year on the Seattle PI website. (Apologies to Paul and other Mariner fans out there for the reminder - at the end of the article - that there was a time not so long ago that the M's were in first place, four games ahead of Oakland).

Sitting on the fence

There are sometimes days when I wish I were a fan of a particular team, so that I could feel that sense of anticipation before reading the box scores every morning, but the more I think about it, the more there is to be said for being just a fan of the game. It's a priviliged position to be in, because it allows me to follow the game in whatever manner I see fit. I can hope that the Red Sox win the World Series, but, unlike Beth, it doesn't feel as if my enjoyment of life depends on it.

Being a fan of the game allows me to enjoy the fact that the Devil Rays have now won seven straight games without being overly preoccupied by the thought that they could just as easily now lose seven straight. It allows me to like Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza, without worrying about the history between them. It allows me to admire the way the all-powerful Yankees go about the business of baseball whilst rooting for a team that lost 119 games last year. Best of all, it allows me to look forward to a Thursday evening on MLB.TV during which, with a bit of luck, I'll get to see Soriano and Griffey and Thome and Pudge and Nomar and Helton without moving from my armchair. All I have to worry about is making sure the beer is cold enough...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A**holes Of The Day

My new, regular "AOTD" feature allows me to explain another of the reasons why tomorrow night I'll be watching D-Lowe go against the Colorado Rockies rather than England's attempts to make some progress in the Euro 2004 tournament: it's because every single international soccer tournament England play in ends up providing this kind of story.


The Reds finally broke their losing streak last night with a 5-4 victory over the Rangers.

The Cincinnati fans were hoping that this would be the game in which Ken Griffey, Jr. hit his 500th career home run, but it wasn't to be. What they did get to see Junior do in the tenth inning, however, probably made all 36,501 of them hold their breath, cross their fingers and send frantic and heartfelt prayers out to whatever benevolent gods watch over the sport of baseball: Griffey tried to score from second on a single to right and ended up in a mighty collision at home plate with Texas catcher Rod Barajas. It was baseball at its best - a hit, a throw, a play at the plate - but more importantly it was a huge relief to see Griffey get up and walk away from the collision.

There was a nice footnote to the play in this age of players with quick tempers - Griffey and Barajas exchanged a 'no hard feelings' handshake as they headed back to their respective dugouts after the play.

Great old-school baseball - play hard, but play fair...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Pokey to the rescue

Yesterday had all the makings of a bad-hair day: it began when our baseball team got soundly whipped by our nearest division rivals (with yours truly contributing a stellar 0-for-4 to the team effort...). "Never mind," I thought, "things'll pick up this evening with England's opening game of the Euro2004 tournament." Yeah, except that England lost the game in the dying seconds.

England losing the game is no longer a big deal to me - it used to be that this kind of defeat would pretty much ruin my year, but that's no longer true, and it took me all of about five minutes to get over it. However, to add insulty to injury, they lost to the French, which means that my life is going to be miserable for the foreseeable future. For an Englishman living in France, this was the worst possible result - think Red Sox fan in the Bronx after Game 7 of last year's ALCS and you'll have some idea of the crap I'm gonna take this week. Still, it goes with the territory - when you live abroad, you automatically become a representative of your country, whether you like it ot not. You have to have an opinion on everything from Tony Blair's foreign policy to Prince Charles's love-life, and sports are one of the things you have to follow. So last night I did my ex-pat duty and watched the game - even though I would rather have been watching some baseball - and now I'm going to have to suffer the consequences.

So, it was in a miserable state of mind that I fired up my computer this morning, only to have my day saved by Boston's Pokey Reese, who somehow transformed himself into Michael Jordan to rob the Dodgers' Dave Roberts of a hit at Fenway last night.

Admittedly, if that's all it took to pull me out of my early-morning depression, then it probably wasn't much of a depression to begin with, but still... I didn't yell "Holy shit!", but it did bring a big smile to my face.

I live for this!

Friday, June 11, 2004

Suffering ahoy!

When I read Beth's posts, I really do wish I could get to see more of the Red Sox. I like the team, I like the ballpark, I like that crisp, white home uniform - I'm even starting to warm to Pedro (and I never in a million years thought I'd one day write that in a post).

Now I'm worried - am I starting to becoming a Red Sox fan?? This is definitely not what I need in my life right now...

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Poetic justice

Raul Mondesi has torn his right quadriceps muscle. My guess is he sustained the injury running away from his contract in Pittsburgh...

Monday, June 07, 2004

It's back!

Love it or hate it, interleague play is with us once again. I know the purists don't like it, but I like the idea of these matchups that take us out of the day-to-day 'routine' of baseball ("the day-to-day routine of baseball" - is this guy becoming blasé or what...?).


My kinda team

Monday's always a tough day for blogging - there are always over forty weekend games to catch up on, and you don't really know where to start, and on top of that, the boss has this crazy idea that I'm supposedly in the office to work... So, since time is in short supply, I thought I would point you in the direction of Jayson Stark's piece on great defensive players. If you come here regularly, you'll know that great defense is my thing, and Stark's starting lineup is one of those fantasy teams that would be a joy to behold.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Some things never change

David Pinto reminds us that the Yankees have the best record in baseball ("no surprise there" I hear you say), but then also goes on to point out that they have this record despite the following handicaps:

- Derek Jeter hasn't hit this season.
- Bernie Williams hasn't hit this season.
- Sheffield hasn't hit for power this season.
- Mike Mussina has been awful.
- Contreras has been awful.
- Giambi's been on the DL.
- They have gotten nothing from second base.
If they can score like this with their offense not hitting on all cylinders, what are they going to be like when everything is in place? What if Mussina regains his form? It's doubtful that even the return of Nomar and Nixon will be enough to overcome this juggernaught.

Now there's a thought to warm the cockles of every Red Sox fan's heart.

Vlad The Impaler

Changing teams (and leagues) doesn't seem to have affected Vladimir Guerrero's status as one of the game's best hitters. Last night it was the Red Sox' turn to feel the wrath of his bat - he went 4-for-4 (including two home runs), and had 9 RBIs, which set a franchise record for the Angels. His hot hitting - coupled with David Eckstein's 5-for-5 night - gave the Angels a 10-7 victory over Boston, who dropped to two games behind the Yankees in the standings.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Waxing lyrical

There are days when a fine piece of baseball writing can have me wishing - against my better nature - that I were a fully paid-up, long-suffering member of Red Sox Nation. Today is one of those days, having read what Beth has to say over at Cursed and First.

Yesterday she had this to say about Pedro's accent:

Of all the 'Dominicanos' on the Sox roster, Pedro actually speaks English the best. Where Manny and David Ortiz are Jackson Pollocks with their English--messy, though interesting--Pedro is Monet: clear enough to be understood easily, but just fuzzy enough to be intriguing.

and this on Manny Ramirez:

I keep thinking about Manny taking batting practice, how it was like watching a racehorse in full stride or a ballerina dance the "Arabian" or any other powerful, graceful animal I've ever seen in motion, how it finally made me really understand the phrase "poetry in motion", as I watched the ball inscribe eternal truths in graceful arcs on the air.

And all of this following Monday's great post on her day at Fenway, which pretty much defines the word "bittersweet".

If you feel your spirit is a little jaded and you need to be uplifted, go check it out...

A**hole Of The Day

The Dodgers' Milton Bradley already had a reputation as an unpredictable player, so it's hard to say whether his ejection from last night's game against the Brewers was - as manager Jim Tracy suggested - provoked (I presume Tracy means by the umpire) or whether it was just another example of how Bradley is unable to contain his temper. Bradley blew a fuse in the sixth inning of last night's game, first getting in umpire Joe West's face, then laying down his bat, helmet and gloves on the ground next to the batter's box and finally throwing a bag of balls onto the field, one of which he then launched into left field.

Bradley's behaviour was both embarrassing and unacceptable - he looked like a little kid out there, throwing a temper tantrum because someone told him he couldn't play ball anymore. The most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing was that he was thrown out as he came to the plate in the sixth inning for continuing to argue a call he didn't agree with from three innings earlier. I understand Dodger manager Jim Tracy getting mad and trying to defend a player, but in this instance, Bradley was way out of line, and I agree with the Fox Sports team, who suggested that, instead of snapping at the umpire, Tracy should be walking up to the clubhouse and snapping at his won guy.

I'd be interested to hear what Bradley's teammates thought of his antics - from what I could see on the highlight reel (or should that be 'lowlight' reel?), none of his teammates even looked at him as he left the field - they looked for all the world like parents whose child has chosen the annual family Thanksgiving dinner to demonstrate his new-found vocabulary of swear-words. Way to go, Milton - baseball is proud of you...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Giant streak

A couple of weeks ago everyone was writing the Giants off – nobody was pitching to Barry Bonds, since the Giants’ weak-hitting lineup meant that they didn’t really have to, and the team looked like it was going nowhere.

Well, as if to prove that old adage that you don’t know nothin’ in this game, the Giants have now put together a streak of ten wins (their best streak since 1998) and are now just 1 ½ games out of first place. It’s California all the way in the NL West right now – the Dodgers are in first place, the Padres are in second (their winning percentage is just 0.002% less than that of Los Angeles), and the red-hot Giants are breathing down the necks of both these teams.

It’s good to see San Diego holding their own in this division, but it should be noted that after two months of the season, the NL West is not the only place we’re seeing new names at or near the top of the division. In the AL West, perennial losers Texas are just 2 ½ games behind first-place Anaheim and 1 game ahead of perennial contenders Oakland. In the NL Central, where things are always tight, Milwaukee is still one game over .500 after almost a third of the season, and the team propping up the division – the Raul Mondesi-less Pittsburgh Pirates – is a mere one game under .500 and just 5 games out of first place. I don’t care if this is a reflection of a mediocre division or not – I just like the idea that this division race is going to be a tight one right through to September. The Reds are still in first place (and who would have bet on that at the start of the season?), closely followed by the Cubs, Astros and Cardinals, all of whom have identical 27-23 records. Cincinnati’s resurgence coincides happily – for them at least – with spells on the DL for key players on their opponents’ rosters (Kerry Wood, Andy Pettitte), so the current situation might not last, but for now, they’re looking good.

All things considered, it would seem that there’s a lot of good baseball left between now and the end of September (and I haven’t even got started on the Yankees, the Red Sox, the defending World Series champion Marlins or even the hugely-improved, not-gonna-lose-100-games-this-year Detroit Tigers...).

Feelin' Lowe

Despite a 13-4 loss to the Orioles, the Red Sox remain tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East, as the Yankees had no game yesterday. However, the problems continued for Derek Lowe, who he gave up eight hits and four walks - good for seven runs - and who saw his ERA rise to a distinctly mediocre 6.84.

All is not doom and gloom in Boston, however - Nomar Garciaparra had a good day in the second outing of his rehab assignment with Pawtucket. Things seem to be going well for Nomar, and June 8th is now being touted as the date he could conceivably return to the Red Sox lineup.