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Red Sox make crucial mistake in parting ways with Francona

Posted by bdowd625 on October 1, 2011

We’re going to miss you, Tito.

I’ll start out by saying that I don’t think Terry Francona was always the best in-game manager. Some of his decisions on the field left me scratching my head, whether it be the insertion of a pinch runner for Adrian Gonzalez in the seventh inning or his extra-long leash when it came to leaving tiring starting pitchers in the game. But I think every fan feels that way about their manager at one point or another, and second-guessing is a part of the job that Francona has always understood.

With that in mind, I think the Boston Red Sox made a monumental mistake yesterday when they parted ways with Francona after eight very successful seasons. Francona’s greatest strength has always been his ability to protect his players in a rabid sports town, a quality I think many of the Red Sox took for granted after a while. Plain and simple, Boston took advantage of its manager this year, as high-priced prima donnas like Carl Crawford, John Lackey and, yes, even my boy Josh Beckett drove the team into the ground. Sure, Francona should share some of the blame for the team’s historic September collapse – no one gets a free pass in that regard – but it was evident that many of the Red Sox had given up on him and the season.

And so Francona became the fall guy yesterday after bringing Beantown not one, but two World Series titles in his tenure. He said his players were tuning him out and that he couldn’t get the team to move together in one direction. It’s a shame it had to come to this after all Francona has done here, but that’s how it works with these millionaire crybabies. You can’t fire 25 players, but you can fire the manager. Boston’s new leader certainly has his work cut out for himself – whomever it may be – and I find it hard to believe he’ll handle these players half as well as Francona did in his eight-year run. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, though, I want to thank Francona for all his hard work. He gave this fan base a reason to believe when we thought that elusive championship would never come. I can confidently say his place in Red Sox history is safe.

And now, with the Red Sox season over, I leave you with an excerpt from an essay by A. Bartlett Giamatti, former commissioner of Major League Baseball. If this doesn’t perfectly sum up the beauty of baseball then nothing does.

“The Green Fields of the Mind”

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the
spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer,
filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come,
it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to
buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive,
and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.
Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains
and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

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Karma, meet The Bronx. The Bronx, run for cover.

Posted by Bill Koch on October 20, 2010

Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it Yankees fans?

Now you’re getting a little taste of how the other half has lived for all these years while you were racking up those World Series titles that you love to talk about so much. Tuesday night was a pretty good lesson for everyone in The Bronx that the Baseball Gods won’t always be on your side, no matter how much you spend to buy their affections.

Game 4 of the American League Championship Series hit the new Taj Mahal like a tidal wave and put the Texas Rangers 27 outs from the chance to play for their first championship in franchise history. That 10-3 shellacking must have made George Steinbrenner turn in his grave. It doesn’t look like New York can do anything to stop a team that flashes claws and antlers as warning signs, hilariously mocking baseball’s traditions and its winningest franchise in the process of building a 3-1 series lead.

Your chances went begging when Josh Hamilton turned back into Roy Hobbs, Joe Girardi fell asleep at the wheel, the umpires declined to save you when Lance Berkman allegedly went deep and David Robertson got the call out of the bullpen. It’s a perfect storm of deliciousness that tastes better than all the chowder in Red Sox Nation.

A.J. Burnett was the man to come to the rescue? That must be what Girardi thought when he greedily left the overpaid righthander in the game in the sixth inning to face Bengie Molina. There’s no chance that Girardi would have turned down the chance to hold a 3-2 lead after 5.2 innings from Burnett after 17 days of rest if you had offered him that scenario before the first pitch. He must have forgotten about the 5.26 ERA and the fact that he skipped the $80-million man in the ALDS, and he must have remembered quickly when Molina slashed a three-run homer into the night.

That bullpen was going to shut it down from there? Not with arsonists like Robertson, Kerry Wood, Boone Logan and Sergio Mitre coming through the doors with gas cans in their hands and lit matches waiting. Someone put Mariano Rivera on a milk carton – he’s been MIA since the Twins series and can’t go two innings every night.

This rotation was going to get it done? Not with C.C. Sabathia looking average in every area but waist size, the shell of Phil Hughes taking his medicine in a Game 2 pounding and Burnett throwing fastballs down the dick at exactly the wrong time. Cliff Lee isn’t yours just yet.

What happened to Mark Teixeira in this series? That gunshot that hit his right hamstring in the fifth inning and dropped him to his knees, putting him out for the rest of the postseason, couldn’t have been random. If anything, it saved him from going 0-for-25 by the time this is all said and done. Someone must have figured that the most professional and dedicated Yankee that there is had suffered enough by going hitless in his first 14 at-bats.

Not even the next Jeffrey Maier could save the Yankees, further embarrassing Major League Baseball in the process. The league clearly hasn’t learned anything in the last 15 years, as evidenced by the handful of embarrassing missed calls during this postseason that could have easily been overturned through the use of instant replay. Maybe that’s when the Baseball Gods decided that enough was enough, saving the Rangers from Bud Selig and his cronies’ failure to act after some guido from Queens and three of his fellow thugs mugged Nelson Cruz at the right field wall to suck Robinson Cano’s home run into the abyss known as the Yankee Stadium bleachers. Armando Benitez is still on suicide watch somewhere because a 12-year-old kid reached out and made the catch of his life in 1996, and it looked like it was going to happen all over again until order was restored.

Where was everyone going in the ninth inning? Were the 50,000 fans in attendance that eager to go outside to the ghetto and get mugged on the walk back to the subway? Or did they sense that something had changed? They were probably running for their lives, because this never used to happen to New York. Something else might be working against the Yankees now, and it goes well beyond the power of the Rangers.

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Ramble On’s guide to the LCS matchups

Posted by Bill Koch on October 15, 2010

If two out of three ain’t bad, what’s two out of four?

With all due apologies to all the Meat Loaf fans (if there are any of you with us here at Ramble On), we’d like to point out that we weren’t all that far off in our previous predictions that we made for the Major League Baseball playoffs. We’re perfect in the National League – we had the Phillies sweeping the Reds and the Giants outlasting the Braves in four games – and we think that makes up for our hiccups in the American League. It’s not our fault that the wins choked yet again and couldn’t take care of the vulnerable Yankees or that the Rays’ fans were far more gutless than we ever gave them credit for being.

With all of that said, let’s take a stab at giving you a World Series preview. Here are our predictions for the League Championship Series, which start tonight when New York visits Texas.

Rangers vs. Yankees
We still think that the Yankees have some big question marks on their pitching staff. Will Phil Hughes be that dominant in back-to-back outings? Can New York win a game where C.C. Sabathia is so average? Can Andy Pettitte’s 66-year-old groin hold up through two more starts? Will Kerry Wood or David Robertson explode before Mariano Rivera can save the day?

We really don’t think so. C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee are the sort of lefthanded pitchers who the Yankees built their dynasty on, guys with the makeup to thrive even in Yankee Stadium. Josh Hamilton (a sub-.200 effort against Tampa) can’t be that bad again, Nelson Cruz is pounding the ball and the Rangers have that look of a team that has destiny on its side. We think it might be their turn to sneak past New York and try to write some postseason history.

PREDICTION: Rangers in seven games

Phillies vs. Giants
Tim Lincecum turned in one of the best postseason performances that we’ve ever seen when he shut out Atlanta and struck out 14 to set the tone for the series in Game 1. We like Matt Cain to bounce back from an average outing and Madison Bumgarner to throw well again. San Francisco’s lineup is full of grinders who won’t make it easy for Philadelphia’s pitching staff.

Unfortunately for the Giants, they’re running into one of the best teams that we’ve seen in a while. We wouldn’t be shocked to see Roy Halladay throw another no-hitter – the Giants’ lineup is far worse than the Reds’ crew that he made history against – and Cole Hamels’ clinching shutout was a thing of beauty. Toss in a lineup that is bound to break out at any moment and you have the team that we tabbed as the favorites from the beginning of this postseason. We don’t see the Phillies’ ride stopping here.

PREDICTION: Phillies in five games

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Cox calls it a career

Posted by Bill Koch on October 12, 2010

We would be slacking on our responsibilities here at Ramble On if we let tonight pass without a word about Bobby Cox, the Atlanta Braves’ manager who walked off the diamond for the final time after his club was dropped out of the National League Division Series by the San Francisco Giants in four games.

It’s oddly fitting that San Francisco is the team that ended Cox’s storied career, because he is one of the true modern giants of the game. We won’t see many men who last two uninterrupted decades with any baseball team in any capacity ever again. Free agency and durability questions make it virtually impossible as a player while the crushing demand to win and the impatience of ownership makes it virtually impossible as a manager or general manager.

Cox has survived the test of time thanks to brilliant pitching (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz chief among them), clutch performances from a handful of terrific position players (Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Brian McCann come to mind) and steady, understanding ownership (working for Ted Turner is much less complex than trying to last under the late George Steinbrenner, for example). It was a perfect storm of circumstances that brought Cox to the moment when he tipped his cap to the Turner Field crowd one last time after Monday’s 3-2 loss to San Francisco. It was all of the above that helped Cox lead his teams to 16 postseasons, a Major League Baseball record that should stand for a long while.

Want some local perspective? Let’s turn to the Boston Red Sox for some examples. Theo Epstein, the man who built the team that broke The Curse, can’t do it – he skipped town in a gorilla suit once before and won’t have the stomach to last under this spotlight forever. Terry Francona, the man who managed that Red Sox team and still currently fills out the lineup card, can’t do it – his health has been in decline since the day he took the job due to the incomparable stress of dealing with 162 one-game seasons per year. None of their players will be able to do it – pitchers both young (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard) and old (Tim Wakefield) won’t last that long, the position players who were the cornerstones are gone (Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon) or almost gone (David Ortiz, Jason Varitek), the veterans (Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts) have retired and moved on with their lives. None of those men who made history of their own can do what Cox has done. Very few in the game that we love the most can say that they have.

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Umpiring controversy strikes MLB playoffs — again

Posted by Bill Koch on October 9, 2010

Another night, more umpiring fiascos and an addition to the list of ejected managers have stolen the attention away from the action on the field.

Welcome to the 2010 Major League Baseball postseason.

Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves were the victims again as they locked horns with the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series. The call in question had very little to do with Game 2’s outcome – no runs were scored and Atlanta’s late comeback was far more entertaining – but it brought more attention to a problem that is threatening the credibility of these games.

Alex Gonzalez was called out on a grounder to deep short, a mistake made by first base umpire Paul Emmel after he missed Aubrey Huff’s foot slipping off the bag. It was the second time in as many nights that Emmel had screwed the Braves, and Cox added to his all-time lead in ejections by getting sent to the showers early. Television replays showed that Emmel was wrong and Cox was ejected for arguing something that he never should have had to contest, the same type of injustice that has already happened twice previously in these playoffs.

Cox joined Joe Maddon (Game 2 of the Tampa Bay-Texas series) and Ron Gardenhire (Game 2 of the Minnesota-New York series) in the group of managers who have been ejected since the postseason began. The cause of all three ejections, upon video review, was a blown call. Michael Young’s three-run homer (which followed a disputed check swing that should have been strike three on a slider in the dirt) and Lance Berkman’s RBI double (which followed a 1-2 fastball from Carl Pavano that clearly caught the inside corner and should have been strike three) never should have been allowed to happen. It was a call that Cox didn’t argue that hurt even more in Game 1 – Buster Posey was out at second on a stolen base attempt and Emmel missed it, allowing Cody Ross to knock in Posey with the game’s only run in a 1-0 Giants’ victory.

Defending the umpires is easy enough. You can insist that their respective calls alone didn’t decide the respective outcomes of the games, and you’d be right. Not many teams are going to win games striking out 14 times and scratching out just two hits like the Braves did in Game 1. Chad Qualls shouldn’t have thrown a fastball down the middle to Young on his next pitch. Pavano should have buried his changeup in the dirt instead of leaving it ankle-high to a low-ball hitter like Berkman. I’ll concede all of those points.

But it shouldn’t come to that. We shouldn’t know Emmel’s name. Video replay is so accurate and could be implemented so easily that Major League Baseball has to act sooner rather than later. As usual, Bud Selig and the rest of his cronies are dragging their feet and will be forced to kick and scream before they do anything proactive. They sat back and watched when steroids and performance enhancing drugs shredded the record book and while the gap between rich teams and poor teams grew to the point where baseball has become irrelevant in places like Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Selig should have learned his lesson when Jim Joyce was thrust into the national spotlight after he blew a call at first base on what should have been the final out of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. The Detroit Tigers’ righthander had history and the crowning moment of his career taken away when Joyce ruled that Jason Donald beat out a grounder to first on what should have been the 27th and final out. Replays showed that Joyce was wrong and pressure was put on Selig and the rest of MLB’s executives to reward Galarraga after the fact in the record books. Selig chose not to do that (and we agreed with him, because that would open Pandora’s Box), but he didn’t take any steps to make sure it would never happen again.

The umpires themselves, a historically stubborn group, also share the blame. They insist that nobody hurts more than they do when a call is missed. If that was truly the case, they’d be pressuring MLB just as hard as the fan base to reform the current system and take advantage of all that technology has to offer. It took forever for umpires to agree to conference on the field in the name of getting calls right – they’re extremely reluctant to overrule a colleague. You think they’d take kindly to replay? No shot. What’s left unsaid is that the umpires want to get it right – on their terms. They don’t have the true best interests of the game at heart, and we’ve never thought that Selig has been the man to protect baseball during his time as puppet commissioner. This postseason is proving those points for us yet again, and it’s a shame.

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Ramble On’s 2010 MLB postseason guide

Posted by Bill Koch on October 6, 2010

It feels a little strange to be starting postseason baseball without the Boston Red Sox involved, but that doesn’t mean that Ramble On is going to be any less interested in what goes on. We’ll be watching night after night as Tim McCarver continues to make a jackass of himself on FOX and new heroes are born on the way to the 2010 World Series. Here’s a brief breakdown of each of the Division Series matchups.

Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers
We wish that Josh Hamilton, our American League MVP choice this season, had never jumped into that wall at Target Field and cracked his ribs. He won’t be anywhere close to the absolute force he was during the regular season and the Rangers will suffer because of it. Elvis Andrus ended the season in a terrible slump, Vladimir Guerrero’s resurgence will end now that it’s the postseason (just two home runs in 29 career playoff games) and the Texas pitching staff is largely untested on the big stage. Cliff Lee can’t win all three games for the Rangers in this best-of-5 series.

The Rays are simply tough to beat. David Price is in our top-3 for the AL Cy Young Award, fronting a young rotation loaded with power arms. Tampa’s lineup is pesky enough to give the Rangers fits and the Rays are so athletic that they’ll run wild on the bases and play great defense. Even with a gutless fan base that has no idea how to appreciate what it’s seeing right now, we like Tampa to advance.
Prediction: Rays in 4 games

Philadelphia Phillies-Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are one of the feel-good stories of the 2010 season. They were picked anywhere from fourth to dead last in the National League Central and surged to win the division behind an MVP effort from first baseman Joey Votto, a rare healthy season from third baseman Scott Rolen and a pitching staff that has one of the brightest futures in all of baseball. The problem for Cincinnati is that manager Dusty Baker has a way of making sure that any young arms – think Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Cubs fans – have a habit of not making it to old age. Edinson Volquez has already had Tommy John surgery, Mike Leake is shut down for the playoffs and Aroldis Chapman is a couple of 40-pitch appearances from exploding in the center of the diamond.

The Phillies will likely be our pick to win the World Series when the time comes. They have the best 1-2-3 punch in recent memory with Cy Young winner Roy Halladay and rejuvenated studs Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Philadelphia’s lineup also seems to be getting healthy at exactly the right time, with Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard all coming off the DL late in the season to give the Phillies their trademark punch. There might be no stopping these guys on their way to late October.
Prediction: Phillies in 3 games

New York Yankees-Minnesota Twins
Is this finally going to be the year that the Twins get past the Yankees? Minnesota seems to run into New York every year in the postseason and comes up short, and the Yankees usually don’t need the help that bogus umpires like Phil Cuzzi tend to provide in key spots. The Twins are celebrating the opening of Target Field with a postseason berth, a reborn Francisco Liriano, an emerging ace in lefty Brian Duensing and maybe one last chance at a ring for aging slugger Jim Thome.

We’re not sure if Minnesota will have enough offense without first baseman Justin Morneau (concussion), but this series will be all about pitching – or a lack of it. The Twins have the deeper bullpen and New York’s starting rotation is in shambles after C.C. Sabathia. How many more postseason bullets does Andy Pettitte have in that shoulder? His achy groin might be the bigger question mark this time around. Phil Hughes hit the wall sometime in July (11-2, 3.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.1 Ks/9, 3.14 K/BB ratio before the All-Star break; 7-6, 4.90 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 6.6 Ks/9, 1.9 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break) and seems like a guy begging to be lit up. A.J. Burnett and his $82.5-million deal didn’t even make the rotation.
Prediction: Twins in 5 games

San Francisco Giants-Atlanta Braves
We’re glad to see Bobby Cox back in the postseason in what’s set to be his final season in Atlanta’s dugout. The Braves’ longtime manager is making his 16th postseason appearance, a Major League record that is just about impossible to duplicate while staying with one franchise the entire time. This season marks one of one of his best managerial jobs and he will be missed.

The problem for Cox is that he might have more energy left than his players. The Braves had to sell out in the season’s final week just to qualify for the postseason, using Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe on three days rest and trying to force some runs out a lineup that is missing NL MVP dark horse Martin Prado due to an oblique injury. The Giants seem to be coming on at the right time behind trade Tampa Bay bust Pat Burrell, electric rookie catcher Buster Posey and a young rotation that is as good as any in baseball. Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will be a tough out for any club, especially one with the Braves’ limited offensive firepower.
Prediction: Giants in 4 games

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Saying goodbye to a dear old friend

Posted by bdowd625 on October 3, 2010

If you didn’t get a chance to see it, the Boston Red Sox bid farewell to fan favorite Mike Lowell in a pregame ceremony on Saturday. As such, we here at Ramble On would like to chip in our two cents when it comes to Lowell and his five-year tenure in Boston.

We can honestly say that guys like Lowell don’t come around very often. He’s classier than the day is long, and his production during his time in Beantown far exceeded what anyone expected when he was thrown into the Josh Beckett/Hanley Ramirez deal before the 2006 season. Most people will remember Lowell as the 2007 World Series MVP, and you certainly couldn’t fault them for doing so. But what we’ll remember most is how Lowell always stayed positive even during an up-and-down 2010 season in which he was rarely used. In a day and age where dirtbags run wild in professional sports, Lowell’s true character was always evident.

It’s been a fun ride these last five years, and the Sox will certainly look like a different team when they get to Fort Myers for spring training next season. But we won’t soon forget the effect Lowell has had on the organization. We’ll miss you, Mike, and we know we’re not alone.

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Diaz makes his way into Ramble On’s heart

Posted by Bill Koch on September 21, 2010

We’ll admit that we’ve been slacking a little bit on our baseball coverage here at Ramble On, and that’s mainly because a certain team that plays its home games at Fenway Park has fallen out of the American League postseason chase. (It’s also due to my own self-imposed embargo on anything Red Sox-related until the season is over.)

That changes today thanks to Matt Diaz, the Atlanta Braves outfielder who sealed his place as a Ramble On favorite on Monday night by taking the law into his own hands in Philadelphia. Diaz helped security at Citizens Bank Park take down some jerk that had the balls to run onto the field in the bottom of the seventh inning.

What Diaz did wasn’t all that spectacular – he simply stuck out a leg and tripped some idiot wearing red spandex that covered his body from head to toe. We were hoping for a clothesline that snapped the guy’s neck or a sucker punch that broke the guy’s jaw, but we’ll settle for action of any kind and love it. Security took care of the rest and hauled the guy off to jail. Diaz received a standing ovation from the crowd and plenty of love from his teammates when he got back to the dugout for making the move that he did.

Apparently Philly fan will never learn. It was Phillies’ security who used a Taser to take down some other moron earlier this summer – by comparison, this most recent loser got off cheap. And it’s not like this was a game between two teams just playing out the string. We could almost understand if someone slid into second base at Fenway during this series between the Red Sox and the Orioles. The Phillies and the Braves are essentially starting the postseason early, with Philadelphia holding a three-game lead in the National League East when the series began and Atlanta clinging desperately to a wild card berth. The focus should have been on baseball – and, thanks to Diaz, it got back there in a hurry.

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Luis Castillo drops the ball again

Posted by bdowd625 on September 9, 2010

We here at Ramble On are in touch with our sensitive side – that’s right, ladies – so when we read Luis Castillo’s comments about why he chose not to join his teammates on a recent visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, it made our blood boil a little bit. Here’s the quote from Castillo:

“Sometimes when you see people with no legs and no arms, when they go to fight for us and they’re in the hospital like that, I don’t like to see that.”

You don’t like to see that? Are you kidding me? These are people who sacrifice life and limb so that you can consistently hit .230 for the Mets and drop pop-ups that cost your team the game, you slapdick. I can understand if Castillo gets a little squeamish around hospitals – that happens to the best of us sometimes. But to word your explanation that way is pretty damn insulting. Show up with the rest of your teammates and brighten someone’s day and then you can get on with your miserable existence.

Apparently Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez didn’t make the trip either, but I don’t feel like wasting my breath on those two dead spots on the Mets’ roster.

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