Premature Exasperation: Homestand Rekindles Hope
4.22.03 No word yet on whether John Burkett will attend this year's All-Star Game if he's named to the team.
Just kidding, J.B. We pretty much knew what we were getting at the back of the rotation: lots of baserunners, lots of rockets, lots of long relief. So it's never a surprise when Burkett or Casey Fossum fails to go six or seven.
But there were certainly some pleasant surprises on this 7-2 homestand. (Reader warning: Hench about to be positive. Okay, largely positive.)
Weren't we all amazed at how good an ugly uniform can look during a comeback win? When the Red Devils gathered at home plate to welcome Nomar after his Saturday walk-off shot they looked positively resplendent. Of course overcoming a 5-0 deficit against an All-Star ace could make Padre mustard and brown look good. Sure, the red shirts look like batting practice jerseys, but they're damn purty when the Sox start taking BP in the late innings.
Shea Hillenbrand is amazing. Can you imagine how hard it is to hit Major League pitching when you lack the fundamental ability to gauge the path of a pitched ball? When the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, some hitters can tell immediately that that pitch will be in the dirt or way outside. With Shea, it's like he picks the ball up ten feet from home plate and reacts, which makes his hitting that much more phenomenal. This guy can go down on one knee and drive the ball to a gap or dive out over the plate and slap the ball down the right-field line. If the strike zone was the size of a soccer goal, the former All-State striker would be the best player in the game this side of Vlad Guerrero. Shea has been more patient this year, but not necessarily more selective (if that makes any sense). He takes pitches for the sake of taking pitches, not because they look like balls to him. As a result, he is often down in the count, but it hardly matters because he is such a wizard when it comes to hitting bad pitches hard. But more than his typical April offensive output, I've been so impressed with his defense. He made several superior plays at third this past week, including a dazzling 5-u-4 double play on which he made a strong throw to second while fading away into foul territory. It was an aggressive, confident play. Now, seriously, trade him for a pitcher already.
Though it is a confounding puzzlement why Nomar's throws seem to be so much more accurate on spectacular plays than on the routine ones, his play on Aubrey Huff in the Ice Bowl series against the D-Rays belongs in his all-time top 10. To go that far to his right and make that strong a throw in those conditions, well, you just have to tip your ski mask to him. Now if we could only eliminate those nasty splitters he throws after scooping balls hit right at him.
At the risk of calling attention to it, jinxing it and bringing down the whole freakin' house of cards, have you noticed that you're starting to expect Manny to make plays in left field? That you no longer hold your breath on every ball hit his way? That you're not even that shocked when he makes a running, lunging catch? Not enough was made of his barehand snag, spin and throw that preserved the first win at Baltimore. Why am I already regretting this paragraph?
Mike Timlin looks sharp. He's been challenging hitters with the same moxie that a bumper sticker above his locker taunts peaceniks. It describes the peace symbol as "The footprint of the American chicken." I wonder if Jason Varitek is reluctant to call for a curve for fear of misinterpretation. (Apparently glib comparisons between our Committee and H.U.A.C. were more accurate than we'd thought.) Just keep getting ahead in the count, Mike.
Tim Wakefield is a stud. If his stuff is crap, he finds a way to keep us in the game. If his stuff is awesome, he spends the whole day looking at the back of his catcher and he still finds a way to keep us in the game. If you could teach mound demeanor, Wake 101 would be a required course.
Kevin Millar announced himself with a game-winning home run in the second game of the season, and despite a 1-for-14 slide to end the homestand, he is rightly the fan favorite of the moment. He is a patient, professional hitter with power who also looks like our best fielder in the first baseman starting rotation (faint praise, to be sure). And he is clearly a great teammate. Watching him maul Nomar on Saturday was a joy.
And you can't love Millar without giving Theo Epstein his due. He refused to let alienating other GMs or prohibitive international long distance charges keep him from getting his man. The bullpen's recent run of success probably hasn't calmed the palpitations across New England - and beyond - and does anyone really believe Kevin Tolar and Jason Shiell are longterm solutions? But Millar has justified the Kid's doggedness and the team's offseason phone bill.
I would like to say something nice about Trot Nixon's hot start, but the Leo Durocher in me won't let me until he goes a whole week without airmailing the cutoff man.
Oh, and Grady... well, he didn't screw anything up too bad.
Now, please Lord, for the love of dinosaurs and moon landings, don't let Carl Everett beat us. In fact, for the sake of the Nation, don't even let the reigning AL Player of the Week come up against the Committee with the game on the line. Thanks.