Hench's Hardball

"I remember reading about Nirvana fans -- who had followed them in clubs and on the Sub Pop indie label -- being bummed out when they went huge with Nevermind. Kind of feels the same with the Sox. It's no longer Cosa Nostra (our thing). It's everybody's thing.

"But nobody felt it harder or deeper or better last October than the lifers." -- 4.25.05 Kevin Hench

Emotions Ran High as Sox Received Rings

04.12.05: It took 86 years for the Red Sox to win the World Series. Had the organization dedicated every second of that epoch to choreographing a victory celebration, they couldn't have improved on the ring ceremony that preceded the team's 2005 home opener. The sun-drenched proceedings began simply enough with public address announcer Carl Beane's resonant welcome: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and welcome to Opening Day 2005 at Fenway Park, America's most beloved ballpark and the home of the defending world champion Boston Red Sox." Continued on FOXSports.com

Hate Has Simmered, But Rivalry Remains

04.01.05: I thought winning it all would make me soft.

Heck, I wanted it to make me soft.

The mean, bitter, hard edge with which I've always approached this baseball rivalry is not only irrational but quite unattractive. How many times can you hear your embarrassed wife announce to your fellow guests at a wedding, "Actually, he's not kidding," before you start hoping you can change? Continued on FOXSports.com


Time to Say Goodbye to Pedro

11.22.04: So Pedro Martinez slipped off to Tampa for a brief, none-too-secret rendezvous with George Steinbrenner.

Was this supposed to make Theo Epstein and the Red Sox brass jealous? This is like the girl you've been dying to break up with flirting with a guy at the bar right in front of you. You want to go up to them and say, "Hey, you two look great together. I really think you should make a go of it. Good luck. Bye." Continued on FOXSports.com


Red Sox fans are happy for Roger ... now

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(Boston Globe Photo / Paul Benoit)

11.11.04: Roger Clemens just won his seventh Cy Young Award. For his fourth different team. That tells you a lot about Roger Clemens.

He's a hell of a pitcher. And he's absolutely 100 percent loyal to Roger Clemens.

And while the Rocket has always put himself first, every baseball fan will forever remember him in their own special way. Continued at FoxSports.com

What would you do for a championship? | Party worth the wait


Road to Nowhere

7.21.04: Why, oh, why can everybody beat up on the O's but us? Just another not very surprising loss in a long string of not very surprising losses.

And has a .500 road trip to the West Coast ever felt so bad?

Despite bouncing back from each of their three losses with a W, the trip exposed just about every reason why the Red Sox have little chance of holding off the A's and/or Angels for the wild card.

1) The same guys who couldn't play defense before the All-Star break still can't play defense.

Kevin Millar had only 45 seconds to circle under Chone Figgins' pop fly in the first game after the break and managed to approach the approximate area of touch-down in such a zig-zag fashion that the ball landed fair, the inning continued and the Sox and poor Derek Lowe (who suffers more than anyone as a result of these stone gloves) got shelled. Millar also got to show off his arm in that game with a five-hopper to the plate. If Millar played on my softball team, he would be the best hitter (right?) and our slowest outfielder with the weakest arm. On the plus side, Millar belted his sixth home run of the season tonight, pulling even with Coco Crisp, though he still trails Coco 34 RBIs to 26 despite having 51 more ABs on the season (300 to 249). Yes, Millar is averaging a home run every 50 at-bats. I will be closely monitoring the Kevin v. Coco power comparison down the stretch.

Watching Nomar play shortstop has become unbearable. He moves like an unlubricated Tin Man. On Darren Erstad's two-run single over his head in the third game of the Anaheim series, I swear he jumped four inches off the ground, maybe not even. On a slowly hit ball up the middle in Monday night's calamity against the Mariners, Nomar looked certain to get there until he sort of lay down in the dirt and waved at the ball as it rolled by. Then, in the same game, he dropped a throw from Gabe Kapler that should have resulted in a putout at second. The throw was pretty poor, but any good shortstop would have made the play. This was the third ball on the trip that hit him in the glove and bounced out. He failed to squeeze a soft liner by Tim Salmon in the Saturday loss after diving unnecessarily to his left and he bobbled the suddenly routine popup that caromed off Wakefield in the same game. And then the drop on Monday. Think of the montage of Nomar's 20 worst pays since returning. Stumbling over second base, dropping the ball, booting grounders, throwing splitters in the dirt to first. He's about as smooth as the legs at an Indigo Girls concert.

Mark Bellhorn, sadly, has continued the recent tradition of Red Sox second basemen with below average range, hands, instincts, etc. From the aborted Wil Cordero experiment, through Jose Offerman and Todd Walker, we've had some beauts. If only Pokey could stay healthy and hit the ball out of the infield more than once every ten plate appearances.

2) We may be the worst baserunning team in Major League history.

I wrote a column a while back, throwing Dale Sveum under a bus for his terrible base coaching instincts. But in his defense, it is very hard to coach terrible base runners. The Sox get terrible reads, bad jumps and, of course, have almost no wheels. Just as Peter Gammons was naming Jason Varitek the catcher on his "all they play the game the right way" team, Tek was getting doubled off first on a line drive to the shortstop FOR THE SECOND TIME on the brief road trip. The first one was incomprehensible. On a soft, broken-bat liner to short - a ball that never looked like a hit or a ground ball - Tek bolted from first and was easily doubled off. Then, on the second, he got doubled off when Gabe Kapler hit a line drive at Jolbert Cabrera's shoetops. Jerry Remy, in his infinite forgiveness, suggested that Varitek was in a tight spot as to whether to go or stay home. I say, it's an easy call. If Cabrera short hops the hot smash, it's going to be a double play no matter how hard Tek runs. If Tek runs and Cabrera snares it on the fly, it's also an easy DP. The only chance you have in that situation is to stay put and hope he squeezes it on the fly. This is why coaches tell us all our lives "to see a line drive through" before we attempt to advance.

Later in the Monday night loss to Seattle, Terry Francona put on a hit-and-run with Bellhorn at first and a lefty on the mound. Bellhorn was so crossed up by Gary Shirrell's delivery that he was going almost all the way back to the bag on the pitch. But the crazy thing was, he would still take off when the guy went home. So he was about eight feet off the bag when the ball reached the plate. This reminds me so much of all those strike-em-out-throw-em-out DPs in the playoffs against the Yankees last year. If you can't get any kind of a jump, there is only downside to sending the runner, no upside. You won't prevent a double play, you won't go first to third, you won't even open up a hole for the hitter to shoot at because the middle infielders can hold their ground until the ball is put in play and still beat the runner to the bag. The bad things, however, can still happen: caught stealing and line drive into a double play. I know people complain about our station-to-station approach, but your strategy needs to match your personnel, and, if the Sox hit-and-run 10 times this year it will probably be 10 times too many.

3) The Sox can't bunt.

Not a huge deal, but worth mentioning. And again, probably never a very good idea with this team, since our baserunners get such poor jumps and reads and are generally pretty slow. Even a B+ bunt won't get some of these runners over. And nothing kills a potential rally like bunting into a fielder's choice.

So we sit back and wait for Big Papi or Manny to hit a three-run dinger. Lord knows they've hit a bunch. But when they don't, we lose.

I don't think this team is good enough to make the playoffs in a vastly improved American League. But, that said, I'm not as panicky about the closing window of opportunity that I've associated with Pedro these last seven seasons. I think as long as Mr. Henry owns the team and the Kid is putting the roster together, the window of opportunity will be open. We're just not sailing through it this year.

I met Ty Law last week and he said he's so happy he doesn't have to play against Corey Dillon any more because the guy is a stud. Just a thought to ease the pain of the pending not-quite finish that awaits the Sox.


Sveum Old Song and Dance

6.6.04: Despite salvaging the last two games, this road trip raised several concerns for the Red Sox. Is Pedro Martinez even a reliable No. 3 starter at this point in his career? Can the bridge to Keith Foulke hold up without Scott Williamson? Is Cesar Crespo really in the Major Leagues?

But the biggest bummer about the trip for me was the revelation that once again the team has gone out and found a guy who cannot coach third base. - Continued - Hench's Hardball


Just for the record

5.19.04: I do not have a degree in medicine. I don't understand why some rotator cuffs tear and other don't or why some longitudinal tendons split 18 months after the original injury. I'm also confused as to why guys like Steve Karsay and Matt Mantei throw harder after arm surgery - and where can we get this surgery for every member of our bullpen?

But I do know that for many years there was some discontent in our perpetually discontented Red Sox Nation about Dr. Arthur Pappas and his role as the team physician. Back when this was an issue, I wrote a rant on this topic called The Butcher of Worcester that pilloried Pappas, and though I am too lazy to go to the archive to check, I suspect I cited Al Nipper's anger at being driven to Worcester after being spiked at home plate when there are so many hospitals around Kenmore Square; Marty Barrett's successful lawsuit; and Nomar's clubhouse cry, "Our doctors are killing us." When I vent my spleen, I try to be fair, but mostly I just vent.

I didn't know that Dr. Pappas was a hero to many people in New England who owe him huge debts of gratitude for his skilled orthopedic surgery. While I wish he had enjoyed the same success with the Red Sox, I'm sorry to have belittled his entire body of work when knowing only of his biggest failures. It wouldn't have changed my feelings about his tenure with the team - or the tone of my Pappas smear - but, instead of suggesting he stop practicing medicine, I may well have concluded that he go back to what he always did best, providing extraordinary help to ordinary people.

---

I know I crack on 'em pretty good, but bullpen implosions and statues playing first and second base notwithstanding, I like this ownership-GM-senior advisor (Bill James) team. They have money, ambition and a fundamental understanding of what makes winning baseball. As our 5-8 record against teams that will finish above .500 suggests - sorry, K.C. -- we still need to get better, primarily at the end of the pen and on the right side. But if you think of all the balls the Sox have crushed to the track during this interminably chilly spring that will leave the yard once it warms up, it should be a fun summer. September and October are another matter.

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As for tonight's debacle, when Jeter's bloop landed on the chalk, well, you just knew we had to chalk up a loss. Would have been nice to get one clutch hit and make it interesting, but sometimes it might be better to get all the bad mojo out of our system in one loss. Great to see Rick Reed and Tim Tschida working together at home and first, respectively. Too bad Larry Barnett couldn't have been there.

Great revelatory moment when Todd Walker couldn't get to Matsui's potential double-play ball that was hit a step and a half to his left.

Jerry Remy was certain that Walker must have been moving to the bag on the hit and run to not be able to get to that ball and was surprised to see on the replay that no, in fact, Walker was playing straight up at his position and is simply a lamp post at second base. Jerry said, "Oh, my mistake, he was not covering on the play." Remy didn't elaborate on why he was sure that Walker must have been covering the bag, but it's obvious that he -- like us -- is simply perplexed by Walker's remarkable immobility. How many more runs is Walker going to have to produce offensively than Rey Sanchez to make up for the floodgates he opens with his wooden legs and stone hands? (Some may look at Matsui's ball and think that very few second basemen would convert a DP on that ball, but keep in mind that a second baseman with decent range would be playing much farther from the bag than Walker has to in order to cover second. When he remembers to, that is.)


More Hardball/Archives 2001 - 2004

BDD is a feature of Boston.com. The site is not produced by the Boston Globe sports dept.

Boston Globe:

Red Sox agree to deal with Pierzynski > Sox non-tender Bailey, Kalish > Sox face arbitration decisions

Boston Herald:

Sox set Bailey, Kalish free > Doug Fister dealt to Nats > White Sox agree to 1-year contract with C Flowers

ProJo:

Pierzynski reaches deal with Red Sox > Kalish, Bailey non-tendered > Mike Napoli still ideal at first base > Middlebrooks, Red Sox both looking for improvement

NY Post:

Cashman pessimistic on Yankees re-signing Cano > Report: A-Rod called PEDs 'Food'

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