Friday, September 26, 2003

Feeling That La, La, La

I had strong premonition that last night would prove to be the clincher night, but boy-oh-boy I didn't expect a "14-3 drubbing of the Orioles." The Red Sox were so far ahead by 8pm that I didn't feel guilty at all to turning back and forth to Survivor for an hour. (Yes, I still watch the series as I have six times before.)

The photos of the post game celebration are a joy to go through, and I can't help but smile over the" frenzy that erupted" inside Fenway. Though I guess I have just enough of the Calvinist in me to make me uneasy as all the champagne and cigars. As David Pinto puts it, "The Sox clinch the wild card! They're number two!"

Regardless four years feels like an eternity, and this is only the tenth time since that year (the one burned into your psyche and holding as much historical weight as 1066 and the Norman invasion of England), so I'm not going to beat myself up for feeling pretty happy. Indeed, I got so carried away myself that I ordered a 2003 playoff hoodie. (And if it doesn't arrive in the mail before Wednesday's game against the "impressive" Oakland A's, I'll be too scared of jinx to even open the package.)

Man, I still can't get over how Theo Epstein sits there stoically behind home plate the entire game. And talk about having thick skin:

Epstein said his walk from his seat in the stands at the end of the game was a little easier than many nights.

"Instead of telling me I suck, they were telling me I did a good job," said Epstein (Silverman, Herald).

And how much do we owe Theo Epstein for our celebratory mood this morning? Bob Ryan counts if off:

1. He signed Todd Walker (12 home runs, 83 RBIs); 2. He signed, after a diligent international pursuit, Kevin Millar (23 home runs, 92 RBIs, and that's only the beginning of his contribution); 3. He signed Bill Mueller (who may lead the league in batting while slugging well over .500); 4. He signed David Ortiz (31 home runs, 101 RBIs, more certifiable clutch hits in the last two months than anyone in the American League, and that's only the beginning of his contribution).

So feel good fellow fans. Feel that la, la, la. And, as Larry Lucchino says, "Eleven more."

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Celebratus Interruptus

I can be patient. It's only a matter of time now, right?

For me, the best part of tuning into last night's game late with the Red Sox already trailing 7-1 was thinking to myself, "Dang, that's nothing. 6 runs? They can come back."

Even though they didn't (but Ortiz sure did try, didn't he?), I'm stunned to realize what a paradigm shift this 2003 Red Sox club has brought about to my fan point of view. It's nothing short of remarkable to go from years and years of expecting the worse to now thinking anything is possible.

I love this description from Howard Bryant:

[The Red Sox] resemble a stock chart, emotions zigzagging up and down. For the Red Sox, the only transcendent win will be the final one, if they win it all, the only devastating defeat will be the one that ends their season.

Everything in the middle is typical Sox, 2003.

… last night served only as entertainment and a reminder that the Red Sox are not Dow Jones, but more the Nasdaq - volatile, prone to big gains and dizzying spiral plummets. They are clear-air turbulence (Bryant, Herald).

And this data courtesy of Michael Gee gets my skin tingling:

The Sox can't finish with a won-loss record 10 games worse than any other playoff club. In baseball history, teams that much less successful than their foe have lost over 80 percent of all postseason series. If the margin's less, regular-season records aren't statistically relevant (Gee, Herald).

Gee, however, goes on to add that "the chance of Boston climbing all the way to the top of the mountain remains slightly less than even."

But you know what? I'll take it. Slightly less than even sounds fine, certainly better odds than we've seen that past few years. At least it looks like the Red Sox will be given the opportunity to beat the odds.

And while I have had a paradigm shift in thinking on a game by game basis, I'm not about to tempt fate and make any assumptions just yet. Sure, it's highly improbable that Boston would lose all their remaining games as Seattle wins all of their own. But … you know stranger things have happened … Good to know I'm not the only one who isn't popping the cork just yet:

Lucchino won't talk about any playoff preparations until the deal is final. His young general manager, Theo Epstein, said, "I'm not as superstitious as Larry," but didn't want to talk too much about the Sox playoff prospects until the club is officially registered in the tournament (Shaughnessy, Globe).

Ready. Steady. Go. Tonight is the night, though. I feel it. Don't you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Today, Brought to You by the Magic Number Two

Trailing 5-2 in part two of the ninth, two men on, two outs and two strikes and Todd Walker (wearing number 12) goes deep to tie it. Segue to part 2 of the tenth, Ortiz works the count to 2-and-1 and, boom, into the Monster seats. The crowd goes delirious on a Tuesday night, the 23rd of September.

Later Seattle loses 2-1 to Anaheim and I'm smiling like a dancing chick who looks like a guy in a Toulouse-Lautrec oil, happy as the Two Fat Ladies with a roasted suckling pig ("Now it’s time for a veddy large drink!"). Two for tea and tea for two. Two turtle doves. I'm having to give the boss two weeks notice that I may need some time to myself to pilgrimage to Boston for the second to last week in October. Across Mordor first, the land of shadows and the two towers. Red Sox v. the Curse, as two yoke-devils sworn to either's purpose

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

First Wet Your Hands and Apply Liquid or Clean Bar Soap

OK. The Red Sox won and "improved to 92-64 overall, marking the first time since the end of the 1995 season that they have been 28 games over .500" (Horrigan). On top of that, Jeff "Suppan delivered a quality, six-inning, 97-pitch start…[raising his] record to 3-3 with the Sox this season, with all three wins coming at Fenway" (Silverman).

But the Mariners won, too, behind the "amazing" Jamie Moyer who, as Rob Neyer suggests is amazing because

he's still pitching effectively at 40 after he spent his 20s not pitching effectively.

Since turning 34, Moyer has won 111 games. That's impressive; only 14 other pitchers in major league history have won more than 100 games from their Age 34 season (the season in which they were 34 on July 1) through their Age 40 season (ESPN).

Hat's off to Moyer, but I'm getting weary of this Mariners clinging to playoff life thing. When will the Red Sox wash their hands of them and get out, out the damned Seattle spot that otherwise mars our hygienic postseason hopes?

drawing of handwashing at sinkI feel like I'm in a men's restroom at the airport where a study by microbiologists revealed "only 78 percent of adults turning on the tap after using public restrooms at six major airports. The dirtiest: New York's JFK [big surprise, right?], where the great unwashed numbered more than 30 percent." (WaPo).

Say you are not among the unclean and unwashed, dear reader.

Me? I'm a frequent hand washer to the point of near obsession. And I often go through amusing displays of Twisteresque moves to prevent post washed hands from being re contaminated as I vacate the restroom. On top of that I keep a full and ready dispenser of "instant antibacterial hand sanitizer (kills germs with moisturizers and Vitamin E)" on my desk at work at all times just in case I'm required to shake hands with someone. ( I reach for the juice as soon as the hand shaker exits my cube.)

Crazy? Hah. Tell it to the CDC who "cite handwashing as the single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease."

So let's rinse, lather, and repeat. October awaits.

Monday, September 22, 2003

The Flat Earth Society

The postseason seems so close now one can almost taste it. Though, it's been so long I can't really remember what it tastes like. Chicken, perhaps? Or maybe fried oreos? Seems we shall know soon enough if we consider Mr. Martinez as symbolic of the team's chances.

Continuing a late-season surge that ran his September record to 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA, Martinez went seven innings and threw 29 of his 115 pitches in the final inning. Over the last three games, The Man Too Small To Be A Starter has thrown, in order, 116, 122 and 115 pitches, going 24 innings (an average of eight per start) and showing not the least bit of fatigue (Massarotti, Herald).

It's funny that Massarotti uses that "Man Too Small To Be A Starter" ironic labeling of Pedro, because while watching the game on ESPN2, commentator and former MLB pitcher Jeff Brantley went into one of those now familiar tirades against statistics as part his commentary early on in the game.

Did you hear it? According to Brantley, "Statistics lie." I was expecting that any moment he'd also contend that the sun actually revolves around the earth and that bloodletting is good cure for most ailments. Note to JB: Step into the 21st Century, eh?

The most curious part of his thinly veiled animosity toward the Billy Beane and Theo Epstein approach to the game was his statement along these lines (I'm paraphrasing from memory): "You know why I hate statistics? Because I was 5'10, 160lbs and all the statistics said I was too small to pitch in the Majors."

Talk about having it arse backwards. Regular readers will know I'm not much of a stat head myself, but that's only because it's not my passion/interest rather than some bizarre fear of statistical analysis. Indeed, I know enough to realize it's the statistical approach to the game espoused by Beane et al that downplays physical appearance of prospective ballplayers. That's why the A's have drafted guys who don't look the part, guys like Jeremy Brown, guys who have "titties" even.

Here's Lewis making the point in Moneyball:

The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before ia not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job (p. 115).

So with that thinking, you'd expect to find more guys, like Brantley and Martinez, in the Majors rather than fewer.

Speaking of stats, Dave Pinto has come up with something interesting regarding "A Probabalistic Model of Range." His impetus is thus: "I'm asking the question, what is the probability of a batted ball becoming an out, given the parameters of that batted ball?" I must admit I find myself more and more drawn to these kinds of mathematical puzzles. I don't see myself ever coming up with any on my own, but I also don't ever see myself doing anything but chortling when I hear alleged "experts" like Brantley dismiss statistic out of hand.