Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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The Red Sox Could Do With Watching Some College Baseball

I was supposed to be going to tonight’s Red Sox-Twins game but it’s been rained out and rescheduled for Wednesday, which is just as well for the scuffling Sox who surely can use an extra day to figure things out after yesterday’s walkoff loss to the Rangers. Especially with the way the Twins are playing, this is a dangerous four game series. Should the Red Sox get swept, somebody might lose their job.

Blaming personnel is the easy way out. I want to blame Rusney Castillo for grounding into a double-play every time up. I want to throw the phone at Pablo Sandoval after every error. Yet this is a problem that’s well beyond the individual. And it’s all a bit perplexing at this point. When you could blame everyone, what can be done?

Across the board, the Red Sox have just been playing bad baseball. This  team is really making everybody appreciate what must go into a win. There must be decent pitching, decent, and especially timely, hitting, and solid defense. Add in that the manager must make the correct decisions and suddenly it feels like a lot that must go right. And that’s the issue for this team. They’ve somehow made the basics of baseball seem complicated.

I’m all for closed-door meetings to try and make players play harder and more aggressively. I agree that it would be nice if Hanley Ramirez appeared to run after a ball from time to time. But none of that matters if the infielders are botching ground balls. None of that matters if nobody can get the runner from second to third with a ground-ball to the right side.

I heard a radio host complaining about the Red Sox playing selfish baseball about two weeks ago. That everybody is trying too hard to hit the three-run home run instead of doing the little things to help move runners along. While I think saying it’s ‘selfish’ is overly dramatic and prefer the term ‘hero ball,’ I think it’s an appropriate observation.

Recent Red Sox wins have been rare. But they’ve had a theme. Generally, somebody’s had an individually great game; Eduardo Rodriguez’s gem the other night is an example, or some of the Mike Napoli-led wins against the Angels. Somebody’s been the hero. And that’s a good thing. But sometimes that’s not enough. Dustin Pedroia can have a two home run game and it doesn’t matter because nobody else does their job. Far too often, somebody is described as trying to single-handedly bring this team back. Those players are admirable. But that should not be necessary. Gone are the wins when many players chip in. Gone are the team wins.

I’ve watched a lot of college baseball in the last week, particularly my Razorbacks. They’re firing on nearly all fronts and cruised through a difficult Regional on their way to a Super Regional with Missouri State later this week. But the Hogs are not an especially talented team. They were under .500 well into March. What they do however is refreshingly unlike the 2015 Red Sox. They manage to manufacture runs with smart baseball, hustle plays and timely hits. And they pick each other up when somebody makes a mistake. Even when superstar Andrew Benintendi – a potential Red Sox selection at #7 in next week’s draft – doesn’t hit for a game or two, his teammates find ways to score with collections of singles, steals and sacrifices.

College baseball is definitely a team sport. The superstar can certainly help a team win games, but the rest of the roster decides the vast majority of games, either in a good way or bad way, especially in the postseason when bullpens are thinned. They must be a team to win. And you can see that even in ways that the players celebrate a run, with everybody out of the dugout to greet teammates. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Red Sox congregate at the front of the dugout when one of their players moves a runner over?

The Red Sox could do with tuning their TV to some good college baseball tonight. They need to forget their averages, forget the low home run totals and high earned run averages and play the game like the college kids many of them once were. I’m not saying they need to press – they’ve done a lot of late lately – but they need to see what the way the college kids play the game. They need to start playing more like a team and less like a band of individuals. If they don’t start doing that, some individuals might find themselves somewhere else sooner than later.

 

 


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One Year Ago Today: Looking Back on Game 2

The Red Sox season is long over. I have gone through my “It doesn’t feel right watching October baseball without the Red Sox” phase and have emerged in time to watch two thoroughly entertaining Championship Series. I think at this point, I’m rooting for a Cardinals-Orioles World Series, but I don’t have a huge rooting interest. The best and simultaneously strangest part of this postseason is watching our boys John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Andrew Miller play starring roles for other teams. I love those guys to death, but it still always feels weird seeing World Series-winning, former Red Sox have another run in the postseason in other colors.

But today, I am looking back. Because today marks one year to the day that David Ortiz saved the Red Sox’s 2013 season. I doubt anyone could ever forget it, but here’s the video:

It’s easy when looking back on 2013 to remember it as simple. But lest you forget, the Red Sox nearly lost the first two games of the ALCS against the Tigers at home. In Game 1, Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers bullpen carried a no-hitter into the 9th. Only a Daniel Nava bloop single to left saved the Red Sox from an embarrassing start. And then in Game 2, Max Scherzer also had a no-hitter going with the Tigers up 5-0. Shane Victorino broke it up in the sixth and Papi tied it in the 8th. But through the first 14 innings of the series – all at Fenway Park – the Red Sox had one hit. And Justin Verlander had not yet pitched. Things weren’t looking good.

But all that has been forgotten because of one swing. One beautiful, incredible swing. If we weren’t expecting it, we should have been. Because nobody has proven to be more clutch than David Ortiz when it comes to playoff baseball. That grand slam will forever rank among the best moments in Red Sox history. The accompanying photo will also go down as one of the best sports photos ever taken.

That night now seems a distant memory. So much has changed on the Red Sox front in the last year. But we will always have the memory of this night to make us believe anything can happen in sports. Never count yourself out.

Here are some other fun notes about Game 2:

Max Scherzer’s line – 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 R, 2 BB, 13 K – I don’t know about you, but I’d be up for shelling out some serious cash to bring him to the front of the 2015 Red Sox rotation.

The Red Sox were aided by a Jose Iglesias error in the 9th, one of two big defensive miscues the former Red Sox wizard made that series at shortstop. As bad a year as Xander Bogaerts had both at the plate and on the field, there weren’t too many cries that Iglesias should have been playing. Jake Peavy may be gone from Boston, but at this point, it’s safe to say the Red Sox won that deal in the short term. I wish Iglesias the best of luck in his recovery from his shin injuries this offseason. I always liked him.

Brandon Workman and Felix Doubront were the Red Sox relievers who kept the game close, combining for 2 and 2/3 scoreless innings in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. The two of them didn’t give up a hit. Only a year later, both of those pitchers have seen their careers implode. Doubront got shipped out of town and Workman played himself out of a job. I bet 2013 seems even longer ago for the two of them.

In the 2 and 3 holes, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia combined for 3 hits and 2 runs. Don’t sleep on the two of them after subpar, forgettable 2014 campaigns. They’ll be driven all offseason by everyone counting them out, and I predict both to have bounce back years. Right now, my 2015 Red Sox outfield is Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino with Jackie Bradley Jr. the fourth outfielder.


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America’s Favorite Diminished Rivalry

(Originally written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as Sports Editor of the biweekly newspaper)

Growing up in New England in the pre-2004 era, the first thing I learned as a sports fan was to hate the Yankees. Sure, hate is a strong word and all, but we still hate the Yankees.

I never quite understood it back then. I would see people wearing shirts that equated the joy we got when the Red Sox won to that which we felt when the Yankees lost. I thought those shirts were stupid. Of course I’d rather see the Red Sox win. Who cares if the Yankees lose?

I’d be at a game at Fenway Park against the lowly Detroit Tigers of the early 2000s, and the Red Sox crowd would suddenly start chanting “Yankees Suck.” Or in the eighth inning, there would be a sudden cheer from the crowd. I’d hear somebody around me say, “The Yankees just lost” and realize the cheer came because the out-of-town scoreboard changed the “9” in the inning column to an “F.” The Yankees didn’t have to be anywhere near Boston to be on the minds of fans.

I think it was 2003 when I truly started hating the Yankees and all their players. Around then, steroid chants started echoing around Fenway. The Yankees always won, and it was easy to hate Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi. Why wouldn’t I hate them?

Things weren’t only hostile in the stands, but also on the field. Be it Karim Garcia, Don Zimmer or Clemens, there was always a clear antagonist on the field. The disdain the Red Sox had for the Yankees was real.

We all know what happened in 2004 forever changed the relationship Red Sox fans have with baseball. The Evil Empire was defeated in spectacular fashion that postseason, but so was the rivalry.

Since that memorable comeback that sparked the end of an 86-year curse, the Red Sox and Yankees have played roughly 18 times a year, with no meetings in the playoffs. After meeting in two straight epic ALCSs, they haven’t played each other with a whole lot on the line. And it’s showed.

ESPN and Fox might still pick up the games and bill them as rivalry games, but there isn’t the same hostility at this point. Aside from Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury switching sides, Red Sox fans don’t seem to be as invested in hating the Yankees. And save for Ryan Dempster taking it upon himself to drill Alex Rodriguez a year ago, the players certainly aren’t looking to start any fights, especially with Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis long gone.

This past weekend, the Red Sox organization, fans included, staged a love fest for Derek Jeter. It was fully deserved, and the gesture showed a tremendous amount of class on the part of the front office, but would the Red Sox have done anything like that ten years ago? Certainly not.

The weekend’s farewell to Jeter also got me thinking: Is there a Yankees player (other than A-Rod) that I can look at and say I truly hate? I have always respected Jeter, so this isn’t necessarily so much about him, but I don’t think there are any of those players left.

This ambivalence toward the opposing players is in stark contrast with my Arsenal fandom. This past weekend was also the North London Derby, a thoroughly bitter rivalry match between Arsenal and Tottenham. As I watched that match thinking about the impending Jeter ceremonies, I realized that I genuinely hated every single Tottenham player. I looked at them and instantly became angry. It reminded me of how I used to feel about the Yankees.

It would be easy to say that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has become watered down because of how many times a year the two teams play each other. Or that nobody cares anymore because the games take too long. It would also be easy to say that Red Sox fans no longer have an inferiority complex after winning three World Series titles in the last ten years.

But I think it boils down to the fact that these two teams haven’t played one another in the postseason in a decade. Bad blood starts and ends in the postseason. Sure, little things might tick everyone off in the regular season, but you can only truly learn to hate a team when you meet in the playoffs. The simple fact is that the Red Sox and Yankees haven’t had reason to hate one another.

I want nothing more than for the rivalry to be reignited. Baseball is so much more fun when the players and fans are at each other’s throats. For this to happen, the Red Sox and Yankees need to improve drastically. As long as they are bottom dwellers in the AL East, nothing will change.

So as Derek Jeter rides off into the sunset to loud chants of his name from Red Sox fans that booed his every mention for years, hopefully his exit will help usher in a new era of the hatred, one marked by the return of the bad blood that used to define America’s best rivalry.


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Saying Goodbye to the 2014 Red Sox As I Head Back to College

Today marks the end of summer for me, as I begin my drive back down to school. It’s been a good one. The first few weeks were dedicated to watching Lost, a life-changing odyssey for sure. Then came the fantastic World Cup and the inception of this blog. When people ask if my summer has been a success, I’ll say a resounding yes, pointing to the blog as the main reason. Writing so much has made me a lot more comfortable putting my thoughts down, and I’ll be all the better for it as I sit down to write essays for class and articles for my school newspaper.

But I have no intention of shutting the blog down. I obviously won’t have the time to watch Boston sports every night, so content will be a little more sporadic on that front. But I will certainly have something for every Arsenal game, and probably one or two other pieces each week. I might have to do some North Carolina sports coverage. Expect no fewer than four posts a week for now, however that could change as I get a feel for my new schedule this semester. Keeping the blog alive and well remains a high priority of mine, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

A year ago when I left in August, I knew there was a pretty good chance I’d be back for some October baseball. Even when I was at school, the soon to be World Series Champs were a must watch. I made it back for a playoff game, and the rest I watched as intently as ever. My Red Sox goodbye wasn’t really a goodbye at all last year. Check out an entertaining piece I wrote for my school paper about my Red Sox fandom last October to get the full sense.

But on Monday night at Fenway, I said my goodbyes to the 2014 Red Sox. With no postseason baseball ahead of us, and a roster that will look an awful lot like the Paw Sox the rest of the way, I don’t think I’ll be making the return trip to Fenway in October. I will absolutely follow the team, but this just isn’t our year. At least there won’t be any heartbreak. I can sit back and enjoy baseball as a neutral, something I haven’t had to do too often.

There are a few intriguing Red Sox story lines for the last month or so of the season though. David Ortiz’s quest for 500 home runs is officially on, as he now stands at 461 after another one last night. He has quietly put together another 30 home run season already, and if he stays hot, he could get to 40 for the year. That would leave him needing only 29 next year, which would be very doable. With retirement on the horizon as his contract expires next year, Ortiz will be eager to join the 500 home run club as soon as possible. There is no way he will retire if he’s anywhere close, but I have a feeling he might get there next year.

The other thing to watch will be the struggling players. Us fans can forget this horrible year of baseball once Tom Brady heats up, but players like Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. will not be in good places this offseason if they don’t right their own ships. Their loss of confidence has affected their play recently, and that can’t drag into next year. But those who could use a late season boost are not just restricted to young players. Dustin Pedroia too will be much better off next year if he has a good September. And from GM Ben Cherington’s standpoint, he wants players to snap out of season long funks to prove to potential trade partners that the funks are nothing more than that.

And lastly, the starting pitchers are all auditioning for a role in the 2015 rotation at this point in the season. Joe Kelly has a spot locked down, as does Clay Buchholz presumably. But between Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rose and Brandon Workman, there probably aren’t three places next year. All three have all performed well at times, going through the expected ups and downs of a young pitcher, but nobody has guaranteed themselves a spot next year. More than anyone else, those three pitchers have incentive to be at their best through the end of the year. De la Rosa probably has the advantage right now, but it’s anyone’s game.

So while I won’t be returning to Fenway until next year, it’ll still be worth my time to check in on the grainy internet feeds of Red Sox games every once in a while. And considering my dismal record at games this year – I must have been 2-8 or something like that – the team might be better off without me there. Regardless of where I am, my team is never far from my heart. So long, summer.


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Emirates Cup Wrap-Up, Clay Buchholz and Paul George

As I previously mentioned, I wasn’t able to watch the Arsenal-Monaco game yesterday morning. I monitored the game via Twitter and tried to find extended highlights, so I have a pretty good sense of what happened, but there isn’t all that much from the match itself that I can fairly analyze. Overall, it’s disappointing to miss out on winning the Emirates Cup on home turf yet again, but at the end of the day, the results aren’t what matter.

What I gleaned from the stuff I’ve watched and read was that a few of the Arsenal players looked to be a bit behind on their fitness. Olivier Giroud in particular looked a long way off from being ready for the new season. It’s entirely understandable given the World Cup and his late arrival at preseason, but it’s now looking like it may take at least until the end of the month for Arsenal’s main striker to be ready for extended game action.

However, any fears about Giroud’s absence were surely lessened on Saturday when Yaya Sanogo scored four goals against Benfica. It also looks like Arsene Wenger is quite comfortable playing Alexis Sanchez through the middle, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sanchez start up front against Manchester City next weekend in the FA Community Shield. And even Chuba Akpom could be a decent option up top if need be, as he once again showed himself quite well against Monaco yesterday in a substitute appearance.

With the German contingent still yet to return to training, Wenger’s options in certain areas will be limited when he selects his team next weekend. A trophy is on the line though, so he can’t run out an entirely inexperienced and experimental side. At this point, I think I would like to see a lineup of Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Mathieu Debuchy, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Yaya Sanogo take the field at Wembley on Sunday. Joel Campbell might also be in line for a start.

Other than fitness issues and an obvious penalty that wasn’t given late on, my only issue with the game was Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion in the starting lineup for the second day in a row. Ramsey is unquestionably Arsenal’s most important player at this point. And he picked up an unfortunate injury last winter due to overuse. So why Wenger thinks it’s a good idea to play Ramsey two days in a row in preseason is beyond me. Maybe it would have made sense to play him another half today to get him some more game action in the abbreviated summer, but he was on the pitch long after halftime. This wasn’t Wenger’s smartest move in my opinion.

Switching to baseball, watching the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball last night felt odd given the events of the last week in Boston baseball. This is certainly not a team built for primetime at the moment. The fact that Clay Buchholz is the de facto ace of the staff for the rest of the year is a scary thought for all those interested in fast-paced, low-scoring baseball. A Buchholz with no confidence against the Yankees in a nationally televised game is a recipe for a four and a half hour marathon. Who doesn’t love those games especially when the teams are bad?

But the bigger issue is Buchholz on the mound these days. Something needs to happen to get him in a mental place where he can pitch with confidence again, and I’m not sure getting hammered every fifth day is going to do the job. It’s strange to think about how he was thought about a year ago at this point, when he was the pitcher who was going to take the Red Sox to the World Series upon his return from injury. But now that he’s finally healthy, he’s been terrible all year. Maybe a trip back to the DL for shoulder tightness will allow him to take a break in order to get right mentally. It’s not like the Red Sox would lose anything with him not on the mound.

And on another note, while I think it’s a shame Paul George got hurt playing for his country in summer basketball, that injury should not mean the NBA needs to ban its players from participating in international tournaments. Injuries like the one he suffered can happen anywhere, anytime. Even if players aren’t competing officially, they’ll be out doing workouts on their own, playing pick-up basketball as well. And leg injuries are just as likely to happen then. So there is no need for overreaction. Fortunately for all of us who love international basketball, Adam Silver is a very reasonable man, and I think he’ll see this issue clearly.