Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 1

It all comes down to this -- and there are no surprises at the top of the list. (For the whole list, click here.)

10. Smoky Joe Wood, P
9. Babe Ruth, P
8. Tris Speaker, OF
7. Lefty Grove, P
6. Manny Ramirez, OF
5. Roger Clemens, P
4. Jimmie Foxx, 1B
3. Cy Young, P
2. Pedro Martinez

1. Ted Williams
As if it could be anyone else. The Splendid Splinter -- where did this nickname come from, anyway? -- is first in Red Sox history in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and walks; if Carl Yastrzemski hadn't played 23 seasons, Williams would be first in Red Sox history in hits, doubles, total bases and RBI, too.

(Of the top 10 slugging percentage seasons in Red Sox history, Williams has six. Of the top 10 on-base percentage seasons in Red Sox history, Williams has 10.)

He may, in fact, be the greatest hitter who ever lived.

He's also probably the greatest old hitter who ever lived. (We're excluding Barry Bonds from this conversation because all evidence points to him having had, um, help.) Check out the all-time leaders in OPS+ by age:

35: Babe Ruth, 211 (2nd: Ted Williams, 201) (3rd: Nap Lajoie, 199)
36: Babe Ruth, 218 (2nd: Ted Williams, 209) (3rd: Chipper Jones: 174)
37: Babe Ruth, 201 (2nd: Hank Aaron, 194) (3rd: Ted Williams, 172)
38: Ted Williams, 233 (2nd: Babe Ruth, 176) (3rd: Bob Johnson, 174)
(Bob Johnson played for the Red Sox as a 38-year-old in 1944. He hit 25 homers a year while playing for the Philadelphia A's in the 1930s.)
39: Ted Williams, 179 (2nd: Hank Aaron: 177) (3rd: Babe Ruth: 161)
40: Willie Mays, 158 (2nd: Edgar Martinez, 141) (3rd: Moises Alou: 138)
41: Ted Williams, 190 (2nd: Brian Downing, 138) (3rd: Stan Musial, 137)

Look at those numbers. Look at those margins.

Williams' 1957 and 1958 seasons rank among the most remarkable in baseball history. He was 38 years old in 1957 when he hit .388 with 38 home runs; he led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In many ways, he had better numbers than American League MVP Mickey Mantle.

A year later, at the age of 39, he again led the American League in batting average and on-base percentage. He hit 26 home runs. He even hit 26 home runs and legged out two triples.

And two years later, after he hit like a typical 40-year-old at the age of 40, he bounced back with a .316 batting average and 29 home runs at the age of 41.

There should be no debate: Ted Williams was the greatest Red Sox player of all-time. He'd have been the greatest Red Sox player of all-time even if he'd retired at the age of 35 the way he'd threatened to do. (True story: He announced, "That's it," at the end of the 1954 season and sat out the first month of the season before signing a contract to return -- a move many suspect had a lot to do with the divorce settlement that was finalized on May 11, 1955.)

But the way he hit in the twilight of his career eliminated any doubt.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How many more starts does Brad Penny have?

Brad Penny was a disaster again on Tuesday night, lasting just 2 2/3 innings and allowing seven runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks. He's now had two quality starts and two disastrous starts; he allowed eight runs in three innings against Baltimore on April 17. His ERA stands at 8.66 on the season; he's walked 11 and struck out five in 17 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox, as they demonstrated during their 11-game winning streak, are a World Series-caliber team. The Red Sox also, however, play in the most competitive division in baseball -- and missing the playoffs by one game gets you just as far as missing the playoffs by 10 games. Penny can only pitch so poorly before the Red Sox will have no choice but to yank him from the rotation.

He's not going anywhere in the immediate future. There isn't really anyone to take his place. But there are threats on the immediate horizon -- and there are approximate dates on which the Red Sox will have to make decisions:

May 15
Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a bullpen start today and will throw another bullpen session on Saturday with an eye on a trip to the minor leagues for a couple of rehab starts after that. If he goes to Triple-A Pawtucket and starts on May 6 (a week from today) and May 11, he ought to be ready to be activated from the disabled list sometime around May 15.

In theory, when Matsuzaka returns to the starting rotation, the Red Sox will send Justin Masterson back to the bullpen.

But Masterson has a 1.69 ERA to go along with seven strikeouts and three walks in his two starts. He hasn't gotten out of the sixth inning in either start -- but Penny hasn't exactly pitched deep into games, either. He's failed to get out of the fourth inning twice and hasn't thrown a pitch in the seventh inning yet this season.

There's no guarantee he's going to have to give up his spot when Matsuzaka returns.

May 31
The target date for John Smoltz to return has been Memorial Day all along; he threw batting practice in Fort Myers last weekend and will do so again on Thursday or Friday.

At a certain point, he's going to start pitching in games and working his way toward the Red Sox rotation -- and he's got a track record Penny could only dream about.

Penny has had an ERA of 4.00 or higher five times in his career; he had a 4.33 ERA with the Dodgers three years ago. A year ago, when he pitched through injuries, he had a 6.27 ERA in 94 2/3 innings.

Smoltz, on the other hand, has had an ERA of 4.00 or higher, too -- in 1994. Since then, though, his ERA has been below 4.00 -- below 3.50, even -- every season. He did stumble upon his return from Tommy John surgery in May of 2001, compiling a 5.76 ERA in his first five starts before being turned into a closer. That's a red flag. But he had double-digit wins and a sub-3.50 ERA in three seasons as a starter from 2005-07. If it all possible, the Red Sox want to give him a shot.

July 1
Clay Buchholz has a 2.45 ERA in his first three starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. That comes on the heels of a spring training in which he had a 2.52 ERA and 19 strikeouts in his six starts; he allowed just one earned run in his first 19 2/3 innings before a rough final start of the spring.

Had he pitched well a year ago, he'd be the Red Sox's fifth starter right now. Still, though, the Red Sox aren't going let him pitch in Triple-A for too long. If he keeps showing that he's too good for Triple-A, he's going to have to come up eventually -- either to contribute to the big-league team or to be showcased for potential suitors.

If the Red Sox have any intention of trading Buchholz this summer -- say, for Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers -- they're probably going to have to get him a couple of big-league starts in July so other teams can see what he can do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A stealing home story

A reporter asked Jacoby Ellsbury late Sunday night if he could remember the last time he stole home.

"When I was younger," he said. "I'd never stolen home in a college game or the minor leagues or, obviously, professional baseball. That's the first time."

The reporter followed up: Was it 90 feet?

"It was probably 60 feet," he said.

That's when it hit me: Jacoby Ellsbury and I have something in common. I, too, have stolen home on a 60-foot baseball diamond. He just happened to do his the conventional way.

I did not.

It was 1994 in Puyallup, Wash., the hometown of one Jon Lester. (Lester, for what it's worth, may have been playing in this same Little League at the same time; I haven't yet asked him about it.) I was 10 years old. The SportCo. Braves were playing the Angels on a field called Rodeo Field. It was somewhere in the middle innings; I singled with two outs and went to third when the next hitter doubled. There were runners on second and third and two outs.

The next hitter worked the count full. I remember that distinctly. It was one of those big spots where the next pitch was going to be really important, and I was ready to run like heck no matter what happens. I had my back foot on the base -- we weren't allowed to lead yet and could only steal after the pitch had crossed the plate -- and was ready to go.

The pitch came in low. Ball four.

I still have never figured out why I decided to trot home. I knew there was a runner on second; somehow, in my mind, the hitter had already walked and thus the bases were loaded, and that meant the walk I'd just witnessed had forced me home. I strolled home, never jogging faster than you'd expect anyone to jog in that situation, and stepped on home plate. The catcher sat behind the plate -- the ball in his glove the whole time -- and never moved.

Only then did I turn around and discover that no one had advanced to third base behind me. The bases hadn't been loaded. I'd stolen home.

It'd be tough to find a more exciting steal of home than the one Jacoby Ellsbury executed against the Yankees on Sunday night.

But it'd be tough to find a slower steal of home than mine.

Wakefield just doing what he does

We really do just remember the disasters, don't we?

Tim Wakefield is on a ridiculous run in his last three starts. He's thrown 23 innings and allowed three earned runs on 10 hits. His ERA is 1.17. Opponents are hitting .123 and slugging .173 against him.

He now has thrown at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs in three straight starts. Given his tendency to see the roof cave in every once in a while, it seems like back-to-back-to-back outstanding starts might be something that's getting toward the unprecedented side for him.

You might wonder, in fact, if this is as good of a run as he's been on in his 15 years with the Red Sox.

Nope. Not even close.

If he's going to match his longest streak for extra-quality-starts (EQS) -- a stat we'll make up right here and define as 7 IP or more and 2 ER or fewer -- he's still only halfway there.

Wakefield went six straight starts in the fall of 2002 without allowing more than two earned runs or pitching fewer than seven innings. Twice, in fact, he allowed just one earned run in eight innings. He threw 45 innings altogether and allowed seven earned runs: a 1.40 ERA over six starts.

(You remember 2002, right? Rey Sanchez? Tony Clark? Carlos Baerga? Jose Offerman? Dustin Hermanson? Bobby Howry? We're not exactly talking about a sensational supporting cast here.)

All of this, of course, came after he'd spent almost the entire season pitching out of the bullpen. Frank Castillo had to be yanked from the starting rotation following a series of disastrous starts; Rolando Arrojo landed on the disabled list and later in the bullpen as well.

Wakefield never again would be asked to pitch out of the bullpen on any kind of regular basis.

OK, if that's the longest run of super-quality starts, this run now must be the second-longest, right?

Nope. Still not close.

It was just a year ago -- just a year ago! -- that Wakefield put up the following four pitching lines in succession in late May and early June:
* 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER
* 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER
* 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER
* 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER

Wakefield, in fact, has strung together four straight extra-quality-starts three times in his Red Sox career -- besides that run last year, he also did it in 1997 and 2005. He's strung together three straight extra-quality starts five times -- in 1995, 1998, 2005, 2007 and now in 2009.

To put it another way, here's the longest EQS streak for a few Red Sox notables since 1995:

* Pedro Martinez: 8
Pedro also had streaks of seven, six and five twice. But he's in a class by himself. We knew that already.
* Tim Wakefield: 6
* Bronson Arroyo: 3
* Roger Clemens: 3
* Josh Beckett: 3
* Tom Gordon: 3
* Jon Lester: 3
* Derek Lowe: 3
* Curt Schilling: 3
* Matt Clement: 2
* Daisuke Matsuzaka: 2
* Bret Saberhagen: 2
* David Wells: 2

Wakefield, right now, has as long of as many consecutive 7 IP-2 ER games as Josh Beckett has had in his short but brilliant Red Sox career.

Way to go, George Kottaras.

Monday, April 27, 2009

OneIfByLand comes to Twitter

You can follow this blog on Twitter at

(Oneifbylandsports was too long; oneifbyland was taken by someone who apparently is hanging out in Georgia or something.)


On a related note: It's now become a popular item of discussion that reporters at Gillette Stadium over the weekend were upset about the Patriots' Twitter feed. The issue, of course, was that the Patriots were announcing their picks over Twitter even before ESPN was announcing them -- thus, in the reporters' eyes, rendering them obsolete.


All Twitter did was announce the picks. If anything, Twitter rendered ESPN obsolete.

Twitter didn't give any analysis of the impact of the trade of Ellis Hobbs. Twitter didn't express any surprise that the Patriots passed on Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis. Twitter didn't have anything from the drafted players themselves.

Twitter passed along basic information. That's it.

It seems like there's still plenty of demand for analysis and context.

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 2

For the complete rundown of the Top 100 Red Sox, click here.

10. Smoky Joe Wood, P
9. Babe Ruth, P
8. Tris Speaker, OF
7. Lefty Grove, P
6. Manny Ramirez, OF
5. Roger Clemens, P
4. Jimmie Foxx, 1B
3. Cy Young, P

You can see where we're going with this.

2. Pedro Martinez, P
There's no question Pedro Martinez was one of the most dominant pitchers of the Steroid Era. You can argue that, with his 1999 and 2000 seasons, he pitched two of the top three seasons in the last 20 years, with only Greg Maddux's ridiculous 1995 season (19-2, 1.63 ERA) also in the discussion.

But there's an interesting little surprise that awaits those who check out Martinez's adjusted ERA+ numbers. His ERA+ in 1999, the season in which he probably should have won the American League's Most Valuable Player award, was 243. ("It may well be another century before another pitcher manages to do what Martinez did in 1999," writes Glenn Stout in the book "Red Sox Century.")

That ERA+ of 243, though, isn't the best in franchise history. It isn't even the best in Martinez's career. The best ERA+ in Martinez's career, the best ERA+ in Red Sox history and the best ERA+ in baseball history is 291 -- the ERA+ he turned in during the 2000 season.

Which season was better? Let's take a look:

* 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 K's and 37 BB's;
* Opponents hit .205/.248/.288;
* Five complete games, including a three-hit shutout of the Blue Jays on Sept. 21;
* Struck out 17 in a 3-1 win at Yankee Stadium in which he retired 22 in a row after Chili Davis' home run in the second inning;
* Struck out at least 10 hitters 19 times;
* Struck out at least 15 hitters six times;
* Struck out five of the six hitters he faced in the All-Star Game, including Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa -- Matt Williams reached on an error but was caught stealing;
* Bonus: Threw six no-hit innings out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, the most dramatic playoff game the Red Sox had ever won;
* Adjusted ERA+ of 243.

* 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 K's and 32 BB's;
* Not once -- not once -- did his ERA creep above 2.00;
* Opponents hit .167/.213/.259;
* Seven complete games, including a two-hit shutout of the Orioles on May 12, a six-hit shutout of the White Sox on July 23 and a one-hit shutout of the Devil Rays on Aug. 29;
* Allowed just four hits (three singles and a double) in a four-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium, outdueling Roger Clemens to win by a 2-0 score;
* Struck out at least 10 hitters 15 times;
* Struck out at least 15 hitters three times;
* Two words: Gerald Williams;
* In case you're tempted to hold that 18-6 record against him: Held opponents to a .175 batting average, a .215 on-base percentage and a .281 slugging percentage in his six losses;
* Adjusted ERA+ of 291.

Pedro's 1999 gets most of the hype. Pedro's 1999 earned him more MVP votes (eight first-place votes; he received zero in 2000). Pedro's 1999 has gone down as the gold standard of pitching performances for an entire season -- up there with Bob Gibson's 1968, Ron Guidry's 1978, Dwight Gooden's 1985 and pretty much Walter Johnson's entire career.

But Pedro's 2000 was better.

Pedro's 2000, in fact, was the greatest single season for any pitcher in the history of baseball.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jacoby's steal of home

It never would have happened if he'd scored from second.

As David Ortiz slid into second base with a double and Jason Varitek chugged across the plate, third-base coach DeMarlo Hale threw up both arms to stop Jacoby Ellsbury at third base. Nick Swisher had dug the ball out from the left-field corner and thrown to second base; had Hale seen that earlier, he could have waved his speedster home with no second thoughts. But Hale didn't see it and Ellsbury had his back to the plate as he steamed into third base.

"It's hard because the ball is behind him," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "but if he keeps his head up -- DeMarlo has to stop him, but if he keeps his head up, he could have scored on that ball."

Lefty Andy Pettitte, now facing a 2-1 deficit in a game his Yankees had to win to avoid a three-game sweep at Fenway Park, walked righty Kevin Youkilis to face lefty J.D. Drew with the bases loaded and no outs.

The stage was set.

Drew, a natural pull hitter who does most of his damage when he hits the ball to right field, was at the plate. Pettitte, a lefty with a deliberate delivery when he's not pitching out of the stretch, was pitching. Ellsbury, possibly the fastest player in the history of the Boston Red Sox was on third base -- and Ellsbury had big dreams.

Pettitte knew about the runners on the bases. He'd already had to deal with Ellsbury on first base twice. He kept the speedster close in the first inning but let him slip away and steal second base in the third. Now, though, he had Ellsbury on third base. Unless he broke for home -- something everyone in the building had to know was a huge gamble with two outs -- he had nowhere to go.

Drew, in the batter's box, was another matter. Drew had struck out in back-to-back at-bats -- there was a reason the Yankees wanted to see him at the plate and not Youkilis -- but remained a dangerous hitter. In his career, in fact, he was a .346 hitter in 26 at-bats against Pettitte entering the game. Among his nine career hits against Pettitte were two doubles and three home runs. With the bases loaded and the Red Sox still leading by just a run, Pettitte had to retire Drew if he was going to escape the inning with no further damage.

Still, though, Pettitte should have known better. Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays had stolen home off him in 2007.

"Sometimes a pitcher can get extremely locked into the hitter," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's something that very few guys are able to do, and the situation doesn't arise a lot. You get locked in trying to get the hitter out and ignore the runner on third that can really run. It's a mistake."

He went into a full windup -- as any pitcher would with the bases loaded -- and delivered his first pitch. It was a slider. Strike one.

"When I saw Andy go into his windup, ... I was thinking, 'I can make it,'" he said. "It was just a matter of going at that point. With the bases loaded in a 2-1 ballgame, the last thing you want to do is get thrown out at home plate."

The Yankees' infield was playing Drew around toward right field. (It was the right idea; the lefty eventually would hit a ground-rule double inside the Pesky Pole.) While that didn't matter much for Ortiz and Youkilis, it gave Ellsbury an idea. Third baseman Angel Berroa was easily 20 feet from third base -- and with two errors already to his credit, there was no way he was thinking about anything but fielding the ball cleanly.

Ellsbury started to creep down the third-base line, watching to see if Pettitte noticed and watching to see if Berroa did anything about it.

Nothing seemed to happen. Pettitte went into his windup and threw his second pitch. It was a slider. Ball one.

Ellsbury had joked with Hale countless times about stealing home. ("He usually doesn't say anything," he said.) He'd never stolen home in a big-league game before; he never stolen home in a minor-league game or a college game or a high school game, either. The last time he stole home, he would say later, came when the bases were 60 feet apart and not 90.

But Ellsbury was well aware of what has to happen for him to steal home successfully. He had to have a lefthanded pitcher so he can creep down the line unnoticed. He had to have a lefthanded hitter both for the infield alignment and so that he'd have a clear path at home plate. ("I'm just glad J.D. didn't swing," he said later.) He had to have the pitcher throwing out of a full windup. He had to have a big spot where everyone's attention would be focused on the hitter. He had to have the element of surprise.

This was it. Unless Pettitte was lulling him into the most ridiculous false sense of security in the history of false senses of security, this was it.

No signals were exchanged with the dugout -- be it Francona or bench coach Brad Mills or anyone else. No words passed between Ellsbury and Hale, either. It just wasn't worth the risk.

"Millsy and I are in there talking back and forth, like, 'Shit, he could steal home,'" Francona said. "But we don't even squeeze very often."

Said Ellsbury, "If I go, I have to make it. But I took the chance."

Ellsbury crept down the line again, somewhere between 25 and 30 feet from third base, a little farther down the line than he'd crept on the previous pitch. Berroa didn't move.

Pettitte rocked back and lifted his right foot into the air.

"He needs to check," Girardi said. "He knows to check, and he just didn't do it."

Ellsbury made his decision.

"The biggest thing is getting the courage to go, I guess," he said. "In that situation, with the bases loaded, you've got to make it. It could be one of the baserunning mistakes if you don't make it, but I was pretty confident I could get in there."

Ellsbury took off.

As soon as he made his first move, he knew he had it.

Pettitte had gone into his windup with the intention of throwing his trademark looping curveball. At the last second, though, he heard the roar of the crowd and the shouts of the Yankees on the bench and sped up his delivery to get to the ball to the plate a fraction of a second faster.

"He tried," catcher Jorge Posada said. "It's tough. He's in the middle of the windup; it's tough to get him to throw a little bit faster."

Posada, sensing the steal before anyone, took a glance down at Ellsbury and got up into a crouch so as to more easily apply a tag.

At the same time, as the pitch approached the plate, Drew took two small steps out of the batter's box so as not to get in the way. He certainly was not going to swing the bat.

If there had been a set play, the way there so often is, Ellsbury would have expected Drew to step back. He would have gone in thinking headfirst slide the whole way. But he couldn't tip off Drew without tipping off Pettitte, and he had no idea how Drew would react.

"That's the last thing you're ever expecting," said Jason Bay, who watched from the on-deck circle. "I'm thinking, 'Jeez, J.D., don't swing.'"

That's when everything slowed down. He'd gone into his sprint with the intention of sliding feet-first -- in large part to protect himself in case took a hack at a pitch he liked. But as Drew retreated, Ellsbury suddenly changed his mind. He shifted his momentum and lunged awkwardly at the plate.

His right hand hit the plate first. His entire upper body followed.

"It looked like he was falling," Francona said. "I don't know if that was a slide.

"Thankfully, it's 90 feet and not 92."

Posada caught Pettitte's pitch and lunged at Ellsbury, slapping his glove on the runner's shoulder and dragging it across his back. ("I didn't feel anything," Ellsbury said.") Home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom didn't make a signal right away; in fact, as Ellsbury looked up, his right hand was in the air to signal that the previous pitch was a strike. Eventually, though, he lifted both arms in the air to declare Ellsbury safe.

Ellsbury didn't clap his hands. He didn't pump his fist. He didn't do much of anything, actually, until he got back to the dugout. That's where he was met by a group of Red Sox players who were going as ballistic as the 38,000 fans in the crowd. A sheepish smile turned into a broad grin as the weight of what he'd done began to sink in.

The fans kept cheering. Ellsbury eventually had no choice but to step out of the dugout and wave -- his first curtain call at Fenway Park.

The ESPN cameras lingered on Francona for the next few minutes in recognition of his brilliant managerial tactic. That, though, was an incorrect assumption.

"What we have is a really fast player with some guts," Francona said.

One reporter asked Ellsbury: Has it occurred to you yet that the whole world is going to see this play?

Ellsbury chuckled.

"See me tripping going into home?" he said.

The recipe for a steal of home

Third-base coach DeMarlo Hale could have sent Jacoby Ellsbury home on David Ortiz's fifth-inning double to left. The throw went to second base; Ellsbury would have scored easily.

Hale, though, must have known what was coming.

Once Andy Pettitte intentionally walked Kevin Youkilis to get to J.D. Drew, all the pieces of the recipe were there for the Red Sox's first straight steal of home since Billy Hatcher did it in 1994.

1. Left-handed pitcher.
If Pettitte can see Ellsbury taking his lead, Ellsbury can't go.

2. Left-handed hitter
Third baseman Angel Berroa was shifted way around toward shortstop as part of an infield alignment playing Drew to pull. He was in no position to dissuade Ellsbury from walking as far down the third-base line as he wanted.

3. Bases loaded
Pettitte has a great pick-off move to first base and a pretty quick move to the plate when he's in the stretch. But with the bases loaded, he thought he didn't have to worry about anyone going anywhere -- and thus was pitching out of the full windup.

4. A test run
Ellsbury had a couple of pitches to take a huge lead and see if Pettitte would notice him. He did; Pettitte didn't.

5. A roadrunner on third base
Jacoby Ellsbury can flat-out fly. Ellsbury can run so fast, in fact, that he stumbled diving across the plate -- he was either changing direction or switching from a slide to a dive -- and still scored easily in one of the most exciting plays any of us will ever see.

Bill Belichick translated

If Bill Belichick had a translator standing next to him at his post-draft press conference, here's what you might have heard:

On Ellis Hobbs: Was that a chance to clear cap space or a chance to give Wheatley and Wilhite a chance?
"There are a lot of forces at work there. I would just say that it's a combination of a lot of things that we felt like, from a timing standpoint and moving forward, what's the best thing for our football team? That was just the right move at this time. Philadelphia was a partner on that and it just felt like when we talked to them that that was the best thing for our football team. It wasn’t any one thing. It wasn’t any one force, but it was just kind of a combination of all of those things coming together.

Salary cap? Depth chart? Sure, tell yourself that if you want to. But Ellis Hobbs allowed too many big plays last season, and I didn't think he was a good enough cornerback to keep on the roster. Best of luck to him -- and to Philadelphia.

On the available crop of linebackers
"The outside linebacker group was a little bit different this year. I mean, generally speaking, I think that there were more shorter players, maybe a little less speed than what we’ve seen, maybe a little more power with good production. There weren’t a lot of 4.6, 4.65 (40-yard-dash) guys. There weren’t a lot of 6-4, 6-5 guys. I’d say it was a much smaller pool of those types of players."

The pool of quality linebackers who fit in my system pretty much dried up after Brian Cushing came off the board, and even he was a questionable fit. Just wait until I unleash Shawn Crable on you.

On second-year players, specifically linebacker Shawn Crable
"The player at this point in time can do things to prepare for when he does go out on the field, and that’s physically, film study, meeting with the coaches, having a better understanding of the system. Certainly a rookie player, whether they played or not, that’s been in our program for a year knows a lot more and is a lot better prepared for all the things that he’ll be doing both on and off the field, in the classroom, in practices and all that than he was a year ago when he walked in cold.

"I think the whole mental and physical process is really accelerated in the second year relative to the first year because they know a lot more about what to expect, what they need to work on, what their weaknesses are, where they’re deficient, where they need help: coaches, technique, training, whatever it happens to be. I think any player that is open to that, works hard at it and tries to address it will make significant improvements. Hopefully, that’s what they’ve all done and we will see that when we get back on the field."

Seriously, just wait until I unleash Shawn Crable on you.

On where he sees the three new defensive tackles playing
"(Darryl) Richard and (Myron) Pryor are quick guys that run pretty well for their size. (Ron) Brace is a bigger player, very powerful and explosive, different playing style. (He’s) a little bit taller so I think there is some degree of flexibility between playing on the center, playing on the guard, and playing between the tackle and the guard, or on the tackle in varying degrees with all three players. How that actually manifests itself, we’ll see. But I think there is some degree of versatility with all those players in doing that as there is with some of the other players we have on our roster."

Except for Brace, who's going to look like Vince Wilfork's twin brother, I can play these guys pretty much anywhere I want. I'm actually thinking of lining them up at corner. They couldn't get burned worse than Hobbs, could they? Man, I'm glad to be rid of that guy.

On Tyrone McKenzie
"Of all the players that I’ve talked to and we’ve interviewed this year and even through the years, that Tyrone is amongst the most impressive. Maturity, intelligence, what he’s done with the opportunities that he’s had or that he’s had to overcome, how he’s approached them, how he’s dealt with them, how he’s made the most of them. It hasn’t been easy. Yet, he’s continued to excel, jump over hurdles and overcome obstacles that I think would have derailed a lot of other people and/or football players. I think he’s a very impressive, mature, humble young man."

You wanted me to draft a linebacker? Tyrone McKenzie -- that's a frigging linebacker.

On Brandon Tate's progress with his knee injury
"We’ll know more about that when he comes in here this weekend. But he’s rehabilitating it and I expect him to work hard to try to get back on the field as quickly as possible, whenever that is. So that’s a medical decision."

You do know who you're talking to, right? I know I'm wearing a suit and tie and not the hoodie and thigh-high cutoff shorts you see me wearing occasionally, but you still ought to know who you're talking to. I'm Bill Belichick. I don't talk about injuries. Brandon Tate is day-to-day. He's been day-to-day since he took a helmet to his knee last October against Notre Dame. Before that hit, as far as I'm concerned, he was day-to-day. He'll be day-to-day all season this season. He'll be day-to-day all next season. He's a Patriots. He'll be day-to-day until the day-to-day he dies.

On his general feelings after the draft
"We tried to use our picks productively, but at the same time look forward into the future and position ourselves to be in a good competitive situation in 2010. Hopefully, we will still be in business then. The draft’s a short-term project, but it’s a long-term project. It’s into the future, too. That’s the grassroots of your team is players that you draft this year, next year and in future years. All of that is important."

We tried to use our picks productively, but at the same time look forward into the future and position ourselves to be in a good competitive situation in 2010. Hopefully, we will still be in business then. The draft’s a short-term project, but it’s a long-term project. It’s into the future, too. That’s the grassroots of your team is players that you draft this year, next year and in future years. All of that is important.

Oh, and I'm still smarter than Mangini.

The draft is in the books

Here's a complete rundown on what the Patriots got, after all the maneuvering and wheeling and dealing, out of their draft picks:

No. 34 -- Patrick Chung, safety
No. 40 -- Ron Brace, defensive tackle
No. 58 -- Sebastian Vollmer, offensive tackle
No. 73 -- Traded to Jacksonville for a 2010 second-rounder
No. 83 -- Brandon Tate, wide receiver
No. 89 -- Traded to Tennessee for a 2010 second-rounder
No. 97 -- Tyrone McKenzie, linebacker
No. 123 -- Rich Ohrnberger, offensive guard
No. 159 -- Traded to Philadelphia for Greg Lewis, wide receiver
No. 170 -- George Bussey, offensive tackle
No. 198 -- Jake Ingram, long snapper
No. 207 -- Myron Pryor, defensive tackle
No. 232 -- Julian Edelman, wide receiver
No. 234 -- Darryl Richard, defensive tackle

Kevin Youkilis: Shortstop?

The Red Sox optioned infielder Gil Velazquez back to Triple-A Pawtucket today to make room for pitcher Michael Bowden. The way the Red Sox have had to use their bullpen in the last two days made Bowden a necessary insurance policy in the event of an extra-inning game tonight.

Without Velazquez, though, the Red Sox will play the game with just four infielders -- the four infielders who will start the game. In the event of an injury to a corner infielder, Jeff Bailey will be available. In the event of an injury to a middle infielder, well, that's when things get dicey.

Kevin Youkilis spent part of batting practice taking ground balls at shortstop just in case he's needed there.

"It won't happen," the corner infielder said, nodding toward shortstop Nick Green. "We've got a tough guy over there."

Youkilis played shortstop growing up -- "We all played short here; if you're in the major leagues and you're righthanded, you played shortstop at some point" -- but it's a little different in the big leagues. Shortstop and third base take similar skills, but there's definitely an adjustment to be made.

"You've got to get momentum going toward first a little bit," Green said. "At third base, it's such a reaction position; you sometimes end up stepping back and catching the ball. You don't do that at shortstop. You've got to get going through. But it's a little different throw, too, because the angle is a little bit different."

Youkilis does have experience making that throw -- he lines up at shortstop when the Red Sox go into a shift against lefthanded hitters.

"It's like playing short in the shift where you've got to turn double plays," he said. "If I had to play it, it's not a big deal, right? You catch the ball and throw the ball. If you don't do that, you stink."

And Youkilis doesn't stink.

"I know he can do it," Green said. "He can do everything else."


Bowden, for his part, caught an early-morning flight from Pennsylvania; the PawSox had been playing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs over the weekend. He was in bed watching TV when Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson called him a little bit after midnight last night. He had to get his equipment from the IronPigs' ballpark and catch a shuttle, but he made it to Fenway Park on time.

He show up, in fact, before 3 p.m. -- he was the first player in the locker room.

"I was here like a half-hour before people started showing up, so it wasn't awkward," he said with a smile.

(In case you're wondering if we're using every available opportunity to reference the IronPigs, you are exactly right.)

He's upgraded his digs a little bit, too. A year ago, he had a freestanding locker against a pole, but his temporary locker tonight is right next to that of David Ortiz.

"I couldn't ask for a better neighbor," he said.

He'll be out in the bullpen tonight, ready to pitch in an emergency.

"It's a very comfortable change," he said. "I know all the guys -- I saw them a couple of weeks ago in spring training, so it's nice."

The 6-foot-3 righthander has one big-league appearance under his belt; he made an emergency start last August and threw five solid innings in an 8-2 win. He's come out of the bullpen just three times in his 82 minor-league appearances, but he's done plenty of pitching out of the bullpen in spring training.

Through three starts with the PawSox this season, he has a 0.64 ERA. He's even struck out better than a hitter an inning.

"I worked out some kinks in spring training," he said. "My mechanis feel very comfortable out there and I'm repeating them well."

He was supposed to start for the PawSox on Monday. With his call-up, if he doesn't pitch tonight, he'll likely pitch on Tuesday in Syracuse "or Rochester," he said. "I don't know where we go." (It's Syracuse. But with the whirlwind he's on, it's hard to blame him for not knowing.)

Welcome aboard, Michael Bowden

Whoops. Got my formats mixed up.

Either way, Michael Bowden is at Fenway Park today and available to pitch if the Red Sox need him. Thanks to back-to-back long nights for the Red Sox bullpen, the Red Sox have a slew of arms unavailable to pitch today -- particularly Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez and Jonathan Papelbon, according to manager Terry Francona.

In the first two games of the Red Sox-Yankees series:
* Delcarmen pitched 2 2/3 innings and threw 46 pitches;
* Ramirez pitched 1 2/3 innings and threw 33 pitches;
* Papelbon pitched 2 innings and threw 47 pitches.

Hideki Okajima isn't likely to pitch either; he's thrown 33 pitches in his two appearances (totaling 2/3 of an inning -- but that's because he failed to get an out on Friday).

That leaves Takashi Saito and Javier Lopez as the lone Red Sox relievers who haven't pitched on back-to-back days. Hunter Jones remains as an option, though he's not someone the Red Sox want to throw into a key spot. In a perfect world, Justin Masterson would pitch seven efficient innings and hand the ball to Lopez for the eighth and Saito in the ninth. This, though, is Red Sox-Yankees; there's no such thing as seven efficient innings.

Francona brought up Bowden mostly as an insurance policy. If the game goes to extra innings, he can feel comfortable going to the rookie and letting him pitch four or five innings if necessary. Ideally, though, Bowden will enjoy the game from Red Sox bullpen and head right back to Pawtucket in the morning.


Gil Velazquez was optioned back to Pawtucket to make room for Bowden, which means the Red Sox will play tonight's game an infielder short.

"If something were to happen with an infielder, the worst that would happen for us would that it would be maybe embarassing," he said. "We'd end up moving (Kevin Youkilis) or doing something or not being able to pinch-run -- which doesn't ruin our year. If something happens to our pitching, ... having somebody with length is important."

Embarassing? Youkilis was just taking ground balls at shortstop during batting practice -- and he didn't look half bad.


OneIfByLand exclusive: Patriots tight end Ben Watson was wandering the halls of Fenway Park before the game. It doesn't seem to be fair to print what he said just because it wasn't really an interview, but suffice to say, he was taken completely by surprise by the Ellis Hobbs trade.

Welcome aboard, George Bussey

With the 34th pick in the fifth round (No. 170 overall), the Patriots have drafted offensive tackle George Bussey from Louisville. He's the second offensive tackle Bill Belichick has selected in this draft.

He earned first-team All-Big East honors during his senior season with the Cardinals. He's a former walk-on who played his way into a scholarship. He's strong if not explosive. He's quick on his feet but doesn't necessarily have the long arms to keep pass-rushers from getting into his body -- and that in turn leads to him being pushed out of his low stance and getting pushed back.
How do you feel today if you're Nick Kaczur? Nervous?

(The Patriots now have two sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks remaining. You have to think they'll take a quarterback with one of those four picks.)

Hobbs dealt for offensive lineman

The Patriots turned around and dealth the two fifth-round picks they acquired from Philadelphia to Baltimore for a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick.

With that fourth-round pick, No. 198 overall, the Patriots drafted guard Rich Ohrnberger out of Penn State.

From his Penn State bio:
"Ask any Nittany Lion who their funniest teammate is and Rich Ohrnberger's name likely is to come up first. They can't explain why; he's just funny. Whether it's in the locker room, or trying to bring some levity in the huddle, the talented guard has a natural gift of humor."

It's probably just coincidence that the Patriots replaced perhaps the most accessible Patriots on the roster with a guy known for his sense of humor. We'll see if he shows off that sense of humor when the media is allowed into the locker room or if he'll do what most Belichick rookies do and keep his mouth shut.


I'm off for Fenway Park for tonight's Red Sox-Yankees game. Check back later for more draft news as well as updates from Terry Francona's pregame press conference, locker room availability and more.

The Patriots have traded Ellis Hobbs

So says Twitter.

Ellis Hobbs? For two fifth-round picks? That's it?


Looks like Darius Butler is going to be the smart-money pick on that poll up there.

Welcome aboard, Tyrone McKenzie

The Patriots have selected their outside linebacker: Tyrone McKenzie of South Florida.

McKenzie had 121 tackles as a junior and 116 tackles as a senior; he had 14 pass break-ups and just 2 1/2 sacks in those two years, though, which probably indicates he's more of a run-stopper and cover guy than a pass-rusher.

The Patriots don't have a fourth-round selection; it went to Oakland in the the trade that allowed the Patriots to move up and snag defensive tackle Ron Brace.

Patriots bank another future pick

The Patriots have dealt the No. 89 overall pick to Tennessee for a second-round pick in 2010.

That's two second-round picks the Patriots now have banked for 2010.

Welcome aboard, B-Tate

With their first pick in the third round, the No. 83 pick overall, the Patriots have selected wide receiver Brandon Tate out of the University of North Carolina.

Patriots trade into next year

The Patriots have traded their first pick in the third round (No. 73 overall) to Jacksonville for a second-round pick next year.

Banking a pick for the future. That's the Bill we know.

Butler sets high expectations for himself

Piece of advice for any future NFL draftees who stumble across this space: When reporters ask you if you model yourself after, you might want to go the Ron Brace route.

"I can’t really say that I model my game after anybody," the former Boston College defensive tackle said in a teleconference with local media last night. "My game right now is obviously going to be changed because I’m going to be playing in the system they play with the Patriots."

The other option is the Darius Butler route -- one that might end up saddling you with some big expectations.

"I model myself after Asante Samuel," he said. "He's obviously a great Patriot and I model myself after him. I’ve been compared to him by a lot of (defensive backs) coaches going around on my visits and workouts in the league, and hopefully I can have the same kind of success he had early in his career, the last couple years when he was a Patriot. Like I said, I know I have to work to get to that level, and I’m looking forward to putting in all of that work."

Butler, of course, might not mind the high expecations. He very well might have that kind of success.

He's a ball-hawking corner, a guy with some crazy hops who can go up and get the ball with the best of them -- and who can even play a little bit of wide receiver if need be. (If you don't think that appealed to Bill Belichick, you're kidding yourself.)

He was expected to be a first-round pick but when he slid into the second, "I was getting a little nervous," he said. "I had to loosen my tie a little bit. But when I saw those guys get those back-to-back picks -- the 40 and 41 -- I had a feeling that that might be the landing spot for me."

He's possibly the shut-down guy the Patriots have been looking for since, well, the departure of Samuel. If you take what he said at face value, anything less than that will be a disappointment.

Samuel was a fourth-round pick in 2003 and made an impact right away; he played in all 16 games as a rookie, making 34 tackles and intercepting two passes. (The first NFL pass he ever intercepted came against the Jets in Week 3; he returned it for a touchdown.) Over the next couple of years, he developed into one of the top cover corners in the NFL and eventually priced himself out of the Patriots' range.

Butler has the skills to match -- or exceed -- that production. In his last two seasons at Connecticut, no opposing receiver caught a touchdown pass against him. In that regard, he might even be better than Samuel; the Pro Bowler tended to gamble and get burned every once in a while.

"He's a high-quality kid, smart, a very good understanding of the defense, a well-conditioned athlete," Belichick said.

Butler will learn how he stacks up against NFL competition before he even gets to the regular season -- in training camp against Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

"I was actually talking about that with my brother," he said. "He was like ‘You know, you’re going to be doing these minicamps and training camp, and you’re going to be lining up with Tom Brady and Randy Moss, coming from playing whoever you played in college.’ ...

"I’m a confident player and I’m confident in my abilities, and I know I can get better. That’s my goal. I’m going against the best every day, so I’ve got to hold my own."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Welcome aboard, Sebastian Vollmer

With the No. 58 pick, the Patriots have selected offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, an offensive lineman out of Houston.

The Patriots are done for the day -- probably.

Surprise! Belichick defies expectation

You though Bill Belichick would draft a linebacker in the first round? You were wrong. You thought Belichick would draft a linebacker with one of his picks in the top half of the second round? You were wrong.

Despite the loss of Mike Vrabel and the questions surrounding the aging Tedy Bruschi, the Patriots did not use any of their first three draft picks on a linebacker. Instead, the Patriots drafted a run-stopping safety (Patrick Chung), a run-stuffing defensive tackle (Ron Brace) and a ball-hawking cornerback (Darius Butler).

Here's a quick look at all three:

* Patrick Chung, SS, Oregon (5-foot-11, 212 pounds)
Chung is just 21 years old but already being lauded for his maturity and leadership. That had to appeal to Belichick. What also had to appeal to Belichick, though, was the way Chung can hit. Chung can hit hard.

Chung redshirted as a 17-year-old at Oregon but made 51 consecutive starts over the next four seasons, recording at least 80 tackles in each of those four seasons and twice earning first-team All-Pac 10 honors. He had 19 career tackles for a loss, including four sacks, and nine interceptions in his career at Oregon.

Unlike Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, he's more of a run-stuffing safety than a cover safety -- like Rodney Harrison, perhaps?

* Ron Brace, DT, Boston College (6-foot-3, 330 pounds)
This selection might be a sign the Patriots are losing traction in their negotiations with nose tackle Vince Wilfork. This selection also might be a chance for the Patriots to get a little leverage over Wilfork. This selection also might just be a move to build depth where the Patriots really don't have much -- right smack in the middle of their defensive line. (Mike Wright is not a natural nose tackle; the selection of Brace frees up Wright to play more end than tackle.)

Brace teamed with Green Bay Packers draftee in the middle of the seventh-best run defense in college football last season. He can fight off double-teams and free up linebackers -- exactly what he'll need to do in the Patriots' scheme. He recorded 23 of his 85 career tackles in the backfield, including 5 1/2 sacks. But tackle totals don't mean much when it comes to defensive linemen. The biggest question, really, will be this: How much did he benefit from playing alongside Raji, and how much did Raji benefit from playing alongside him?

* Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut (5-foot-10, 183 pounds)
Butler, long rumored to be an object of Belichick's affection, didn't jump in the draft the way he might have hoped -- but he can jump for the ball as well as anyone in the draft. He's got the footspeed and the hands to be a fantastic shut-down corner, and he can go up and get the ball even against taller wide receivers. Analysts question his ability to defend the run, but if he can be the next Ty Law against the pass, that's not going to matter.

In his career with the Huskies, Butler intercepted 10 passes and returned two of them for touchdowns. He even played a little wide receiver, something that had to appeal to the versatility-loving Belichick.

Oh, and his cousin is Willis McGahee, so that's fun, too.

Welcome aboard, Brace and Butler

The Patriots have selected Boston College defensive lineman Ron Brace with the No. 40 pick, the eighth pick in the second round and the pick acquired from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the No. 47 pick, a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick.

They then selected UConn cornerback Darius Butler with the No. 41 pick, the ninth pick of the second round. That's the first of three picks acquired from the Green Bay Packers for a first-round pick and a fifth-round pick.

Welcome aboard, Patrick Chung

The Patriots have selected a hard-hitting safety out of Oregon with the No. 34 pick. That's the pick they acquired from Kansas City for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel.

Patriots trade the pick again

In Bill Belichick's ongoing effort to one-up Eric Mangini, he's traded his first-round pick to Green Bay.

The Patriots have traded their first-rounder (now No. 26) and the fifth-rounder they got from Baltimore (No. 162) for a second-round pick (No. 41) and two third-round picks (No. 73 and No. 83). The Patriots now have eight picks in the top 100 -- but zero first-rounders. They have four second-round picks: No. 34, No. 41, No. 47 and No. 58.

Baltimore selected offensive tackle Michael Oher with the No. 23 pick. Green Bay selected Clay Matthews with the No. 26 pick.

Fascinating. Matthews looked like a great fit for the Patriots.

The Patriots have traded the pick

Viva Twitter.

With so many options still available, it makes sense to drop back a few spots and still look for a linebacker a few spots later.

A linebacker will be there

Connor Barwin? Clay Matthews? Rey Maualuga?

With the Lions' selection of tight end Brandon Pettigrew, the Patriots now are guaranteed to have at least one of those three left on the board when their No. 23 selection comes around.

Saying that, of course, they'll probably draft UConn's Donald Brown -- the one guy to whom mock drafters have flocked even though the Patriots demonstrated a year ago that they can win without a top-flight running back.

(The Patriots' Twitter feed says they're fielding calls about trades. Who knows?)

Jets' pick of Sanchez bodes well for Pats in short term

The Jets, in trading up to draft Southern Cal's Mark Sanchez, picked the guy who could be their quarterback for a long, long time.

But he might not be their quarterback next season -- and that bodes well for the Patriots' short-term Super Bowl hopes.

Rex Ryan and the Jets bulked up on defense this offseason, bringing on board linebacker Bart Scott and veteran defensive back Lito Sheppard to improve the NFL's 16th-ranked defense.

The blockbuster trade -- the Jets dealt three players and their first two selections in this weekend's draft to land Sanchez -- is designed to improve the NFL's 16th-ranked offense. But Sanchez isn't quite in the league of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco when it comes to his college experience; he started three games as a sophomore and 13 games as a junior. (Ryan and Flacco both were fifth-year seniors and both had at least two full seasons as starters under their respective belts.)

Sanchez played great as a junior; he threw for 3,207 yards and 34 touchdowns, including 413 yards and four touchdowns against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. One season as a starter, though, isn't necessarily enough training to make him the no-doubt starter for the Jets next season. One season as a starter certainly isn't enough training to make him a can't-miss rookie in a division like the AFC East.

Don't forget: The last time the Jets drafted a quarterback in the first round, it was 2000 and they were coming off an 8-8 season in 1999. That quarterback was Chad Pennington -- and Pennington sat behind Vinnie Testaverde for two seasons before getting his chance. The Jets, meanwhile, went 9-7 in 2000 -- an improvement of one win.

And every time since 2001 that a team coming off a record of 8-8 or better has picked a quarterback in the first round, they've taken a step back the next season:

* Washington in 2002 (Patrick Ramsey): From 8-8 to 7-9
* Green Bay in 2005 (Aaron Rodgers): From 10-6 to 4-12
* Denver in 2006 (Jay Cutler): From 13-3 to 9-7

There's no reason to believe Sanchez can't be a high-quality quarterback in the NFL for a long, long time. But there's no guarantee he's going to be a signficant upgrade over Kellen Clemens as a rookie. Heck, there's no guarantee he's even going to start as a rookie -- but the Jets swapped their first two draft picks and a trio of potential contributors for him. Above all, there's nothing close to a guarantee that he'll make the Jets better next season.

In the short term, at least, that's good news for the Patriots.

It's Draft Day at Gillette Stadium

There's a soccer field laid out on the Gillette Stadium turf, but it's all football, all the time in the offices and suites surrounding the field. (Seriously, this draft is big business: I got a security escort up the escalator.)

The NFL Network is laying out its final mock draft -- and has UConn corner Darius Butler going to the Patriots at No. 23.

I don't see it. I really don't. Secondary isn't a need for the Patriots right now, at least in the first round. There are just too many quality linebackers available -- the NFL Network had the Patriots passing on Tennessee's Robert Ayers and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis to take Butler.

There will be quality corners farther down the board. Eugene Wilson was a second-round pick; Asante Samuel was a fourth-round pick. Ellis Hobbs is coming back, and Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden were signed as free agents to play opposite him.

The Patriots have one glaring hole: Linebacker. Barring a big slide by a top-10-type player like wide receiver Michael Crabtree or defensive tackle B.J. Raji, you have to believe the Patriots will go in that direction.

Jason Bay's headlines

Unlike the dozens of writers in the fifth-floor press box, Jason Bay didn't spend the late innings of Friday night's game pounding at a keyboard. But that doesn't mean he wasn't aware of how the sentences and paragraphs probably were coming together as the clock ticked toward deadline.

"I don't know how many guys we left on base in the first eight or nine innings," he said. (It was 13.) "We grounded into a few double plays and left a lot of guys out there, and it was looking like that was going to be the story -- the missed opportunities we had."

Unlike the hacks upstairs, though, Bay had a hand in how the story turned out. His game-tying bomb off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth sent the game to extra innings, and Kevin Youkilis' blast in the bottom of the 11th sent the 38,000-plus home happy.

"A lot of it is going to come down to two swings -- that's what people are going to talk about," Bay said. "But there's a whole heck of a lot else. ... When you dissect it, you realize a lot of things had to go our way."

The left fielder's game-tying home run, which would have traveled 420 feet or so if not for the center-field side of the Green Monster, came four innings after he'd kept the Red Sox in the game with a diving catch in left-center field. He lost the ball briefly in the light but kept running at the spot he expected the ball to land and snatched it out of the air. Johnny Damon scored from third on the play, but with the bases loaded, the catch allowed Manny Delcarmen to wiggle out of a Hideki Okajima-created jam with his team only down two runs.

And Bay, of course, wasn't the only one.

Dustin Pedroia made a great diving stop going up the middle and turned a couple of critical double plays, including one with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning. Mike Lowell made an unbelievable diving catch at third base and doubled off the Green Monster, both feats all the more impressive considering that he runs like he's recently deceased.

Jacoby Ellsbury scored from second on a wild pitch in the first inning. Nick Green singled home the game-tying run in the sixth.

Jon Lester fought through mediocre command to strike out seven and surrender just two runs in six innings. Delcarmen bailed out a woeful Okajima. Takashi Saito, Javy Lopez, Jonathan Papelbon and Ramon Ramirez all pitched scoreless innings. Papelbon even rung up Mark Teixeira, who wants so badly to be a villain in this rivalry, with two men on base in the 10th inning.

Youkilis then provided the capper when he launched a 2-2 pitch deep into the Boston night, his first walk-off blast since last June against St. Louis.

Only then could Bay -- as well as the frantic typists upstairs -- put the finishing touches on the story.

"For most of the game, the headline was 'Missed Opportunities' for us," Bay said. "We had a ton of chances. There's so many things that went into this game right from the get-go that make it a little more exciting and a little bigger than a -- what's the date today? -- regular April 24th game."

Delcarmen, relievers the heroes

Manny Delcarmen was icing his arm in the training room when Jason Bay hit his two-out, two-run home run off Mariano Rivera to tie Friday's Red Sox-Yankees game at 4.

"We were talking about Mariano and what he's done -- and then Jason Bay comes up and hits a home run," he said.

He wasn't about to miss any more theatrics, though, so he made sure he was in the dugout for the extra innings -- a choice that paid off when Kevin Youkilis hit a Damaso Marte fastball somewhere in the direction of the Charles River.

"I was right there at home plate, so that was pretty cool," he said.

Hideki Okajima -- the reliever who Terry Francona said was going to be "an important pitcher in this series" -- allowed a double and three singles, handing the ball over to Delcarmen with the bases loaded and nobody out.

Delcarmen got Nick Swisher to hit a fly ball to shallow left field on the second pitch he threw. Robinson Cano then turned inside-out on a fastball to hit a sinking line drive to left -- and Jason Bay made a diving catch. (Johnny Damon scored from third after the catch, but no one in a red uniform was complaining.) Delcarmen then got Melky Cabrera to bounce to second to end the inning.

Not bad for coming in with the bases loaded and no one out.

"I got a pop-up, and Jason Bay picked me up on a little flare to left," Delcarmen said. "Just giving up one run with the bases loaded and no outs, that's always great. It kept the game intact, and we came back. ...

"It's a tough situation, but it's one of those times for us to come in and show we can handle it. I've done it a couple of times in these couple of years, and I'm just glad Tito gives me the ball in those situations and it turned out for the best."

Delcarmen, though, wasn't the only reliever to wiggle out of trouble.

Javy Lopez had to get out of a jam of his own creation; he hit Mark Teixeira in the ankle and walked Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher to load the bases with -- you guessed it -- no one out.

But the fastball he threw to Robinson Cano was one of the biggest pitches of the game. Cano hit a ground ball right at Dustin Pedroia, playing in on the grass, and Pedroia started a 4-2-3 double play. Lopez then threw back-to-back changeups to Melky Cabrera and got a popup to end the inning.

"It just shows we can handle the pressure of coming into those situations, especially in a tie ballgame or up by one or down by one," he said. "With this bullpen, we have so much depth that we've got to pick each other up to have success. We've been doing that all year."

And no one's even mentioned Takashi Saito, Jonathan Papelbon and Ramon Ramirez; all three pitched scoreless innings in the 11-inning victory.

"It's something our team has expected them to do," starting pitcher Jon Lester said. "We've got a great bullpen, and as long as we keep them fresh as best we can as starters, it's going to pay off throughout the year to have them behind us."

Lester, for his part, was back in the clubhouse for all of it, but that doesn't mean he missed out on the celebration.

"We ran down the stairs like little kids and stood at the door and slapped hands with everybody that came in," he said.

Lester unhappy with own nibbling

At times, Jon Lester was really sharp. At other times, well, not so much.

In the second inning, for example, the Red Sox lefty fanned Nick Swisher with a 93-mile-an-hour fastball right on the inside corner and Robinson Cano with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball on the outside corner. (Because Swisher was hitting righty and Cano lefty, the two pitches hit pretty much the exact same spot.)

After he issused a pair of walks, he then made Cody Ransom look silly to end the inning; when an appeal of a two-strike check swing went the Yankees' way, Lester came back with a nasty cutter down and in. Ransom had no chance.

"At times, I was pretty good," he said. "At other times, I wasn't."

The pitch count, more than anything else, bears that out. He threw 114 pitches -- including 102 pitches through the first five innings. Even in that second inning when he struck out the side, he threw 25 pitches.

The final line actually looks pretty decent -- six innings, seven hits, two runs, seven strikeouts -- but a little bit of inefficiency cost him a chance to go back out for the seventh inning.

"I don't think I let it play in the zone as much as I should have," he said. "I could have attacked hitters a little bit more. I got into a mode where I was nitpicking quite a bit, trying to make a perfect pitch, instead of just going after guys and letting the ball play. It got me into some deep counts and got the pitch count up."

One of those occasions came against light-hitting catcher Jose Molina with one out and a runner on first base in the fourth inning. Lester missed twice to start off the at-bat, both with fastballs up -- part of the reason for that, probably, was to guard against Melky Cabrera stealing second base. He then came back with a fastball in the strike zone that Molina missed and a cutter up and out of the strike zone that Molina also missed.

Molina then fouled off another fastball in the strike zone to keep the count steady at 2-2.

But that's when Lester started to nibble. A fastball down in the zone might have induced an inning-ending double play, but the 25-year-old lefty went for the jugular with a fastball off the inside corner. Molina didn't chase. Ball three.

Lester then threw another fastball off the plate away, again looking for Molina to chase. No dice. Ball four.

Lester then missed twice to Ransom before leaving a fastball right where he could whack it for a double to score the Yankees' first run.

"You get into that mindset where you're trying to make perfect-location pitches all the time," he said. "I guess you just have to get into the flow of things and get into your game plan and try to execute pitches. At times, I did that pretty well. At times, it got my into some deep counts -- and with the Yankees, you can't do that."

Lester pointed specifically to an at-bat by Johnny Damon in the third inning as an example of nibbling and nitpicking. His memory wasn't exactly right -- he remembered going to an 0-2 count even though it went to 1-1 and then 1-2 -- but the point he made still was interesting.

"I got ahead of him 0-2 and then 1-2 and then 2-2 and then 3-2," he said. "Instead of just going right back after him 0-2, I started nitpicking around and trying to do stuff we normally don't do" -- including a curveball in the dirt, well out of the strike zone -- "and that's my fault, not 'Tek's fault at all. I've got to do a better job of executing pitches. Once I've got a guy 0-2, I've got, really, two shots to throw pitches out of the zone and see if he chases and if he doesn't, to go right back into the zone and see if we can get him out that way."

And while he was well aware of how high his pitch count was -- "It's hard not to notice; it's up on the big screen out in center field" -- he did his best not to let that affect him. His final inning, in fact, might have been his most effective inning. He got Melky Cabrera to fly to center field (albeit deep center field) and allowed a single to left off the bat of Molina but induced a double-play ball to get out of it.

"If you start getting wrapped up in pitch counts and how many pitches you're throwing, you're not focusing on the right thing," he said. "I knew I had a lot of pitches coming out of the fifth, but I was hoping Tito and John (Farrell) would let me go back out there for the sixth. ... It was good to end on a pretty clean note. I threw some good pitches in that last inning, so I'll carry that over to the last start."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not to belabor this Ortiz thing, but...

... it's tough to buy that his surge is a sign he's out of his slump.

Yes, I know this contradicts the headline and the first few paragraphs of this story. But maybe the first few paragraphs of that story were overly optimistic.

(One of these days, I'll have the guts to write the truth about popular players without worrying that I'm going to start hearing, "But he's seven for his last 21! He hit a triple! He's Big Papi! You're a jerk!" In my defense, no one wants to be a jerk.)

And what it doesn't contradict is the premise of this segment:

"If you, as a hitter, slow down with 88 miles an hour, that means you've got to go," (David Ortiz) said a couple of days later. "But it's crazy how you can get beat by 88 and come and hit 94. That means it's not that you've got to go; it means you've got to pull yourself together and keep working."
The problem is, so far, that he's not hitting anything at 94, either. After he doubled to left against Minnesota's Scott Baker on Wednesday, he told reporters the pitch was "a 98-mile-an-hour fastball away -- for those guys that say I can't hit no fastball no more."
But Ortiz was being facetious; that pitch actually was closer to 92, and he even acknowledged later that Baker had only "average stuff."
Of the 13 hits Ortiz has so far this season, in fact, not one has come on a pitch clocked at faster than 93 mph.
Every mechanical adjustment he has made so far this season has been geared toward getting his hands into position more quickly and getting the bat head on the ball faster. Diminishing bat speed is something no one can control -- but being ready to hit is something Ortiz should be able to control.
"When you're a little bit late getting to your load or getting to the spot where you need to put a swing on the ball, when you're late, 87 is like 97," said (Dave) Magadan, the Red Sox hitting coach.
"When he gets to that point when he's on time and he's in a good position to put a swing on the ball at the right time when the ball's in the right location, 97 is going to seem like 87."

We all knew already that Ortiz's bat speed was the issue. All the talk last year, after all, was how the wrist injury had robbed him of his bat speed. All the talk this spring has been about how age might have robbed him of his bat speed.

Now, though, we're seeing Ortiz hit the ball to left field -- albeit with occasional authority -- and we're all done worrying about his bat speed? Really?

It takes bat speed to hit the ball the other way. It takes way more bat speed to pull the ball -- and it takes even more bat speed to pull the ball with authority and hit home runs. Ortiz can talk all he wants about how it feels natural to go the other way, but when he's going good, he's always hit for more power to right field than he has to left.

One example: In his first six seasons with at Fenway Park with the Red Sox, Ortiz hit more than twice as many home runs to right field (75) as he did to left field (30) -- a stat that's even more telling when you consider that it's 380 feet to the bullpens and just 310 feet to the Green Monster. (We're leaving out the home runs he hit on the road only because it would take way more time to go through all those individual spray charts.)

So far this season, though, Ortiz is not pulling the ball at all.

He singled to right-center in Anaheim. He hit a double into the right-field corner in Oakland. He singled to right field last Saturday against Baltimore, looping a line drive over the shift and in front of right fielder Nick Markakis.

All 10 of his other hits, though, have gone to left field or center field. Fourteen of his 17 flyouts, even, have gone to left field or center field. He hasn't hit the ball within 30 feet of the Fenway Park bullpens, once a regular depository for pitches left in his wheelhouse.

(See for yourself: You can get spray charts here.)

"Any time hitters go the other way with authority, something's got to be right," Terry Francona told reporters during the Baltimore series.

Francona has far more baseball experience than I do, of course. But Francona also has an ulterior motive and no reason at all to give any doomsayers any suggestion they might be onto something.

When hitters go the other way with authority, sure, that's a good sign. But when hitters aren't pulling the ball with authority, that's a really, really bad sign.

(Of course, as this was coming together, Ortiz ripped a fifth-inning single into right field off Joba Chamberlain. Is this a sign of things to come? Who the heck knows?)

Yankee switch-hitters present challenge

Red Sox manager Terry Francona has no issue mixing and matching in his bullpen. He has weapons he can throw out there against lefties, righties or whoever happens to be next on the lineup card.

The Yankees, though, have a lineup full of switch-hitters; that includes Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher, Joe Girardi's No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 hitters on Friday night. That'll make for a little bit of a challenge as Francona employs those weapons.

"You know how much we talk on our side about balance and not letting a manager make one more and running through, you know, four lefthanders," the Red Sox manager said. "Some of it is going to depend on how they're swinging the bat. But it creates challenges, sure."

He then paused.

"It makes Oki" -- Hideki Okajima -- "an important pitcher in this series," he said.

How so? Here's the Yankees' lineup for Friday:

Jeter, ss (R)
Damon, cf (L)
Teixeira, 1b (S)
Posada, dh (S)
Swisher, rf (S)
Cano, 2b (L)
Cabrera, cf (S)
Molina, c (R)
Ransom, 3b (R)

And here's a look at how those switch-hitters break down -- and who Francona is likely to call upon if he needs an out in a big spot:

Mark Teixeira
* As a righty: .309/.393/.540
* As a lefty: .280/.370/.540
* Best relief option: Manny Delcarmen. Teixeira's career slugging percentages are identical, but it's far more difficult to hit a home run into the bullpen than to hit a home run over the Green Monster. Bringing in Delcarmen would force Teixeira to hit lefthanded -- and Delcarmen is actually better against lefties (.222 batting average) than against righties (.242).
* Worst relief option: Javier Lopez. Not only would Teixeira get an easy crack at the Green Monster from the righthanded batter's box, but he'd be doing so against a pitcher who has seen righties hit .288 and slug .428 against him in his career.

Jorge Posada
* As a righty: .301/.384/.501
* As a lefty: .267/.378/.468
* Best relief option: Okajima, which is a little counterintuitive. The Red Sox might prefer that Posada hit lefthanded, but he's 0-for-7 in his career against Okajima, including three strikeouts. That's a big enough sample size to make the Red Sox take notice. Besides, Okajima has been almost as effective in his career against righties (.205 batting average) as he is against lefties (.196).
* Worst relief option: Lopez. Posada is 2-for-3 with two walks in his career against him.

Nick Swisher
* As a righty: .242/.340/.463
* As a lefty: .255/.396/.442
* Best relief option: Okajima. The splits are relatively even for Swisher, and with lefty Robinson Cano hitting behind him in the order, it would make sense to send a lefty after him with an eye on getting two outs rather than one.
* Worst relief option: Ramon Ramirez. Not only is he far less effective against lefties (.270) than righties (.197), Swisher hit a two-run home run off him the only time he's ever faced him.

Melky Cabrera
* As a righty: .254/.323/.338
* As a lefty: .274/.333/.398
* Best relief option: Ramirez. As with Swisher, the splits aren't all that significant -- and if Ramirez can get past Cabrera, he's then in position to tear through the three straight righties that follow him in the order. Delcarmen, for the reasons outlined in the Teixeira section, wouldn't be a bad option, either. But if Okajima already is in the game to face Posada, Swisher and/or Cano, there's no reason not to let him pitch to Cabrera.
* Worst relief option: Actually, probably Jonathan Papelbon. Cabrera is 2-for-5 with a double, a home run and a pair of walks in his career against the Red Sox closer.

Teixeira takes high road in first Fenway visit as Yankee

Someone might start some drama this weekend as the Red Sox host the Yankees at Fenway Park.

Don't expect that someone to be Mark Teixeira.

The slugging first baseman, meeting with the media before his first game at Fenway Park since he chose the Yankees over the Red Sox this offseason, went out of his way to praise pretty much everything about Boston and the Red Sox -- including the fans who will almost certainly be booing him throughout the weekend.

"It's passionate fans," he said. "These people in Boston are great baseball fans. They know the game. They're knowledgable. They love the Red Sox. They live and die with every pitch. And when a Yankee comes into town, especially a Yankee who could have been a Red Sox, they're going to boo. They're going to be into the game. ...

"These people are great people. They just want to beat the Yankees. I would hope they don't want any physical harm for me and my family -- they just want me to to go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts."

And when a reporter pressed Teixeira for a pre-emptive response to the boos he'll receive, he said this: "I would say, 'Thanks for coming out. Thanks for supporting this rivalry.' I'm much more concerned with going to ballparks and there not being anybody there. I hope this economy turns around; I hope there's thousands of people at every single game. If they want to boo me, great. But just show up -- just support your team and support baseball. I'd thank them for coming, and, hopefully, they'll be nice to me after the game, after it's all said and done."

Teixeira, clearly, has no illusions about the reception he'll receive on the field. But that shouldn't be surprising; this is a guy who has as good a grasp of the business of baseball and the precious nature of image as anyone in the game.

He smiled broadly and answered every question. He declined several opportunities to go into specifics about his negotiations with the Red Sox -- especially when he probably would have had to say something negative to be truthful. He used well-worn code phrases like "better fit for my family" in place of words like "$180 million" and "more money than I could spend in a lifetime."

That's the funny part of this whole thing: Teixeira had a choice of perhaps the two pre-eminent franchises in the game, and he chose one over the other. He didn't owe one any more loyalty than the other. But fans tonight will boo him for accepting an offer that not a single one of them would have turned down.

No one knows that better than he does.

"If we were in New York right now and I was a Red Sox, we'd be having these same conversations," he said.

Lugo on verge of return

It's become a staple of every news conference with Terry Francona: After the questions about injured players and the questions about the pitching staff and the obligatory quip or two, he fields the inevitable question about Nick Green.

Every reporter who covers the Red Sox has written the obligatory Nick Green story. Every single one. It's pretty much at the point where there's not a single question you could ask the guy he hasn't already answered. (Not convinced? Try this, this, this, this and this on for size.)

Francona, to his credit, doesn't miss a beat when talking about the shortstop who has performed as well as anyone could have expected given that he really should have started the season -- and spent the season -- at Triple-A Pawtucket. He praises the way Green has hit the ball; he praises the way Green has played in the field.

"He's more than held his own," he said on Friday for perhaps the 1,324th time. "I don't know that, at the end of spring, you can lose two shortstops and think, 'We can replace this guy with a guy that's going to drive in 100.' That's probably not realistic. But Nick's done a pretty good job."

He's not far away from the end of those questions. That's because he's not far away from the return of Julio Lugo.

The Red Sox shortstop, who tore cartilage in his right knee in spring training, made his first rehabilitation appearance at Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday and will stay with the PawSox for their trip to Lehigh Valley over the weekend. He'll then join the Red Sox in Cleveland on Monday and, if all goes well this weekend, be activated and get out on the field.

"Lugo is probably days rather than even weeks or months (away)," Francona said.

And don't worry about Nick Green going anywhere. He's going to stay with the team as a do-it-all utility infielder at least until Jed Lowrie comes off the disabled list.


One reporter asked Francona this evening about how the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has changed for him since he first arrived in Boston.

"I was a little naive when I first got here," he said. "I tried to do my homework, but until you live through it -- the first couple of games, there was a little extra emotion. When you do something enough, it's not that you lose interest -- because I don't; I love it -- but you get used to it. The games really are still exciting because there's a lot of good players on both sides."

As a follow-up, someone asked Francona what rivalry he'd experienced that best approximated the intensity of Red Sox-Yankees.

"Birmingham-Huntsville," he deadpanned. "We always had fireworks."

Watch Bard dealing

Eight fastballs. One breaking ball. That's what it took for Pawtucket reliever Daniel Bard to strike out the Rochester Red Wings' Jason Pridie, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes in order on Wednesday night.

Bard now has 16 strikeouts in his nine innings pitched for the PawSox this season.

Catch the video here. It's pretty impressive.

Patriots targeting Orakpo?

A quick break from Red Sox-Yankees coverage:

Peter King is reporting that the Patriots are trying to move into the eighth or ninth spot of Saturday's first round. Given the way Bill Belichick has talked about trades, it's likely they have a specific player in mind.

"You trade up for someone in the first round in the top 10 or so, you are going for a specific guy," Belichick told reporters at his press conference on Tuesday. "How much that guy is worth to you is how much you are willing to give up. It might be high based on what other people think, but if that’s what you think the player brings to your team, then it’s worth giving it up."

Writes King, "Who might be the object of their affection? I'm told it may be a surprise, because smart money would say the target is LSU's Tyson Jackson, the best 3-4 defensive end in the draft and the only end versatile enough to play every spot on the defensive line. But I'm not sure it's Jackson. I think it might be an offensive player. Sorry to be so cryptic, but I truly don't know."

Jackson? Really?

There are a couple of reasons why Jackson doesn't make sense here. For one thing, there's no guarantee he'll be around at No. 8 or No. 9; King's colleague Don Banks has him going No. 9 to Green Bay, but the Raiders and Jaguars could use some help on the defensive line, too.

Another name, though, ought to be a little more intriguing: Texas combo end Brian Orakpo, the top pass-rusher in the draft. According to's draft scouts, "Technique needs refining. But he has elite natural pass-rushing skills. Explodes off the line and bends the corner nicely. Displays excellent closing burst to the QB. He's agile and can smoothly change directions on double moves. Also shows jarring punch to knock OT's off balance."

He played mostly defensive end at Texas, winning the Ted Hendricks Award as college football's best at that position. But Belichick loves taking defensive ends and turning them into linebackers, and Orakpo sounds like someone right out of the Willie McGinest/Mike Vrabel mold. (Texas even installed some 3-4 defense a year ago when defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, a former Nick Saban assistant and thus Bill Belichick Coaching Tree offshoot, came on board.)

He'll be long gone by the time the Patriots draft at No. 23. But if they deal that No. 23 pick along with a second-round to move into the top 10, Orakpo might be a perfect fit.

Fun with numbers: Red Sox-Yankees

Here's a smorgasbord of numbers to chew on as we get ready for Red Sox-Yankees tonight:

Against Joba Chamberlain:
* Mike Lowell is 3-for-7;
* Dustin Pedroia is 3-for-8;
* Kevin Youkilis is 2-for-5;
* J.D. Drew is 0-for-7;
* Jacoby Ellsbury is 0-for-6;
* David Ortiz is 1-for-6;

Not one of those sample sizes is big enough to mean anything. It is fascinating, though, that Chamberlain, a righthander, has eaten the Red Sox lefthanders for lunch. That's not typical; in his career, lefties have an OPS of .627 against Chamberlain; righties have an OPS of .589.

Against Jon Lester:
* Melky Cabrera is 5-for-8;
* Johnny Damon is 5-for-12;
* Derek Jeter is 5-for-13;
* Alex Rodriguez, who David Ortiz still maintains is the best player in baseball, is 1-for-11;
* Nick Swisher is 1-for-6
* Mark Teixeira is 0-for-3
* Jorge Posada is 0-for-3

Again, tiny sample sizes that don't really mean anything.

At Fenway Park:
* Jeter has a line of .252/.314/.382
* Teixeira has a line of .194/.363/.274
(He's walked 14 times in 80 plate appearances.)
* Swisher has a line of .205/.321/.364
* Damon always gets booed.

One last fun number -- well, sort of:
* This kid wasn't even alive the last time the Yankees won the World Series. ("It's fun to do bad things," he says.)

(OK, so that was just an excuse to post that link. But that clip is fantastic.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 3

You could make a reasonable argument for either of two pitchers to claim the No. 2 spot on the Top 100 list. (If you're hoping for a surprise pick at No. 1, well, you're going to be disappointed. There's not much suspense there.)

Here's the Top 10 list so far:
(For the full countdown, click here.)
10. Smoky Joe Wood, P
9. Babe Ruth, P
8. Tris Speaker, OF
7. Lefty Grove, P
6. Manny Ramirez, OF
5. Roger Clemens, P
4. Jimmie Foxx, 1B

And the second-greatest pitcher in Red Sox history is:

3. Denton True "Cy" Young
Had he pitched his entire career with the Red Sox, he'd be a clear choice for top pitcher in franchise history -- and he'd probably be No. 1 on this list. He weas 34 years old, though, when he jumped from the St. Louis Browns to the brand-new American League franchise in Boston; he'd already won 30 games three different times and thrown, to that point, 418 complete games. (That total alone would rank him 16th in baseball history.)

He would win 192 more games with the Red Sox; he's tied with Roger Clemens for first in franchise history in that category. His ERA tucked nicely in at 1.99, second-best in franchise history. No one in franchise history has a lower WHIP (0.970).

He was coming off a 19-19 season with the St. Louis Browns in which his ERA had skyrocketed -- skyrocketed! -- to 3.00. In 1901, though, he went 33-10 with a league-best 1.62 ERA; he pitched 371 1/3 innings, starting 41 games and completing 38 of them. His adjusted ERA+ of 216 ranks fifth in Red Sox history for a single season.

A year later, he went 32-11 with a 2.15 ERA and 41 complete games. Ho-hum.

In 1903, he went 28-9 with a 2.08 ERA and 34 complete games, including seven shutouts. He even earned two saves. And in the World Series, he turned in a 1.85 ERA; he struck out 17 and walked just four. His best effort came when he allowed only two runs -- both unearned -- in nine innings in Game 5. He came back on two days' rest to throw nine more innings, allowing three runs, and earn his second win of the series in Game 7.

By the time he was finished -- he played out the string with Cleveland as a 42-, 43- and 44-year-old before an abbreviated stint with the Boston Braves -- he'd won 511 games and sealed a legacy as the greatest pitcher baseball has ever seen.

We'd be remiss, though, if we finished without addressing the really pressing question: Where did that nickname come from, anyway?

He was pitching for Canton, Ohio, in the Tri-State League, a minor league with an affiliation agreement with the National League and American Association. He'd just agreed to a deal that would pay him $60 a month for his services. He was eager to impress his new team, so he threw a couple of fastballs against a fence at the home park.

"I threw the ball so hard," he later said, "I tore a couple of boards off the grandstand. One of the fellows said the stand looked like a cyclone struck it."

By the spring, the local newspaper was listing "Cyclone, p" in its box scores. By 1956, his name was synonymous with the best pitcher in baseball.

Coming up: Pedro.