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Monday, May 09, 2005  

What a weekend for baseball this was. I watched the entire Tigers game on Saturday, as it was a late-night game and I was home by the time it started. On Sunday I watched both Red Sox games and the start of the Tigers game in between them (about an hour's worth). Sure it's kind of boring being home from college when all your friends are still toiling away, but it certainly is conducive to baseball watching.


Saturday's Tigers/Angels game was a pitching duel and a thing of beauty. Bartolo Colon, he of the rotund midsection and clown hair, had his first complete game as an Angel and only allowed two runs, one of which was manufactured in a little mini-rally that began with a called balk that may or may not have actually happened. Jeremy Bonderman gave up one run over 8 innings with 8 strikeouts. Troy Percival, in his first game pitching against the Angels since spending all 10 years of his major league career with them, had a shut-out 9th.

There was not a single base on balls all night long. The only free pass in the entire game came when Bondy whacked Vlad Guerrero high on the tricep in the bottom of the 7th.

Lest you think that the game was quiet and uninteresting, however...

The one run given up by Bondy was a homerun to rookie Dallas McPherson (who earlier in the season found himself in the amusing position of being up to bat against Oakland relief pitcher Huston Street... Dallas vs. Huston [pronounced 'Houston'], geddit?). It was McPherson's first homerun and I expect he was feeling pretty good about that.

The startling thing was, after he got back to the dugout, the camera caught him slapping something on the back of his batting helmet. A big, square sticker or something. The Angels announcers (I was watching on MLB.TV, Angels broadcast) were confused. "What... what is that? Can we get a closeup on that?" "I think it's a photo... it looks like a photo, maybe?" The camera zoomed in, went fuzzy, refocused.

"I... I think it's a photo of the rally monkey."

The rookie gets his first homerun and slaps a big photo of the rally monkey on the back of his helmet. The announcers started debating whether it was something the veterans had told him to do or what, because they'd never seen it done before, but I was in stunned amazement, two parts amused and one part mortified. I still don't know what to think about it. I mean, it was bloody hilarious, but I thought MLB was particular about modifying equipment like that? Maybe I'm thinking of the NFL. I think I am thinking of the NFL. Anyways, obviously that was a story that absolutely needed to be shared.

Also hilarious was how the Angels team reacted to Troy Percival returning as a competitor (after, you know, being an Angel for ever and ever). According to the Angels announcers, who related the story with many an indulgent chuckle, before the first game of the series the Angels set up a big safety cone in the Angels bullpen with Percy's number taped to the back of it. They also set up a long series of big tape arrows from the visitors clubhouse to the Angels bullpen, showing Percy how to get back there.

At the end of the tape arrows were two double-cheeseburgers.

Which Percival, good naturedly, ate after the game.

This is pretty hilarious on every level, not least because, while he's no Bartolo Colon, Percy isn't exactly the sveltest of fellows.

There was also that whole business of both Craig Monroe and Alan Trammell getting thrown out of the game on the same play. It happened like this: Craigger hit a tough ball to field, and Orlando Cabrera made a slick ranging play and threw Craigger out at first. Only, it was a terribly close play, and the slow motion replays showed that Craigger and the ball seemed to get there at exactly the same time... it really and honestly was a call that could have gone either way. Craigger exploded in rage at being called out and slammed his helmet on the ground. Ejected.

Tram, furious, raced out of the dugout and began berating the ump, or perhaps 'giving him information', as Trot Nixon would say. "I was disappointed in (umpire Derryl Cousins) for ejecting Craig instead of giving him an equipment violation that would have been a fine," Trammell said. "I took offense to that, I didn't think it qualified for an ejection. I've seen a lot worse." That came out later. All I saw at the time was Tram railing at the ump... and railing at the ump... and yelling at the ump... and the ump seemed pretty resigned to it and willing to let Tram get all the shoutiness out of his system. It almost looked as though the guy was actively trying to avoid throwing Tram out of the game, he let it go on for quite a while.

Then Tram took off his hat (revealing an enormous balding spot on the back of his head... Alan Trammell needs to always wear a hat) and threw it on the ground, and of course the ump had to eject him then. At the time I wasn't sure why Tram would do something like that, even in a fit of managerial anger, but I hadn't seen Craigger throw his helmet and didn't realize that was why he had been ejected. It all makes sense now.

Throughout all this Cabrera had his glove up in front of his face, giggling behind it. Dammit, Cabby, I miss you.

But the story, at the end of the game, was Jeremy Bonderman. The Angels announcers* seemed more impressed by Bondy's performance than they were by Colon's... they kept saying over and over how young he was, just 22, and how well he was pitching, and oh my can you believe it.

Percy: "I'll tell you right now, he's probably the most special starting pitcher that I have seen. He's 22-years-old with the maturity of a Roger Clemens. They don't come around very often. I've been impressed with him since the first day I met him."

Craigger: "We talk about the Bondo Show... He talks it, man. But he also walks it. He just goes out and does it."

I know it's still early in the season, I know it's still early in his career, but I'm already at the slavering, vaguely rabid and insane "GIVE 'IM THE CY YOUNG HE'S THE BEST PITCHER EVER!" stage when it comes to Jeremy Bonderman.

Yesterday's game saw a very solid outing from Mike Maroth (one run given up) and a very pisspoor outing from the collective Angels pitching staff (10 runs given up by the lot of them, I believe 7 by the starter). Technically Jarrod Washburn was the starting pitcher, but he gave up a homerun to Brandon Inge in the very first at-bat of the game and was gone after 2 1/3 innings, so I'm not sure that even counts.

I didn't see much of the game, as it was sandwiched between the two Red Sox games, but I did see Bingey's homer and Pudge's bases-loaded triple (scored three runs, leaving Pudge on third (don't worry kids, he came across home shortly thereafter). Yes, the Tigers hit triples away from Comerica too. Imagine that.

For some fun perspective on what sort of a game this was, the top of the 3rd inning, when the Tigers were batting, lasted half an hour. The bottom of the third lasted about 5 minutes.

As for the Angels, they've been living this season on pitching, as their entire lineup has been dismal at the plate. That's what happened on Friday, when Escobar went very deep into the game and Ledezma was not so hot. That's what happened on Saturday, when Bonderman just barely outdueled Colon. Neither game was spectacular offensively for the Angels, their pitching was what kept them in it (and Ledezma's been having some serious issues lately, you'd have to be dead to not knock him around a little bit). On Sunday their pitching finally imploded and they had no offense whatsoever to pick them up. They can't live like this forever, it's going to come back to bite them on their simian asses if they don't start hitting before the season is out, if it hasn't already started to do so.

All that, of course, is the reason for that 'intelligent' and 'pertinent' little doodle at the top of this entry.

Red Sox

The rain-out on Saturday forced the double-header on Sunday, and it certainly was a weird one. With the temperatures in the 40s, the sharp wind in from center field making Fenway act like a larger park than it actually is, the driving rain in the second game, the parade of relatively unknown pitchers, Mark Bellhorn at shortstop, Kevin Youkilis batting third... were these the Boston Red Sox?

The first game once again featured Jeremi Gonzalez** doing much, much better than we had any right to expect when we called him up from the minors. He's here as a stopgap measure, he's supposed to keep us vaguely in games, not win them like a bona fide major league pitcher. Oh, he's not a number one or two guy, but he's playing better than plenty of number 5 guys around the league have been.

The second game saw the Boston introduction of Wade Miller, who also did about 5 billion times better than we had any right to expect. I was hoping to see him throwing in the mid-to-high 80s, not necessarily strikes but not giving up booming homeruns. Instead, he goes 5 innings (more than fine, no need to strain him right away) and strikes out 6, hitting 95 at one point on the radar gun and living happily in the low 90s much of the rest of the time. I'm more than pleased. He, like Tram, needs to keep his hat on at all times, though... the thinning and receding hair really detracts from his Steely Gaze of Death.

It also saw the introduction of young Cla Meredith***, up from AAA Pawtucket but just barely, having only pitched in one game there last Monday. Basically we pulled him up straight from AA. And yes, he'd been quite good in the minors, but why would we put a 21-year-old, entirely unproven kid in a tied game for his major league debut? Sox Prospects has his estimated time of arrival in the majors as 2006, and even that seems soon but was no doubt based on how bloody good he'd been. I realize that injuries and the immense suckitude of Blaine Neal caused some shake-ups... I can only hope that this treatment of Cla won't wreck him.

I say that because, coming into a tied game, he walked two men to load the bases (there was already a man on) and gave up a grand slam to Richie Sexson to give the Ms the runs they would need to ultimately win the game. Remy tonight pointed out (correctly) that you almost can't fault him for the Sexson hit, it was a pretty good pitch that just ran into a better batter. What you can and should fault him for were those two walks before it. He had some more walks tonight (and gave up 2 runs, but in a game where the Sox had already scored 13 that didn't matter too much), so the concern remains.

All that said, the kid is about 2 years older than me, and he's pitching in the major leagues. Poorly, but there he is. I'm puttering along at Michigan doing bad art and holing up in the Natural History museum in my free time while this kid is throwing balls to Jason Varitek and hanging out in the dugout with Tim Wakefield. Where did I go wrong? Alas.

As for the Mariners... well, they are what they are. Relatively weak pitching, I didn't see anything particularly impressive (although Wolverines will be pleased to note that Michigan grad JJ Putz did pretty well), and that offense has been having perplexing issues. Beltre is not nearly as hot as his contract would seem to say he should be... from what I read of the Mariners blogs I gather he's been a bit of free swinger lately and not a great one for taking walks. Willie Bloomquist (who started in both games in the double header) has a worse batting average than that of National League pitchers as a whole (a .138/.166/.172 line versus the .141/.174/.175 line for the pitchers).

And then there's Ichiro... is there anything that guy can't do? Hit? Well, we all know how he can do that. Run? Only the speediest guy on the team. Field? Wonderful range, no fear of hitting or climbing the wall, an arm like a cannon and absurd accuracy on his throws. I watched him chuck a ball out of the outfield to the catcher, straight to him... the catcher literally didn't have to move. The power he gets on his throws is ridiculous. So no, there is absolutely nothing Ichiro can't do and I don't care if he's on a team I couldn't care less about, I love the little guy. I mean, how can you not?


Big win for the Sox tonight over the A's, 13-5. Wake looked a little wild but that's what you get when you're throwing the knuckleball. Haren looked a little wild too, but his only excuses are youth and suckitude (remember knocking him around a bit in Game 1 of the World Series? Yup. He came to Oakland as part of that Mark Mulder deal). He also managed to vie with Mark Bellhorn for the coveted 'guy on the field who looks the most like a homeless person and/or stoned college student' award.

I don't know what's wrong with the A's bats, except that there is a problem. Tonight Remy said that they were getting men on base and simply not bringing them in-- he said they were having issues with clutch hitting, which we all know doesn't really exist, at least not in the long run. Athletics Nation phrases the problem a little more realistically, citing the atrocious slugging percentage of the A's. If they get a hit, it's a single. You can beat up on really, really bad pitching that way, but a half-decent pitcher just isn't going to give up single after single after single and allow you to score all the time. Oh well. It's not my problem. You just have to feel bad for a guy like Rich Harden, who has a 1.94 ERA but is stuck with a 2-2 record.

The problem tonight seemed to be Oakland's defense, though, as the Sox put up 9 (yes, 9) unearned runs. Hatteberg had a double-error (muffing the pickup on a ball and then throwing it wild) and Scutaro had an error at short where he failed to make a somewhat difficult scoop.

Millar, Mueller and Bellhorn all pledged to put $5 each in a pot every day until one of them got a homerun, at which time the guy who hit it would get the pot. Of course the very same day sees KFK rip one out onto the Monster, so Kevin's up $15. They said they were going to give the money to charity, but I don't know what charity you'd give 15 bucks too, seems like it would be more trouble than it's worth.

I hear tell Manny got hit in the head (or the ball hit his shoulder and ricocheted into the side of his helmet, I'm not sure which), but I didn't see it because I missed the start of the game. Oy. I hope he's alright.

I only saw the very end of the Tigers/Rangers game on Gameday, but I note that Nate Robertson threw 8 innings of scoreless ball, which was far better than I expected him to do tonight. Good for you, Nate. The only two runs of the game came in the 9th inning, when Dmitri got on base and Craigger tripled (yes, yet another Tigers triple) to bring him home, followed by a Carlos Pena single that brought Craigger home.

Yes. This is always a nice thing to see.

*I have no idea who they are, by the by, but they were quite good... impartial, level-headed, and gave lots of information all game long, including whatever interesting anecdotes they thought of at the time. Sometimes they seemed a little too calm and unfazed by the proceedings, but I definitely took away a favorable impression of them. I know we all love Don and Remy to pieces, but if you're a fan of another team trying to watch the game and all MLB.TV or Extra Innings is showing is the Red Sox broadcast... well, unless you love them like a Sox fan does, I can't imagine it's all that fun to listen to them crack up in hysterics for an entire half-inning. I'm just sayin'. These Angels guys were likeable even to a Tigers fan.

**According to his ESPN profile, his real name is Geremis Segundo Gonzalez. Wonder why he changed it? I mean, Geremis, Jeremi, was that really necessary?

***Pronounced 'Clay', his real name is Olise Claiborne Meredith III. I assume it's short for the 'Claiborne' bit, although I can't work out why he wouldn't leave the 'i' so his name would be 'Clai' and slightly more resembling how it's pronounced. Heck, he probably could've thrown the 'y' in there without much trouble. I keep wanting to say 'Clah'. Oh well. And wouldn't you think that one Olise Claiborne Meredith was enough? There had to be three of them?

11:26 PM

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