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Game Six: Fenway, Big Papi and Greatness

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Game Six of the 2013 World Series is now underway and though I am not a Boston Red Sox fan I do find the story line of this World Series fascinating.

Fenway Park is one of the most storied ballparks in the land and is part of a dying generation of old parks. Old Yankee Stadium is gone, as are Tiger Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Old Comiskey Park in Chicago and many other legendary ballparks some most built after Fenway. In fact the only ballpark as storied as Fenway remaining is Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

Tonight the legendary park will is hosting what could be the deciding game of this series with the Red Sox leading the series against the St Louis Cardinals three games to two. If the Red Sox win tonight or tomorrow and take the series it will be the first time since 1918 that the Sox won the deciding game at home. In 1975 they played and won game six in an epic series against the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 before losing game seven to the Big Red Machine.

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However the ballpark is only one part of the story. The other big part of the story is Red Sox Designated Hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Ortiz has been part of the Red Sox since he signed as a Free Agent before the 2003 season after spending the early years of his career with the Twins.

In 2004 Ortiz really came into his own as a MVP and World Series MVP as well as All Star and recipient of the Silver Slugger Award. His performance in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees when it appeared that down 3-0 and facing elimination the Sox came back defeated the Yankees and then defeated the Cardinals. Since that time he has endeared himself to Boston Fans, was part of the Red Sox 2007 World Series team and after the Boston Marathon bombing early this year Ortiz delivered a some short remarks before the Red Sox game on April 20th. He fired up the crowd with “This is our fucking city! And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” Despite his remarks being carried on live television even the FCC refused to censure Ortiz.

In the final game of the ALCS against the Tigers Ortiz hammered a Grand Slam home run to give the Red Sox the victory. During the first five games of the World Series Ortiz is 11 for 15, has hit two home runs, two doubles and six RBI hitting .733 compared to the rest of the Red Sox who are hitting .144 for the first five games.

Those are amazing stats and an amazing performance by the 38 year old slugger who many people thought was on the downside of his career after several less than impressive years after the 2007 World Series win. However since 2010 he has been dominant. A nine time All Star, 5 time MVP and 5 time winer of the Silver Slugger award he has the most hits of any player at the designated hitter position.

I like Big Papi. He is real. He is a leader and committed to his city, team and family. You don’t have to be a Red Sox fan to appreciate him or just to like him. I like him a lot and I’m an Orioles fan.

If the Red Sox can finish off the Cardinals Ortiz will have to be the Series MVP. The only other competitor could be pitcher John Lester who in two games has shut down the Cardinals lineup.

All that being said I hope the Cardinals win tonight. I am not ready for baseball season to end. I want the series to go seven games. If the Red Sox win tonight it really won’t matter to me since I don’t have a dog in the fight I really don’t care who wins. I just want it to be a great series and for Big Papi to keep up what he is doing.

Right now in the bottom of the 4th the Red Sox are up 5-0 and Cardinals starter Michael Wacha is out of the game. I think that the way the Cardinals have been hitting that the Red Sox have a very good chance at winning it all tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Night of the Long Knives comes to Red Sox Nation: Terry Francona Out as BoSox Manager

Terry Francona driving out of Fenway before returning for the announcement of his Departure

The Boston Globe has reported that the owner of the Red Sox John Henry has decided that Manager Terry Francona, the best thing to happen to baseball in Boston since the day that Babe Ruth signed with the New York Yankees will not exercise Francona’s contract option to return to the Red Sox next year.  On Thursday GM Theo Epstein sat next to Francona and said “Collectively it was a failure, I’m the general manager so I take more responsibility than anybody. I don’t think we believe in — I know we don’t believe in scapegoats. In particular, no one blames Tito for what happened in September. Look, we all failed collectively. We kind of failed collectively in this one and we have to live with that.” On Friday there were multiple reports that the player friendly Francona was out.

The reports were accurate but Epstein sent out a press release today which said “John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and I met with Terry Francona this morning at Fenway Park to exchange thoughts and information on the 2011 season and discuss areas for improvement going forward. We all plan on taking some time to process the thoughts expressed in the meeting. There are no immediate plans for an announcement.”

The Red Sox had 10 days from the end of the season to make the decision to retain or release Francona but around5:30 PMa joint announcement was made that the team was not picking up its option on Francona’s contract and that he would not be back in 2012. Epstein released another statement in the evening saying:

“Nobody at the Red Sox blames Tito for what happened at the end of this season; we own that as an organization. This year was certainly a difficult and draining one for him and for us. Ultimately, he decided that there were certain things that needed to be done that he couldn’t do after eight years here, and that this team would benefit from hearing a new voice. While this may be true, his next team will benefit more than it knows from hearing Tito’s voice. I will miss seeing Tito every day in the manager’s office, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their next chapter.

The Red Sox front office also released a statement which praised Francona:

“We have enormous respect, admiration and appreciation for Tito and the job that he did for eight years, including two World Series championship seasons and five playoff appearances,” the statement read. “His poise during the 2004 postseason was a key factor in the greatest comeback in baseball history, and his place in Red Sox history will never be forgotten. We wish him only the best going forward.”

Francona commented:

“We met this morning to look back on the 2011 season and to consider the future of the Boston Red Sox, including my involvement with the club. I passed along my frustrations at my inability to effectively reach the players. After many conversations and much consideration, I ultimately felt that, out of respect to this team, it was time for me to move on.  I’ve always maintained that it is not only the right, but the obligation, of ownership to have the right person doing this job. I told them that out of my enormous respect for this organization and the people in it, they may need to find a different voice to lead the team.”

Francona who managed a Red Sox team that had not won a World Series since 1918 brought not one but two World Series titles to Beantown and led the Sox to the playoffs 5 times in his 8 years as the team’s manager.  He won with a loose and player friendly approach and when the team won the Red Sox Nation cheered his “idiots.”  Now it appears that the Red Sox ownership is ready to let Francona go and many of the younger members of the Red Sox Nation are looking to blame someone.

Yes the Red Sox collapse was epic, the worst ever in the history of Major League Baseball.   They had a nine game lead in the Wild Card Race and went 7-20 in September. The collapse was made even worse by how they lost the final game of the season to the suddenly hot last place Baltimore Orioles.  They had the Orioles down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th inning and lost with their ace closer Jonathan Papelbon on the hill.  It was an unthinkable and humiliating blow.

However to simply assign Francona the blame is to take the easy way out.  Many factors contributed the most important was how the Red Sox went from playing “Money Ball” with a lot more money than Billy Beane aver had in Oakland to trying to screw what made them successful and try to spend money on “talent” to compete with the Yankees now. But the talent that they purchased was overpriced and underperforming. John Lackey and Carl Crawford, both solid players in their own right failed to live up to the expectations set before them and the money that the organization paid them.  The Red Sox set the price for both with exorbitant contracts to ensure that neither went to their hated arch rival Yankees.

But there were other factors on and off the field especially regarding the pitching staff which collapsed and that some pitchers routinely drank in the clubhouse on their off days.

David Ortiz seemed to indicate that there were problems in the dugout saying “I worry about playing baseball more than anything else, I know we have some players that (the organization thought were) worried about some other s— and sometimes there were certain things that no one in the clubhouse can control. I was trying and I have no issues.”

Jackie MacMullan wrote an article today that really laid out a case for how everyone had a part in this epic collapse.  But one thing that she pointed out was something that almost any observer could tell.  The Red Sox had become unlikable, arrogant and complacent.

“While the Rays were young, hungry and edgy, the Red Sox were arrogant, complacent and, worst of all, entitled. They took their baseball gifts for granted, and when those gifts abandoned them, as they almost always do during a long baseball season, they were either too lazy or too cocksure to recognize what was required of them to maintain the consistency that is so vital in baseball. So they complained about the absence of the designated hitter in inter-league play, bemoaned injuries that robbed them of key players, even suggested their schedule was too grueling because they played too many televised night games (Adrian Gonzalez can lay claim to that gem). Back in the good old days, the Red Sox famously dubbed the Yankees “the Evil Empire” because they were arrogant, complacent and, yes, entitled. When New York failed, it merely outspent everyone else to pluck the best players from free agency and rejigger its lineup. Somewhere along the way, the Red Sox became what they once abhorred.”

Players defended Francona. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez said “It’s not Tito’s fault he’s not on the field playing. You can’t blame the manager who has kept an even keel the whole time. That’s what he’s supposed to do. You want him to show panic and put pressure on us? No. He did his job and us as players just didn’t get it done.”

Venerable Red Sox Captain Jason Varitek who played a part time role on the team in 2011 said “I don’t think right now there’s a reason to point any fingers, we as players didn’t get our job done.”

However Francona has to bear some of the blame.  Yet his part in the collapse compared to decisions made by Theo Epstein, Red Sox ownership and failure of players to perform his place in the blame game is in my mind smaller.  But he is the on-field manager and like the Captain of a ship he gets blamed for the actions of his subordinates as well as those above him.  That is the nature of the game.

Personally I like Francona’s leadership style.  I have a similar one.  However, as Francona found out it can reach back and bite you in the ass if you are not careful.  I personally believe that he was let down by his team which since 2008 has not performed in the playoff and finished 3rd in the AL East twice.  Likewise the GM and ownership have a large amount of blame to bear for this debacle.

Francona is the best manager the Red Sox have ever had. The Red Sox went 744-552 under Francona, and 8-0 in World Series games under him. I do not know who could replace him.  The fact is that what happened to the Red Sox this season will not be easy to fix. Many changes will have to be made and it could take the team years to recover.  The hardest thing to recover will be what they lost along the way; the Red Sox need to rediscover their soul.  For the rest of the American League East it could mean that the road to challenge the Yankees will have one less obstacle in the way.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Spoilers: Lowly Orioles Make for an Exciting AL Wild Card Race

Orioles outfielders Nick Markakis, Matt Angle and Adam Jones celebrate after taking 3 of 4 at Fenway from the Red Sox (AP Photo)

The Baltimore Orioles will chalk up yet another losing season after beginning with it high hopes.  However the young Birds are not nearly as bad as their record indicates and during the final month of the season they have not only come on strong but more than any other team have made what seemed to be a boring Wild Card race a down to the wire affair.

It appears that the Boston Red Sox are in the midst of an epic September collapse. As the Red Sox faded the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California or whatever they are calling themselves this year have turned up the heat and are breathing down the neck of the Red Sox who led the Wild Card race by 9 games at the beginning of the month.  It has been an amazing thing to watch because the Red Sox were supposed to challenge the Yankees for the East or do battle with the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS.

But the real wild card this month is the pesky Baltimore Orioles who looked in August to be staring at a 100 loss season.  The Birds pitching which had been horrendous turned around, with the exception of Brian Matusz who cannot get past the second inning.  Their hitting which was already much better than 2010, especially in home runs got hotter and they started winning especially against the Rays, Orioles, Angels and even the Yankees.

The Orioles split a four game series against the Yankees and 2 of 3 games each from the Angels and Rays temporally blunting each team’s race to the Wild Card.  To top it off the O’s have won 3 of 4 games at Fenway against the Red Sox this week.  To make matters worse of the Sox they have to play their three games against the Yankees in New York and their final three games of the season at Baltimore against a team that now has their number.

What is wrong with the Red Sox?  Well as Orioles Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver said “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” The Red Sox starters have an ERA over 6.0 in September. Their pitching staff which has struggled since mid-season now can’t seem to win a game if their hitters don’t put up double digits.  They are 5-16 in September and have only won one 1 run game in that time, a 4-3 win against the Rays on September 16th.  Their other four wins were by scores of 12-7 againstTexas, 14-0 and 18-6 against the Blue Jays and 18-9 in the one game that they took from the Orioles.

Big Poppy, David Ortiz sits after the 6-4 loss Wednesday night (AP Photo)

I think that things like this are what make baseball such a magical sport.  For teams like the Orioles, and their National League East cellar dweller counterpart Florida Marlins who have no chance at making the playoffs these games are their playoff games and they are creating havoc.  Now for the Red Sox they have to hope for their arch enemy, the New York Yankees to beat the Rays.  There is drama every day of the month in September and every game can mean something.  The lowliest teams can dash the hopes of the elite as the grueling 162 game season takes its toll on teams and every roster move a manager makes is important.  There is no running out the clock.  As Earl Weaver said “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” I’m sure that there are many Red Sox Fans that wish that they could. The Red Sox can still win the Wild Card but they need help and afford to keep losing.  If they don’t get the help and cannot win some games it will be a long winter in Bean Town for the Red Sox faithful.  Manager Terry Francona said in his post game interview ‘We’re going to have to fight for everything the rest of the way out.”  That is true because the Rays and the Angels will do all that they can to steal this from the Red Sox.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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