Time Out For Sports Talk: The Road To Sox-tober
Todd: Instead of trying to shoehorn one or two Red Sox comments into our regular weekly Patriots posts, your intrepid bloggers plan to deliver two-a-weeks for the foreseeable future so that Boston’s baseball team can get the multiple paragraphs they so richly deserve for this incredibly entertaining season.
Short of winning another World Series trophy, does it really get much better than this for the Sox these days? As I mentioned last week, I’m still finding it hard to fathom that as recently as August 25 this team was tied with Tampa Bay for first place in the AL East (and the Rays technically led by percentage points). Since then the Sox have gone 16-4, the Rays are 8-14 and voila, a nine-game lead and a magic number of just four. Part of me thinks it would be appropriate if these bearded wonders clinched the division tomorrow night at Fenway during the ‘Dollar Beard Night’ ticket promotion.
Not only is it incredible seeing the Sox run away with the division, but their 92 wins (23 more than all of last year) already makes 2013 the biggest one-year turnaround since the Impossible Dream team of 1967 (20 wins more than in ’66). With eleven games remaining and the way the Sox have performed this month (11-3 and averaging 7 runs per game) it’s not absurd to think they could win 100 games, which no Sox team has done since 1946.
Another amazing accomplishment this year has been Boston’s season-long evisceration of those dreaded Pinstripes. The Sox won thirteen of nineteen games against the Yankees this year (6-1 over the last two weekends), the most wins they’ve had against their rivals since 1973 (14-4) and outscored them 120-85. They beat the Bombers by four or more runs seven times and scored at least eight runs against them eight times. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the veritable cherry on top of Sunday’s final beatdown of the season with his steal of home. Yes, you read that correctly—the Sox catcher stole home (back end of a double-steal). Not only can this club outhit any opponent, but they can run a little too (116 stolen bases and 32 for their last 32 attempts).
Back to the offensive explosion—one of the biggest performers against the Yanks this season was Mike Napoli, who in 63 plate appearances had 7 home runs (two of them grand slams) and 20 RBI. Just for the sake of contrast, at the first base position in the previous two seasons against New York, Adrian Gonzalez had 5 HR and 21 RBI over 133 plate appearances.
Following a long funk, Napoli has been swinging a hot bat of late (.438 over his last nine games), numbers that coincide nicely with the Sox winning their last ten games versus left-handed starting pitchers, an area they struggled with earlier this season. Other major contributors to the Sox turnaround against southpaws are Will Middlebrooks (.333 BA, 6 HR in 30 games since his recall from Pawtucket) and Shane Victorino (hitting well over .300 with 9 HR since batting exclusively from the right side of the plate).
On the pitching side, here are some more ridiculous Koji Uehara stats: the Sox’ closer has not allowed a batter to reach base in exactly one month (Lyle Overbay doubled off him on August 17), and has tossed eleven perfect innings since. Another fun fact: Koji hasn’t walked a batter since Mike and I were at Fenway attending Jake Peavy’s debut back on August 3. The 38-year old has struck out 94 and walked 9 in 67 2/3 innings this season with a 1.06 ERA and a microscopic 0.56 WHIP. Coincidentally, one of Mariano Rivera’s most dominant seasons also came as a 38-year old in 2008, posting a 1.40 ERA and 0.665 WHIP with 77 strikeouts and 6 walks in 70 2/3 innings.
Speaking of Rivera, I thought the Sox generally did a nice job handling his pregame ceremony, and also likely set a record never to be topped for a visiting player’s farewell by giving the future hall of fame closer not one, not two, not three…but four gifts (painting, signed ‘42’ from scoreboard, blue wooden ‘42’ seat and bullpen pitching rubber). That doesn’t even include the (assumed) generous donation from John Henry towards Rivera’s church and school-building efforts in his native Panama. Mariano smiled through it all with his typical grace, just as he did back on Opening Day 2005 when the Fenway crowd cheered him for his ‘part’ in the Sox’ 2004 championship run. Exit Sandman, a true class act.
Mike: I don't have a lot to add to what you said Todd. I have been amazed at how much this Sox team has reminded me of the 2004 bunch, with the way they are playing so loosely and seeming to pull out all the big wins when they need them, it's been a fun ride this summer/fall!
But I do want to touch on one thing where I disagree with you, it is the way the Rivera sendoff was handled on Sunday. Sure, the gifts were nice, and I thought it was a touch of class that the check to his foundation was in a sealed envelope and the owners resisted bragging about how much they gave.
But I thought the roast was overdone. Sure, as a Sox fan, I get the joke, let's bring up what is probably one of the biggest blown saves of his postseason career, but it went on way too long. To me, after a while, it seemed to be rubbing it in instead of honoring him.
To his credit, he handled it with grace and class, but I thought it was a bit too much.
But all that aside, I'm just grateful there's going to be October baseball at Fenway!