Monday, May 10, 2010

So THAT'S How They Roll In The 209!

  • Perfect etiquette, perfect game:

I don't think I'd have the audacity to come up with a story so ludicrous when writing fiction, let alone expect it to happen in real life. But it did.

The Dallas Braden perfect game----completed amid the mini-firestorm that he fanned and spread with the wind emanating from his own mouth----is stuff right out of Chuck Palahniuk. So insane; so ridiculous; so blatantly obvious that it had to have really happened because no one would buy it if it was a product of poor storytelling and/or a figment of someone's overactive imagination.

Braden's masterpiece, a clean and efficient 106 pitch effort with six strikeouts against a Rays club that's second in the American League in runs scored, was a testimony to the pitcher's focus and calm through a storm. As impressive as the performance itself was, the most amazing aspect is that it happened smack in the middle of Braden being roasted for refusing to let the Alex Rodriguez/mound-stepping incident die a natural death.

As I said two days ago, Braden was right in challenging ARod for his gamesmanship of jogging over the mound attempting to rattle a young pitcher; after that, Braden embarrassed himself with his inability to stop talking about it; to repeatedly make threats; to reference "the 209" area code where he grew up implying that it was a several times more dangerous than the high school in Dangerous Minds and only slightly less deadly than trying to open a girls school under the noses of the Taliban.

The backstories about his mom and feisty grandmother aside (you can get them here and here) and the ARod silliness, it's a good sign that Braden was able to put all that other junk out of his mind to the point where he achieved perfection. It's not that easy to ignore distractions and do one's job.

In the 1988 NLCS, David Cone----a tough, battle-tested ace if ever there was one----let a media misunderstanding affect him so negatively that he got blasted out of game 2 of the series in the second inning----NY Times Story.

The media-friendly and gregarious Cone, providing a first person diary to the Mets championship hopes, said some disparaging things about Dodgers closer Jay Howell. Comparing him to a "high school pitcher" for his reliance on a curveball functioned as a spark for the Dodgers. In truth, the statements taken as insulting by the Dodgers in an attempt to rally their troops; Cone could've said that Howell was "pretty good" and the Dodgers would've run with that as well.

Shaken and upset, rode hard by the Dodgers bench, Cone was gone by the second inning and the loss cost the Mets a chance to go back to New York leading the Dodgers 2-0 in the series already having won game 1 in which the then unhittable Orel Hershiser couldn't stop them. The Dodgers won the series in 7 games and while the Mike Scioscia's game-tying homer off of Dwight Gooden in the ninth inning of game 4 is referenced as the turning point in the series, the Cone flap was just as, if not more, destructive.

Braden's perfect game itself was a historic accomplishment; but his cool in the face of this controversy is an even better signal that he's a pitcher who won't wilt under the pressure of a big game. That could be more important for his long-term future than the high of perfection and the low of the ARod dust-up.

  • The front office scrutiny is extends to the Yankees as well:

While Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is under rightful examination for his organization's philosophical switch from power and pitching to pitching and defense, Yankees GM Brian Cashman has seen his own grand scheme questioned with a similar bewilderment albeit under less ridicule because the Yankees are 21-9 and the Red Sox are 16-16.

That doesn't mean that Cashman's off-season refurbishment of the Yankees is any more viable than what the Red Sox did.

Eschewing the glossy free agent signings and resisting the temptation to keep the 2009 championship team together in its entirety, Cashman let Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui walk as free agents; traded for Curtis Granderson; signed Nick Johnson; and re-acquired Javier Vazquez.

In years past, Damon and Matsui would've been brought back; they still would've made the deal for Granderson; they would've signed Mark DeRosa and Mike Gonzalez; and probably made a blockbuster deal for Roy Halladay or gone after The Stone Cold Killer, Cliff Lee; on a lower level, they might've gone after Joel Pineiro. The payroll would've skyrocketed well past the $200 million mark----something that would've given Cashman agita----and it would've been business as usual in the Bronx.

Vazquez has been a disaster about which Cashman was warned repeatedly. It's easy to criticize the Johnson signing after the fact because he got hurt, but anyone who knows anything about Nick Johnson knew that his injury history made him hit-or-miss. The Vazquez and Johnson signings were pure stat zombie-related----a road Cashman has been intent on traversing for years.

In truth, Vazquez won't be a giant issue if Andy Pettitte is healthy; they are going to need to address their starting pitching at the trading deadline. Not having an everyday DH isn't as big a problem as is portrayed, especially when Granderson returns. The flexibility provided by not having a pure DH who must play every day gives the club an opportunity to use the likes of Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, ARod and other veterans as the DH to give them a day off without losing their bats; they have enough firepower not to have to worry about not having a classic, two-fisted slugging DH.

The payroll freedom provided by the acquisitions of the free-agents-to-be Vazquez and Johnson will let the Yankees pursue either Lee or the player I think they're really after----Carl Crawford.

Even with all of that, there are reasonable questions in the now to be asked of Brian Cashman in bringing in both Vazquez and Johnson, and not just because they haven't worked out; but because they were questionable to start with.

  • Speaking of Carl Crawford:

While the marquee free agents from last winter----Jason Bay, John Lackey and Matt Holliday----saw their markets badly limited, Crawford isn't going to have that hanging over his head and he's going to make a lot of money because of it.

Of the "major market" teams that can spend the big money to get Crawford, most of them will be in on Crawford sparking a crazy bidding war.

The Yankees want him; the Red Sox will be in on him; and so will the Angels. Depending on the divorce proceedings of the McCourts, the Dodgers could be after Crawford as well (and Manny Ramirez's contract is up after this season, freeing up a lot of cash). The Mariners and White Sox will presumably keep their eye on Crawford too. The only spenders who won't be scoping Crawford are the Mets and Cubs.

It's not just Crawford's five-tool talent that are intriguing, but that he'll only be 29; is respected on and off the field; and can bat anywhere in the lineup. Crawford's nickname is "The Perfect Storm" and he's entering free agency with perfect timing; the teams that he needs to jack up his price are all jockeying for position to gain his services and he's going to get paid. Heavily.

  • Viewer Mail 5.10.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She Fan writes RE the Red Sox:

I wouldn't count the Red Sox out. The Yankees got killed by them early last season and turned it around in the second half. Maybe they'll make changes and get back in it, and who knows about injuries on the other teams.

There's a difference between the two teams. That Yankees team was still getting to know one another and had paid for superior quality with C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira; this Red Sox team wasn't all that good to start with as they brought in the likes of Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre.

I'm not counting them out because Epstein isn't going to let the season go down the tubes without doing something drastic in getting a bat. The problem is that the glossier names for the open spots----DH and first base (moving Kevin Youkilis to left field at least part time)----are all on teams that currently have reason to hold their fire in making deals. The Brewers aren't in the selling position; the Padres are hot, so that leaves Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez unavailable. They could go after Lance Berkman when he shows he's completely healthy.

Joe writes RE the Red Sox and in response to Jane:

Scutaro has been fine. Using Alex Gonzalez as an example is ludicrous. NO ONE could expect this kind of production from him. Plus, he will regress a ton before the year is out, making that part of your argument invalid.

She Fan, While this Red Sox team has a lot of talent, your Yankees last season were better than the 2010 Red Sox. And with the Rays playing very good baseball, the hill is even steeper. That being said, I do not think this Red Sox team was poorly constructed.

No, using Gonzalez as an example isn't ludicrous. He made more sense than signing Julio Lugo the first time they let Gonzalez leave and he was a better idea than Scutaro now.

Considering that Gonzalez is on a one-year deal; is at least the fielding equivalent of Scutaro; was expected to hit 12-15 homers before this sudden outburst of early-season power; and is costing the Blue Jays a tenth in guaranteed money of what the Red Sox are paying Scutaro, they'd have been better off with him. They might've even found the missing money to keep Jason Bay had they chosen to keep Gonzalez instead of going for Scutaro.

This Red Sox team was built with the shaky stat zombie tenet of run prevention and pitching and defense as justification for letting Bay leave; even if they'd been 100% healthy, it was a bad idea from the start.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Alex Gonzalez:

Joe is right, no one could have expected that Gonzalez was going to have that kind of power. He was expected to bat eighth or ninth in the lineup.

I'm not suggesting Gonzalez's hot streak implies the Red Sox made a huge gaffe in letting him leave, but his career history (when he's been healthy) showed what he was and that's better than Scutaro.

Just to be clear, Marco Scutaro has been a solid player for the Red Sox, everything they expected and under no circumstances at fault for their struggles; but they needed a power bat and the signing of Scutaro was part of the mistaken template of pitching and defense rather than keeping Bay or finding power elsewhere.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE Dallas Braden and the Red Sox:

...and Braden pitches a perfect game!! What a great development to this story. His head might explode to Mardi Gras float proportions!
...and the BoSox? They seem completely mismatched to me. A team with Drew, Cameron, Beltre and Scutaro is very yawn inspiring. This is like the failed "everyone is a closer" experiment. I'm sure Theo will try to be busy at trade deadline time, but he created a mess for himself. He strayed from everything he fought Larry Luchino about.

Don't mess with the 209, Mike. Don't....mess....with....the....209.

The Red Sox escaped 2003 and almost went to the World Series with the "closer-by-committee" and quietly abandoned the idea that winter by signing Keith Foulke; they won't be as lucky this year with the tough competition in the American League. They have to act fast if the stumble continues.

John Seal (West Coast Spiritual Advisor) writes RE Dallas Braden:

The 209 is Central Valley hillbilly territory, populated by the offspring of the Okies who moved to California during the Great Depression and the migrant farm workers who pick our crops. The sort of place Frank Norris wrote about in his great novels The Octopus and there are some Tales of the 209 to be told. Of course, there were no area codes when Norris was writing in the early 20th century...but you get the idea.

That said, as much as I love Braden (who's pitching a very good game against the Rays as I write this), it was definitely time to bring this feud to an end.

That very good game ended in perfection.

If Braden was 20-years-old, I'd have understood the refusal to let it die; the flinging of cups; the relentless yapping----but he's going to be 27. What was he trying to prove? He stood up to ARod; most everyone agreed with him if not regarding ARod's mound stepping, but about ARod himself. It was unnecessary.

I also get the impression that Bob Geren, Billy Beane and probably Ben Sheets told him to tone it down and he didn't listen. It took Beane out-and-out telling him to shut up to put an end to it----I think.

At least now there's something else to talk about.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

Listen to my Podcast appearance with Sal at SportsFanBuzz from a week ago Friday---2010BaseballGuideCover.gif-Prince on the Podcast link.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.

It's a storm of monumental proportions.


Jeff said...

For what it's worth, I can't see Ben Sheets being a leader... of anyone... including himself.

The 209 may be bad ass, but it ain't never seen this "Family".

She-Fan said...

Beane must not have spoken to Braden's granny from the 209. I may need to get my people from the 805 on this.

Bravesbloggerinlawschool said...

No talk of Longoria trying to break up the perfect game with a bunt? I remember you going off on Gregor Blanco for doing this in a no-no and the bunt single was a legitimate part of Blanco's game (possibly why he is now in the minors). Longoria is a power hitter who should have been trying to drive the ball or get on base via walk. Bunting was not only kind of lame, but did Longoria think that this best shot at getting on base against DALLAS BRADEN was bunting?!

the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

The only thing in Vasquez' defense is it didn't cost the Yankees much.
It's hard to get on the Yankee fans for rippin this guy. They said very loudly and clearly they didn't want him back.
Curious - With Hughes throwing so well, when the timer rings, I want to see if the Yanks are going to stick with and impose the Hughes Rules. If Andy's elbow holds up, Vasquez is insignificant.

Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................