Monday, June 23, 2008

Blue Again

On Sunday, June 23, Kevin Youkilis hit a 2-run walk-off home run in the 13th inning to give the Red Sox an interleague win over the Cardinals. The game had a little of everything. Seven and a third strong innings from Jon Lester, he who had spent the year before battling cancer. A rare blown save by the Papelbot. A game-saving throw from the outfield by JD Drew to nail a would-be Cardinal scorer at the plate. An absolutely wonderful game.

The news was not as good in Omaha, Nebraska. The Diamond Heels walked way too many batters earlier in the day and it cost them a 3rd straight trip to the Championship series in the College World Series. That's twice on the Big Stage this year for Carolina, and twice heading home empty-handed. Damn!

The loss came after 2 very dramatic back-against-the-wall wins. First a 7 - 3 win over LSU that came with a grand slam by Tim Federowicz in the top of the ninth to snap a 3 - 3 tie. Next came a 2-run home run by Chad Flack in the eighth against Fresno State when the Heels were down by 1 that forced the deciding final game. In the final game, though, the pitching staff started showing the signs of 3 straight hard-fought games and Fresno St. took the game 6 - 1 and will face Georgia in the championship series.

But hey, 3 straight years being in Omaha is pretty damn good, especially given the everchanging nature of the college game. Hard to believe that 2 years ago my Little Leaguers were facing the Ackley kid, and now he's one of the premier hitters, if not THE premier hitter, in college ball. He was one of the few bright spots against Fresno State, going 3 - 5, and finished the season with a .417 average. That was best on the team and the 3rd best in school history, and this is a team that was ranked #1 in the country for a while, and in the top 5 all year. No wonder we could never get him out. It's kinda cool, although it would be even better if any of my kids could say "I struck out Dustin Ackley way back when". We've checked the old scorebooks - none of them did :( He did hit 7 home runs off of us, in ONE day, in a doubleheader up in the boondocks known as Walnut Cove on a Sunday afternoon, though. A rather dubious statistic for sure! One of my pitchers in that game was Michael Brown, a young man who is now ironically enough at Georgia, the other team in the finals this year. His dad and I are long-time LL buddies and coached together even after neither of us had sons playing any more. Michael threw a pitch to Ackley that he still talks about to this day. It was supposed to be outside, but drifted back into the zone and Ackley unloaded. That ball needed a passport when it landed. Brown didn't even turn and watch it. He hung his head down as the ball came off the bat and shook it a couple of times before singnaling to the umpire for another ball. The umpire hadn't even given the home run sign yet, as he was watching the ball still climbing as it sailed over the tall pine trees in right field. The only pitcher that day who kept Ackley "in the park" was a 15 year-old who technically was too young to be playing, but we were short-handed and he was filling in. Ackley "only" pounded a double off the left-field fence against him. That's opposite field power.

It's the stuff of legends, and I'm sure, like most legends, it will only grow over time. It might be up to 20 home runs by the time those guys reach my age, but for now we're going with 7.

And I have the scorebook to show it!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Finally - 500

So Manny hit #500 on Saturday night at Camden Yards. It came against Chad Bradford in the 7th inning of a game the Red Sox won 6 - 3. He took Bradford's 1st pitch over the right-centerfield wall, right into an area I've actually sat in before. I wasn't there, I wasn't watching, not even on GDGD, my acronym for the Gameday program that allows you to follow the games on computer. When I first started participating in the Joy of Sox gamethreads, almost everyone else on line was watching the game on NESN or some local affiliate. I was waiting on the Gameday program to catch up and usually by the time I saw a play and responded to it on-line, everyone else was talking about the next pitch. I would simply say G**damn Gameday, and it happened so often I started shortening it and everyone still knew what I meant. It's a common term around JoS now, and I hope one day to have it entered in the site glossary - a very big honor on JoS.
Manny has sealed his spot in the Hall already, and I hope now that the big one is in his hindsights he'll settle down and start ripping the cover off the ball. It's amazing that I had May 13th (I think) picked in the contest at RSFPST, another of my favorite Sox blogs, to guess the date the homer would come on. On that date, almost 3 weeks ago, I had a shot at it. He had hit #498 the night before and 2 homers in 1 night are certainly not out of his reach. But there it stayed, at 498, for over 2 weeks. He finally hit #499 on May 28, then on Saturday night, May 31st, in Baltimore, the Big Being hit the Big One.
The Red Sox are in very good shape in the standings, but for a truly successful season they'll need to get a little more consistant pop out of the #3 and #4 spots, Manny and Papi, than they have lately. Papi is sitting on a .252, not so hot for him. Manny had a good enough early part of the season that he is still at .294, even after a slow couple of weeks, but we need those guys to be in the mid-300s.
Here's hoping the sweep in Baltimore and the end of the distraction about #500 will get things rolling.