04 April 2004

Opening Night

Some random notes while watching the Opening Night (as opposed to Opening Day, which is tomorrow, evidently, or opening morning, which happened last week, in Japan) game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox...

First Batter: Johnny Damon, with long hair and a full beard? Bringing new depths to that 'dirt-bags' theme the BoSox had going on late in the 2003 season. I'm no professional prognosticator, but I doubt that Damon's new look survives the month. It's one thing to wear a full beard and long hair when it barely breaks 40 degrees at gametime, but come may, June and July, you don't need any help sweating. Also, I remember a few years back that Jeff Bagwell started the season, or maybe just Spring Training, with an 8-inch long goatee, and it took less than a month for him to revert to his usual facial fare. Guys just get bored with looking at the same face in the mirror every day sometimes, but eventually they remember why they looked that way in the first place: It was easier.

Second Batter: Bill Mueller, I don't have to tell you, has an uphill battle ahead of him. When people note how great the 2003 RedSox offense was, and more importantly, how great they could be in 2004, Bill Mueller is the first one about whom they usually say, "He won't do that again..." Well, he's got three hits already tonight, so maybe he will...but for a guy who never slugged more than .450 or hit more than ten homers, I'll be very surprised if he repeats that performance. Though I haven't examined the numbers, I would venture a guess that he had a very high batting average on the balls he put in play last year, and that if those numbers revert to the norm, you'll get something a lot closer to the .285/.380/.420 line we were used to seeing from Bill, instead of that gaudy batting title and 19 homers. But you never know.

Sidney Ponson: Looking good so far. Throwing 95-96 mph early in the game. Ponson signed as a free agent with the team that traded him to the Giants for the stretch run. I guess he likes Baltimore. I guess he doesn't mind losing. The Orioles signed Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmiero in the off-season too, but that pitching staff gets pretty thin after Ponson, and not just because he's pushing 250 pounds. He lasted 5 and two-thirds and managed to give up only one run to the vaunted Red Sox offense, but new Orioles manager Lee Mazilli left him in there for 138 pitches on Opening Night! Does Mazilli have that little confidence in his bullpen? Will Carroll may have a new whipping boy, when he's done with Dusty Baker, that is.

Correction: ESPN2 just said it was only 111 pitches, not 138, as their in-game box score had earlier indicated. Still a lot for opening night in 40 degree weather.

Red Sox Infield: Rob Neyer amusingly referred to the "guy" who replaced Damian Jackson in the Red Sox lineup as 'Pokey Bellhorn' assuming, of course, that Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese would split time at 2B, but with Nomar on the DL, both are in the lineup tonight. That's not gonna push the 2004 Sawx toward 1000 runs on the year...especially if it takes all month, as they fear it will, to get Garciaparra back.

Punk-Ass Pedro Martinez: Pedro gave up a solo homer to Javy Lopez on the first pitch he offered, and then his own throwing error led to a couple of more runs in the second inning. After that though, Pedro buckled down and hasn't allowed a run since. I do wonder about that hit-by-pitch in the 2nd inning. It happened immediately after Pedro gave up the homer, a single to Larry Bigbie and then a steal by Bigbie. Serves him right, though, since David Segui (the guy he hit) came around to score. Pedro left after 119 pitches, 6 innings, two earned runs.

Chuck Knoblauch, Eat Your Heart Out: In the third inning, Johnny Damon got called out when Ponson hit him in the back as he ran toward first base on a little dribbler back up the middle. They said that Damon was running in fair territory, not inside the baseline, and he was, but it was close. I still feel bad for Knoblauch in the playoffs a few years back. He was wrong not to pick up the ball, but the ump was clearly out of line with the call he made, just like Travis Fryman.

Gabe Kapler: What the heck happened to him? He looked like he was on the fast-track for stardom a few years ago. He averaged about 30 doubles, 15 homers and an .800-ish OPS from 1999-2001 with Detroit and Texas, but then injuries to his (perhaps too-) sculpted body shelved him for parts of the next few years, and his brief time with Boston last year was the first time he'd "hit" anywhere near the potential he showed in his mid 20's. I'd love to see him hit .290/.350/.450 over a full season, just not against the Yankees.

Bullpens Stink Very Much Bad: Pedro's relief wasn't much, as Mike Timlin came in and promptly gave up three more runs while only getting two outs. Rodrigo Lopez was OK for an inning or two, but Mike DeJean couldn't find the plate, and the Red Sox scraped another run out before BJ Ryan got out of the 8th inning. Scott Williamson gave up a run in the 8th inning as well, although that was more of a 'Defense Stink Very Much Bad' issue, but it's still a run.

Selig Interview: ESPN interviewed Commissioner Bud during the earlier part of the game, and Sam Ryan asked him some pretty good questions, which he (surprise!) mostly danced around. They discussed the international flavor of recent opening days, and he seemed to indicate that the trend would continue (sorry, Jayson).
They talked about the steroid issue, and he said that they're having dialogue with the players' union about getting something going there. They talked about the Expos moving, and when she mentioned Washington DC and how it would affect the O's revenue, he responded as though it were a foregone conclusion that there would, in fact, be some detrimental effect. Guess he didn't read my study on attendance.

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