Monday, October 29, 2018

World Series Game 5: Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers (October 28, 2018)

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THE BOSTON RED SOX ARE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS! Damn, it feels great to write that. I spent the first twenty-four years of my life convinced that the Red Sox would never win a World Series and now here we are in 2018 and I've seen them win four of them. It's been an incredible run and this season may have been the most fun of all. Nothing can ever top the catharsis of 2004, the brilliance of 2007, or the healing power of 2013, but this 2018 team may have been the most thoroughly fun team of them all. Watching this team from spring training right through to the end of the World Series has been one of the most joyous and rewarding experiences I've ever had. Even better has been what this season has given me beyond the enjoyment of watching great baseball night in and night out. It's given me the opportunity to bond even more with my wife and children, an opportunity to take risks and hone my sports writing skills, the opportunity to write for Guy Boston Sports, and the opportunity to meet new fellow Red Sox fans and writers. This certainly won't be the last Red Sox related thing you'll read from me, but this will be the final recap of the 2018 season so let's get down to it.

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With a commanding three games to one lead in the series, the Red Sox were completely in control while the Dodgers were hanging on for dear life. Game five pitted two starting pitchers with checkered postseason histories against each other in David Price and Clayton Kershaw. While Kershaw had been roughed up in his game one start, Price was masterful in game two. From the beginning, the Red Sox were on a mission in this game and they got things started early in the first inning. Andrew Benintendi singled with one out and was followed by Steve Pearce who blasted a home run to make it 2-0 Boston after only six pitches from Kershaw. Los Angeles answered in the bottom of the inning when David Freese deposited Price's very first pitch in the right field stands to cut the lead in half. That would be all the Dodgers would do, though, as Price proceeded to mow them down over the next 7+ innings. The only spot of trouble he was in occurred in the third inning with one out when what looked to be a routine fly ball to right field from Freese was lost by JD Martinez in the twilit sky and sailed over his head for a triple. Price was able to get out of the jam unscathed with a ground out and a strikeout to end the inning. From there he cruised, going 7+ while only allowing three hits and the single run. He struck out five, walked two, and was in complete control before being lifted in the eighth. Joe Kelly and Chris Sale pitched the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, and both struck out all three of the batters they faced to end the game. In between, the Sox got insurance runs from a Mookie Betts solo homer (the first of his postseason career) in the sixth, an absolute moonshot to dead center field by JD in the seventh, and another home run from Pearce in the eighth. That was more than enough for a 5-1 series clinching win and there was no more fitting ending than to see Sale strike out that bum Manny Machado swinging down on one knee before Christian Vazquez leaped into his arms to begin the celebration. Boston outhit the Dodgers 8-3 and were ruthless and relentless in this final win. Everyone had at least one hit except for Brock Holt and Vazquez, but everyone contributed in this game, this series, and this season and for the third straight series, the Red Sox celebrated on their opponent's field.

Boston Red Sox 2018 World Series Champs

The 2018 Red Sox finished the season going 11-3 in October (4-2 at home, 7-1 on the road) with a total of 119 wins. While 2004 was the most important Red Sox team of all time, I'll declare with no hesitation that the 2018 was the best Red Sox team of all time. The sheer dominance of this team from beginning to end and the vast number of ways in which they could beat you made them a juggernaut. They were deep, talented, and resilient and it all started with Alex Cora. Aside from signing JD in the offseason, hiring Cora was the single greatest move that ownership and the front office made. Except for JD this was basically the same team they've had the last two years, but the maturation of the players under Cora's leadership and the virtuosic way in which he managed the entire season cement him as one of the greatest managers this team has ever had...and after only his first season! Everyone performed great in October, from the much maligned bullpen that seemed to completely flip the regular season script to the bench guys, one of whom became World Series MVP (looking at you, Steve Pearce). Then there's perhaps the biggest redemption story of all: David Price. Price's foibles and failures in Boston and and postseason are well known, but he's all but erased them with his pitching in the ALCS and World Series. This team was carried at times by not only its superstars, but often the supporting players. For much of this World Series while Mookie, JD, and Xander Bogaerts slumped the offensive load was borne by Pearce, Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Jackie Bradley, Brock Holt, and Eduardo Nunez. They got phenomenal starting pitching from Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi and spent the entirety of the postseason without Chris Sale at his best. The bullpen, so inconsistent and downright bad at times during the regular season was damn near unhittable in October. Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, and Craig Kimbrel (after the ALCS) were automatic and contributed hugely to the team's success. From Mookie down to the 25th guy on the roster, this was truly a team accomplishment. All season when some guys were down, others guys picked them up. On and on it went, all the way to a World Series victory and after dispatching the Yankees (100 wins), Astros (103 wins), and Dodgers (92 wins), those criticisms we heard all year about how "the Red Sox only beat the bad teams" now seem pretty silly, don't they? Let's enjoy this title, Red Sox Nation; the first flushes of celebration will fade over the coming weeks, but the memories will live forever.

(Also, this isn't the last you'll hear from me when it comes to the 2018 Red Sox. I've got something else coming down the pipeline which I'll be updating you all on soon, so stay tuned!)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

World Series Game 4: Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers (October 27, 2018)

I don't know about anyone else, but I was an absolute wreck after the marathon game three. Between going to bed after 3:00am and needing to be up at 7:00am to get my oldest daughter ready for her softball tournament, I was exhausted on Saturday, enough so that I took a nap (and anyone who knows me knows that I hate napping). Still bleary-eyed and groggy, I settled down to watch game four hoping the Red Sox would get some measure of vengeance after giving the previous game away. With every pitcher in the postseason starting rotation unavailable due to game three, Eduardo Rodriguez got the spot start for Boston while the Dodgers countered with former Red Sox (and Massachusetts native) Rich Hill.

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I really had no idea what to expect going into this game, but for the first six innings it was a classic pitcher's duel. Rodriguez was giving the Sox exactly what they needed while Hill stymied Boston's bats and held them to a single hit. For the second frustrating game in a row the top of Boston's order went hitless. I don't know what's happened but Mookie Betts (who, on the whole, has had a miserable postseason), Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez flailed away and couldn't get a hit to save their lives. The Dodgers finally broke through in the sixth and got on the scoreboard. Cody Bellinger hit a dribbler to Steve Pearce at first who threw to Christian Vazquez to get the out at home. Vazquez then tried to throw back to first to get the out but Bellinger was in the way and the throw got past Pearce allowing Justin Turner to score. That extended the inning for Yasiel Puig to crush a three run homer and put the Dodgers up 4-0. With the way Hill had been pitching and the Red Sox had (not) been hitting, that looked like it would be the game. With as tired as I was and another early softball wake up call looming (5:00am this time), I decided to go to bed. However, as I was getting ready to hit the sack, the Sox started coming back. The catalyst was Chris Sale screaming at his teammates in the dugout to fire them up, shouting out "this is embarrassing! Let's pick it up!" For some reason, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill after he surrendered a walk and brought Ryan Madson in. Madson has been awful in the World Series, allowing every inherited runner to score. That didn't change in game four; with two on and one out, he grooved a pitch to Mitch Moreland that was absolutely obliterated and missed going out of Dodger Stadium by a few rows. That cut the lead to 4-3 and made me decide to stay up and watch the rest. In the eighth, Pearce lofted a ball to left field that sailed over the fence to knot the score at four. Then in the ninth the Red Sox offense finally exploded. Brock Holt hit a double and was driven in by Rafael Devers' single. After loading the bases, Pearce came up again and ripped a double to the gap in right center field to clear the bases and blow the game wide open. The raucous Los Angeles crowd went silent and you could hear the air sucked right out of the place. Xander finished off the scoring with an RBI single to drive Pearce in and make it 9-4. LA got two in the bottom of the ninth when Kike Hernandez hit a two-run homer off of Craig Kimbrel, but it was too little to late and Red Sox stunned the Dodgers with the 9-6 win. That gave them a stranglehold on the series with a three games to one lead.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

The Red Sox were outhit in this game 9-8, but they made every single one of theirs count, especially the seven they got after Hill exited the game. As has been the case for the last few games of this series, they've been carried by the bottom of the order. Holt and Vazquez each went 1-2, Devers and Moreland were both 1-1, and Pearce went 2-4 with four RBI and two runs scored. The top of the order, apart from Xander (1-4, an RBI and a run scored) was atrocious again, with Mookie going 0-4, Benintendi going 1-5, and JD going 0-4. It's mystifying what's happened to the top of the lineup in this series and the struggles of Mookie throughout the entire postseason continue to baffle me. The fact that this team is one win away from a World Series title and has dominated the entire series with their best hitters struggling is a testament to their depth and talent. They'll try to close it out tonight when David Price gets the start. He'll be going against Clayton Kershaw who did not pitch well in game one. Even if this series heads back to Boston, history and statistics are on the Red Sox side. While it would be nice to see them clinch a second World Series at home (as they did in 2013 versus clinching on the road in 2004 and 2007), I'd have no problem if they ended it in game five. This is for two reasons: so they'd win, of course, but also so that I can start getting some sleep again!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

World Series Game 3: Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers (October 26, 2018)

With a 2-0 lead in the World Series heading to Los Angeles, the Red Sox had a chance to take a real stranglehold on the series by winning one of the first two games on the road. They had Rick Porcello on the mound going against Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler and even though the young Dodger had pitched well in the NLCS, to me it seemed like a mismatch: the relentless Red Sox lineup against the inexperienced rookie. We had friends of ours and their kids over for dinner and then we settled onto the couch to watch the game. However, instead of the offensive onslaught I expected from the Red Sox, we ended up with a game-long pitcher's duel and an epic battle of attrition.

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Porcello looked much sharper in this game than he did in his previous start in the ALCS, but the one mistake he made was in the third inning when he hung a ball over the plate that Joc Pederson hit over the right field fence for a 1-0 lead. Buehler allowed two hits to the Sox, one of which was a single to Jackie Bradley that was erased when he was caught in a run down and tagged out. That hurt since Christian Vazquez followed it up by hitting a single of his own. After that, Buehler mowed down the Sox batters and it was surprising to me because he mainly threw fastballs in the zone. His pitches had good movement and he was throwing hard and the Sox usually feast on those pitches; for some reason, they were either swinging and missing (to the tune of seven strikeouts) or hitting the ball hard right at Dodger fielders. The game was tied in the eighth inning when Bradley crushed a ball to right field for yet another postseason home run. That sent the game to extra innings and the Red Sox had a golden opportunity in the tenth inning to take the lead started by JD Martinez' walk. Ian Kinsler came in to pinch run and was nearly picked off of first base. Brock Holt singled to center field and advanced Kinsler to third, although he slid over the base and barely made it back before the tag. Then, Eduardo Nunez lofted a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Kinsler. Cody Bellinger made a pretty bad throw home that was very high, but Kinsler didn't slide and stayed upright which allowed Austin Barnes to easily tag him out. It was an atrocious sequence on the bases for Kinsler and a real missed opportunity for the team to end the game. The game remained knotted at a run apiece until the thirteenth inning when Brock Holt led off with a walk. He advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Eduardro Nunez the hit a chopper to the mound that allowed Holt to reach third, but there was no one covering first and Scott Alexander threw the ball away allowing Brock to score the go-ahead run. It looked like they'd close it out in the bottom of the inning when Nathan Eovaldi got two outs. He walked Max Muncy on a blown check swing call that should have been strike three but got two outs including the second one on Nunez catching a foul ball and falling into the stands. That allowed Muncy to advance to second which was costly when Yasiel Puig hit a grounder up the middle fielded by Kinsler. For whatever reason, Kinsler rushed an off balance throw to first even though Puig was loafing it down the line. The ball sailed and allowed Muncy to score and tie the game. Had Kinsler just eaten that ball, the runners would have been on first and third for when the next batter, Austin Barnes, popped up to end the inning and the game. The game slogged along to the eighteenth inning and crossed 3:00am on the East Coast until Muncy hit a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to help the Dodgers escape with a 3-2 win. It was the longest game both in terms of time and innings in World Series history and my wife and I stayed up until the bitter end.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

This was an incredibly frustrating loss for the Red Sox for a variety of reasons. Mookie Betts, JD, and Xander Bogaerts all combined to go 0-18 and as a team, Boston looked like they forgot how to hit fastballs. I thought Alex Cora pulled Porcello a bit too soon after he only went 4.2 innings. He'd only walked one while striking out five and only gave up one run (the Pederson homer) on three hits. I felt like Cora was a bit too quick with the hook there. Kinsler absolutely cost the team this game, first in the tenth inning with his horrendous baserunning (which they were able to overcome) and again in the thirteenth with his boneheaded fielding error. Had he held on to the ball, Muncy (who shouldn't have been on base anyway...more on that in a minute) would have stayed at third and the following batter (Barnes) would have popped up to end the game. Speaking of Muncy, the home plate umpiring was again atrocious. Home plate umpire Ted Barrett's strike zone kept getting wider and wider and wider as the game went on but he was maddeningly inconsistent. Just like what we saw in the first two games of this series, pitches in the exact same locations were being called balls sometimes and strikes others. There were some pitches over the middle of the plate that were called balls and others six inches too low or off the side that were called strikes. He was doing it to both teams and it made for an annoying night. Also, the umpires absolutely blew the call on Muncy's check swing in the thirteenth. The replay clearly showed the head of his bat went more than halfway, but I think they were fooled by the angle since his hands were so far out in front. That's not why the Sox lost the game, though; their sudden and baffling power outage and Kinsler's gaffe are the reasons why. The National League game is also annoying with the constant substitutions and pitching changes due to have to account for the gaping hole in each lineup (i.e. the pitchers hitting). Both teams had emptied the benches and bullpens by the twelfth or thirteenth inning and from there it was a battle of attrition. One guy who left it all out there was Nathan Eovaldi who pitched six incredible innings of relief and whose only blemish was the final homer to Muncy which, again, should never have even happened. You win some and you lose some and the Sox are still in great shape. It took a rookie pitching the game of his life, the entire Red Sox team forgetting how to hit fastballs, and a terrible fielding error for the Dodgers to win. We'll see how both teams come out for game four on Saturday night. Both squads will be exhausted and depleted and the Red Sox should be doubly angry for knowing they gave this game away. I know I am.

Friday, October 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite - My Story (Roger Daltrey of the Who)


The Who are just a hair behind the Beatles as my all time favorite band. Their music and lyrics have meant more to me in my life than just about anyone else and their Quadrophenia album literally saved my life when I was a teenager. When I was learning to play the guitar and write songs, I wanted to be in the Who and listening to and watching footage of them live in their prime still gives me chills. They're one of the few bands I've read about and studied almost as much as the Beatles and for long time readers of this site, you'll remember all of the many different Who related books I've reviewed over the years. Two of my favorites were Pete Townshend's autobiography and Tony Fletcher's excellent Keith Moon biography. With the knowledge that John Entwistle never wrote a book and that no one has bothered to write a detailed biography of him (which is a shame), the only other book I ever wanted was a good one about Roger. A few years back I reviewed the only available biography on the Who's legendary frontman and singer and while it was serviceable, it wasn't terribly insightful or definitive. When I first heard more than a year ago that Roger was finally writing his memoir and that it would be released in autumn 2018 I couldn't wait. After a year of waiting and expectation, his book entitled Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite - My Story was released. While I found the title strange (until I learned within the book what it meant) I eagerly dove into the book to see if it would measure up to my expectations and how it would compare to Pete's book.

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We all know that Pete and Roger are two very different personalities; that tension and dichotomy was part of what made the Who so great and that's borne out in their respective books even down to the writing style. While Pete is still very much the tortured genius who wrote in a florid, literary style, Roger is just the opposite. He's very secure in where and who he is and very straightforward. There's also a warmth and humor to his writing style that was evident from the first pages. The press release for the book stated that Roger sat down for interviews about his life and wrote the book himself based on that material. His life is presented chronologically starting with his birth in March 1944 during the final phase of the German Blitz of London in World War II.  From here he goes into some detail about his childhood in the waning years of the war, meeting his father for the first time once he was back from the fighting in Europe, and his relatively simple and happy childhood. Roger takes us through his miserable teenage years at school and it is here where we finally learn what the strange title to his book means. Mr. Kibblewhite was the headmaster who expelled Roger from school after telling him he'd "never make anything of your life." From here, Roger takes the reader through an abridged and breezy tour of his life, hitting on several highlights and lowlights but never going into too much depth. The bulk of the story is, of course, made up of the Who's career (and predominantly their "real" career of 1964-1978, but there's also a fair amount dedicated to their resurgent touring career of 1996 to the present). The other major thread running throughout the book is his marriage to Heather, his companion since 1968 and his wife since 1971.



Those looking for new information or a deep-dive look at Roger's life won't find it in this book. As opposed to a soul-baring memoir (see: Pete's book), Roger's feels more like an affectionate look back at all of the things he's accomplished in life. That's not to say that it's bad, it's just different from what I was expecting. Before I continue, I apologize for the repeated comparisons to Pete and his book, but as the two most high profile (and surviving) members of the Who, they're inevitable. Whereas Pete's book is like listening in to him laying on a psychiatrist's couch, Roger's is more like sitting in a pub having a beer while he tells stories from his past. This is helped by the warm tone and dry humor peppering the prose. It was a relatively quick read and at just over 240 pages not a particularly deep one. This isn't meant as a knock, though. Unlike Pete, Roger is a simple man and I am by no means implying that as a slight on his intelligence; while Pete was the musical genius behind the Who, Roger was a genius as well in his ability to get inside of the characters and emotions Pete wrong about to give them a life and a voice. Rather, I mean that Roger is an uncomplicated guy; he handles his problems, moves on from them, and doesn't hold too much resentment or regret over the majority of them (again, contrast this with Townshend). It would only stand to figure that his book would reflect this the way Pete's reflected all of his (Townshend's) neuroses. While it doesn't offer anything too deep beyond what most dedicated Who fans already know about the man, Daltrey's book is an enjoyable read and the portrait of a man who seems to be utterly at peace with his life, what he's accomplished, and where he is now. In a lot of ways, that's more interesting (and unusual) in rock and roll than the opposite. There were no great revelations in Roger's book, but I enjoyed learning about his perspective on his life and career and I'm glad those words straight from the man himself. If you're a Who fan I suspect you will, too.

MY RATING: 7/10

Thursday, October 25, 2018

World Series Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers at Red Sox (October 24, 2018)

One of the biggest question marks heading into the postseason was what the Red Sox could expect out of David Price. Given his well documented struggles in the postseason, I along with the rest of Red Sox Nation hoped for the best but braced for the worst. After his disastrous game two start against the Yankees in the ALDS, it seemed like he was destined to never win in October. Then a funny thing happened in the ALCS...he pitched well. He was pulled from game two one out shy of qualifying for the win, but he'd been solid that game. He finally did what we all knew he was capable of doing in the game five clincher by spinning a gem and getting his first career postseason win. Of course, being Boston fans the narrative was then "well, did he really throw the monkey off of his back or was that just a one-time thing?" We were prepared to find out in game two of the World Series when Price made the biggest start of his life.

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From the outset, let me make one thing clear: for as bad as Tim Timmons was behind the plate in game one, Kerwin Danley was that much worse in game two. I hate complaining about umpire or referees even when it's warranted, but it definitely merits some comment here. At least Timmons called a (mostly) consistently tight strike zone; Danley was just a mess. He routinely called pitches in the identical location a ball one pitch and then a strike the next, and oftentimes within the same at bat! A pitch that clearly caught the corner of the plate would be called a ball while another pitch that was three inches off the edge would be a strike. He was consistently inconsistent and it affected both teams. To say it was maddening would be an understatement and it definitely extended some innings and increased the pitch counts for both starters, but the best players and teams have to overcome those kind of obstacles. The home plate umpiring didn't determine the outcome, but it sure made for a frustrating night. Speaking of frustrating, Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was very frustrating for Red Sox batters and fans. Continuing a season-long trend, he was a guy who throws mainly off speed junk and kept the Red Sox off balance for most of the night. Coming into the game he wasn't a particularly good pitcher and his numbers on the road were even worse than at home, but the Sox have had trouble with pitchers like that all season and that continued on Wednesday night. It felt like they should've had five or six runs by the end of the third inning with the slop that guy was throwing, but they could only muster one run. That came in the bottom of the second when Ian Kinsler put them on the scoreboard first with an RBI single which drove in Xander Bogaerts. Price got into a jam in the fourth when he loaded the bases with no outs (and here, he was hurt by some questionable balls called by Danley which led to a couple of walks). Matt Kemp drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Yasiel Puig drove in another with a single before the inning was over. To limit the damage to only two runs there was excellent and at that point with the Sox down 2-1, I didn't blame Price at all. He'd been pitching well and as I've been saying all season (and my entire life), on any night where your starter is only giving up two runs, you'd damn well better be winning the game. The run support finally came when they began to put real pressure on Ryu in the fifth. After loading the bases with two outs, Ryan Madson came on in relief and promptly walked Steve Pearce to drive in the tying run. Then he surrendered a flare single to right field off the bat of JD Martinez which scored two runs and put Boston ahead 4-2. That was it for the scoring as Price completed six strong innings and Joe Kelly, Nathan Eovaldi, and Craig Kimbrel each pitched 1-2-3 innings to close out the game and the victory. Two wins down, two to go.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Offensively, the Sox outhit LA 8-3 and again got contributions from a variety of guys. Mookie Betts was 3-4 with a run scored, JD went 1-4 with those two huge RBI, and Bogaerts, Kinsler, Jackie Bradley, and Christian Vazquez each chipped in with a hit apiece. Andrew Benintendi, who was a red hot 4-5 in game one, went hitless but did walk and score a run and he made one of the best catches I've seen on a ball scorched to left field in the fifth inning. He made a pretty good approximation of the Air Jordan logo and in doing so instantly became a meme. As for Price, he pitched great and the numbers don't do justice to how on he was. He was hurt by some horrible calls behind the plate that extended a few innings and upped his pitch count, but he still went six inning while only giving up three hits and two runs. The five strikeouts and three walks were affected somewhat by Danley's ridiculous strike zone, but I will take those numbers from Price every day and twice on Sunday. Red Sox pitchers combined to retire the final sixteen Dodgers in a row and Kimbrel again looked like his old self. With a 2-0 series lead, the teams now head to Los Angeles and warmer temperatures for the next three games. Rick Porcello will get the start in game three on Friday night and he'll be up against Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler. All the Sox have to do is take one of three in LA to come back to Boston with a stranglehold on the series, but seeing how they've been the ultimate road warriors all season and postseason I'm hoping they can do what they did in Houston and finish it off there. We'll see how it goes this weekend!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

World Series Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers at Red Sox (October 23, 2018)

Based on all of the team's left in Major League Baseball's final four, we ended up with the sexiest and most appealing of all possible matchups. No offense to the Brewers or Astros, but there's just something special about a Boston vs. LA pairing. Whether it's because it evokes memories of all of the famed Celtics/Lakers clashes in the NBA Finals, the cultural and geographical differences between East Coast and West Coast, or simply because the red and blue uniforms have been unchanged for decades (and look so damn good), this World Series is a marquee matchup. Since the Red Sox dispatched the Astros in five games in the ALCS, we had to sit and wait three days to see who their opponent would be and a further two days for the World Series to begin. With a pitching matchup of Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw, you couldn't ask for a better start to the series. Strangely for a team that led the league in wins, dispatched two 100-win teams in the Yankees and Astros in nine games total, and won sixteen more than their World Series opponent, most of the national media chose the Dodgers to win this series. As I always say, though, that's why they play the games. With another too-late-for-an-East-Coast-game start time, I settled onto my couch with my wife and kids to watch the game and prepared for another late night of October baseball.

(As a side note, both the 2004 and 2013 World Series started on October 23, which is a strange coincidence. Also, for game one of the 2004 series my wife (who was pregnant with our oldest) and I watched it on the big screen at a movie theater in Maine; now we're watching it at home with our four children. It was a blast in '04 and something we still talk about, but looking at where we are now I can't believe it was fourteen year ago...time flies!)

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You couldn't have asked for a better pitching matchup to lead off the series than Chris Sale against Clayton Kershaw. Both lefties are among the best in their generation, but both also have spotty postseason records. Sale was winless in October prior to this year and Kershaw is the National League's version of David Price. Still, on a cold and damp night at Fenway Park it seemed as though this game might be decided on the pitching and not the hitting...unfortunately the expected pitcher's duel never materialized. The Sox struck early yet again this postseason when Mookie Betts singled, stole second, and scored on Andrew Benintendi's single in the bottom of the first. JD Martinez then singled to drive in Benintendi.  They looked poised to do more damage but the inning fizzled out and heading into the second, it was 2-0 Sox. Sale didn't look sharp from the get-go and the first signs of this were in the second when, after getting Matt Kemp in an 0-2 hole, he couldn't put him away. Kemp fouling off pitches until he finally tagged one over the Green Monster to cut the lead in half. Amazingly, that would be the only extra base hit the Dodgers got in the entire game. In the third, the hated Manny Machado singled to drive in Justin Turner and tied the game at two runs apiece. The Sox answered in the bottom of the inning when JD crushed a ball to center field to push Steve Pearce across and reclaim the lead. There was a bit of a scary moment as JD was rounding second; his foot slipped on the wet base and when he planted his other foot, he rolled his ankle. He seemed alright and he played the rest of the game, but that's not something you ever like to see. Machado struck again in the fifth when his ground out to second base drove Brian Dozier in to tie the game again. Prior to that play, Matt Barnes (who had entered after Sale walked the first batter of the inning...more on that later) had runners on first and second with no outs. A passed ball allowed the Dodgers runners to advance to second and third which ended up hurting because instead of Machado's grounder leading to an inning-ending double play, it scored a run and prolonged the inning. As they did all night though, Boston responded immediately. They had the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the fifth and JD coming up to bat. It seemed as though they were about the blow the game wide open, but he struck out and was followed by Xander Bogaerts who grounded out to Machado at shortstop. Luckily, Xander hustled down the line and beat the throw at first to avoid the inning ending double play which allowed Mookie to score from first. Rafael Devers was up next and singled to right field to drive Benintendi in and give the Sox a bit of breathing room with a 5-3 lead. Machado (are you as sick of reading his name as I am of writing it?) hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to bring Max Muncy home and shave Boston's lead to 5-4, but (repeat after me) the Sox answered in the bottom half of the inning with some much needed insurance. With two on and two outs, Alex Cora pinch hit for Devers with Eduardo Nunez. It was a move that baffled me and I was about to criticize Cora for it when Nunez crushed a pitch onto the Monster for a huge three run homer and an 8-4 lead. Two things here: first, I'm never questioning Cora again. I said that after the ALCS, but the Nunez move confused me enough given the way Devers has been swinging the bat that I was about to do it. Never again. Second, I have no idea how Nunez hit that homer. That pitch was down and in and barely above his shoe tops. Somehow he got the barrel of the bat on it and lifted it enough that it made it out. I immediately thought it would be a wall ball double (which still would've been nice) but he had enough underneath it to just barely make it over the top of the wall. This is Alex Cora's world and we're all just living in it. He's only a year into his tenure but he's been elevated to Bill Belichick status as far as I'm concerned: in Cora we trust. The Dodgers never recovered from Nunez' blast. Nathan Eovaldi shut them down in the eighth and we finally saw vintage Craig Kimbrel in the ninth when he closed out the game with a 1-2-3 inning (one fly out, two Ks). One win down, three to go.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Back to Sale; no he didn't look sharp and his command was eluding him all night. He slogged through 4+ innings (he pitched to a batter in the fifth) to the tune of 91 pitches (only 54 of which were strikes)  and while he struck out seven and only walked two, he gave up three earned runs on five hits. With that being said, home plate umpire Tim Timmons had a VERY tight strike zone on both teams, but appeared to squeeze Sale more than once (including in his final walk of the game). There were pitches Kershaw was getting called strikes where Sale was getting balls in literally the exact same location. It was enough that Sandy Leon, Alex Cora, and Sale barked at him; even the announcers commented on it. That wasn't the reason Sale had a poor outing, but it definitely contributed to his high pitch count. Kershaw wasn't much better, also lasting only four innings and surrendering five earned runs on seven hits to go with three walks and five strikeouts. The Red Sox bullpen again did an excellent job in keeping the game close so that the hitters could do their damage and the offense certainly obliged. They outhit LA 11-8 and had numerous extra base hits while the Dodgers only had one. Just about everyone contributed (Sandy Leon even had two hits!) but the heavy lifting was done by Benintendi (4-5, three runs scored, one RBI) and JD (2-3, a run scored, two RBI, and a walk). Throughout the game Boston showed how relentless their lineup is and how they can beat you in so many different ways. They'll look to continue that in game two on Wednesday night as David Price faces off against Hyun-Jin Ryu. I and all of Red Sox Nation will be hoping that Price can deliver another performance like he did in the ALCS clincher and help the team take a 2-0 lead on the road for this weekend's games. There's still a long way to go and this Dodgers team is no pushover, but the Red Sox have been taking it one game at a time all postseason and it's been so fun to watch (fun is an understatement). There's nothing like the World Series, especially when your favorite team is in it and especially when that team is as talented and joyous to watch as the 2018 Red Sox.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

ALCS Game 5: Red Sox at Houston Astros (October 18, 2018)

The Red Sox won the pennant! How great do those words sound? Remember when the Red Sox were considered little more than a speedbump in the way of the Yankees and then the Astros? When the postseason started, the national media, a majority of the Boston media, and even a large percentage of Red Sox Nation thought the team had no chance against the fearsome Yankees. (I'll admit that after game two of the Yankees series, I thought the Sox were finished. It seems foolish now to look back at a series tied 1-1 and think that, but I certainly wasn't the only one. I'll own it.). After winning two games at Yankee Stadium to close out the ALDS, everyone in national sports media picked Houston to steamroll the Sox in the ALCS. I thought the Sox would win the series but that it would go six or seven games. After dropping the opener at home I ripped the Sox for looking overwhelmed and for whining about the umpiring all night. When they bounced back to win game two and tie the series, I thought it was going to be a dogfight to the end. I stated repeatedly on here and on Twitter that my hope was for them to win two of the next three in Houston in order to come back to Boston up 3-2. The Sox responded by winning games three and four to go up 3-1. I then speculated that game five was one Alex Cora was willing to lose if things didn't shake out the way he wanted. This was for a few reasons: David Price was pitching on three days rest (and we're all well aware of his postseason struggles), the Astros had Justin Verlander starting, and the Sox had the buffer of two more games at home to close it out. I assumed Cora would leave Price in the game for five or six innings regardless of how well he pitched in order to eat up some innings and give the already taxed bullpen some rest. As I settled in for the first pitch I was curious to see which, if any, of my predictions would hold true.

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For the fourth consecutive game the Sox struck first. In the third inning it appeared that Verlander had rung up JD Martinez on an 0-2 pitch, but the home plate umpire disagreed and called it a ball. I thought it should have been strike three and acknowledged that the Sox got a break there. The very next pitch was a hanging curveball that JD sat on and crushed to left field for a solo home run and a 1-0 lead. With the way both Verlander and Price were pitching, this was a classic pitcher's duel for the first five innings. All night, the Sox had gotten to Verlander and put men on base, but they hadn't been able to turn those into runs. I kept saying to my wife and kids "if they can keep putting pressure on him [Verlander], eventually they'll break through." It eventually happened in the sixth inning. Mitch Moreland led off the inning with a double that scraped the wall in left field...this time Tony Kemp couldn't make the catch even though it looked like he just might. After Ian Kinsler singled to right field to put runners on the corners with no outs, Rafael Devers hit a towering ball off the first pitch he saw to the opposite field for a three run homer and a 4-0 Red Sox lead. For some strange reason, that felt like it would be more than enough of a lead and I was relaxed and calm for the rest of the game. In the bottom of the sixth Mookie Betts made a great leaping grab of an Alex Bregman drive that was almost identical to the fan interference incident in game four, but there was no dispute on this one. Marwin Gonzalez helped Houston avoid the shut out when he hit an opposite field home run off of Matt Barnes to almost the same spot as Devers, but that was all Houston got as they went down in both the game and the series to the final of 4-1. The bullpen trio of Barnes, Nathan Eovaldi, and Craig Kimbrel took care of the final three innings of the game and apart from the homer Barnes surrendered, they kept Houston at bay and slammed the door. Andrew Benintendi made the final out with a running catch at the warning track on a Kemp fly ball and the series was over. For the second time in just over a week the Red Sox celebrated on their opponent's field and in their clubhouse.

So what does all of this tell you? First and foremost, it should tell you that I'm not particularly good at making predictions! Alex Cora and the 2018 Red Sox are not only a terrifically talented baseball team, but they're mentally tough as nails. They're also now the undisputed best team in baseball after winning three in a row on the road in Houston. Before I discuss anything else, I have two words for you: David Price. He. Was. Amazing in this game. He tossed six superb innings, only allowing three hits and striking out nine batters without a single walk. He did it all on ninety-three pitches and seemed in complete control of his repertoire from the very start. He only had one three ball count and kept the Astros hitters off balance and guessing all night. It was his first career postseason win and couldn't have come at a better time as he outdueled Verlander and held the potent Astros lineup scoreless. He's finally thrown the postseason monkey off of his back and proved me and everyone else wrong who said he'd never be able to do it. I'm really happy for him because I've always cheered for him since I knew that if he did well, the Red Sox would do well. I've never understood the segment of Red Sox fans who cheered against the guy and wanted to run him out of town...hopefully he's quieted them for good with this performance. Also encouraging was Kimbrel finally pitching a clean ninth inning. Other than a walk, he struck two out and got Kemp to fly out to end the game. Of further note, the Sox pitching held Bregman 0-9 over the final two games of the series; he was the one Astro that Cora wasn't going to let beat them and after pitching around him for the first three games they attacked him and shut him down completely. (It was also nice to shove it in his face after his attempt to troll the Sox before game three severely backfired). Another significant point I want to make about this win which is a testament to the Red Sox depth is that the majority of the offensive damage came from the bottom half of the order. Apart from JD's solo shot on a night where he went 2-4, it was Moreland, Kinsler, Devers, and Christian Vazquez who put the pressure on Verlander and ultimately scored the winning runs. On a night where they were facing one of the best pitchers of his generation in an elimination game, it wasn't Mookie or Benintendi or Xander Bogaerts who did any damage and yet the game always felt completely in Boston's control. The win earned the team the AL pennant and sent them to the World Series to await the winner of the NLCS...not a bad way for Cora to spend his 43rd birthday. Jackie Bradley won the ALCS MVP award for his monstrous hitting in games two, three, and four and his superb defense throughout the series. Jackie is a player I've always been a big fan of going back to his rookie season in 2013 so to see him win that award was really nice.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Wrapping up the series in five games showed that the Sox are the ultimate road dogs this postseason: they're 5-0 away from Fenway Park this October and have outscored their opponents 40-13 in the visitor's ballparks. This a relentless offensive lineup that can beat you in so many different ways while the pitching (both starting and relief) has been, on the whole, nothing short of spectacular. The win now gives the Red Sox four full days to rest, study film, prepare, and line up their rotation for the World Series. (It also gives Chris Sale extra time to fully regain his strength from the stomach virus that sidelined him). It will be interesting to see who they end up playing with the NLCS currently heading to game six on Friday with the Dodgers leading the Brewers 3-2. The baseball fan in me wants to see a Red Sox vs. Dodgers World Series because it would pit two marquee original franchises against each other and evokes shades of another legendary Boston vs. Los Angeles rivalry, that between the Celtics and Lakers. However, I can't stand the current Dodgers team (nor can I ever root for any team from LA), so you can see how confusing my rooting interests are in that series! Regardless of who Boston plays, the World Series will be a challenge for this team, but after seeing them overcome obstacles and doubters all season, who would bet against them now?

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

ALCS Game 4: Red Sox at Houston Astros (October 17, 2018)

Before I get to the game, I want to revisit something I mentioned earlier in this postseason: there is no acceptable reason why games should be starting at close to 9pm on the East Coast. I understand that for game four it was the Red Sox' and Astros' turn to get the prime time slot and I know that Houston is on Central Time, but still, when the first pitch is at 8:40pm you are robbing the region where more than half of the country lives by starting the games so late. I watched this game from the first pitch to the final out and it was 1:15am by the time it was over. I stayed up with my wife and two oldest daughters and we all crawled off to bed around 1:30am, but getting up for work on five hours of sleep wasn't my idea of a fun Thursday morning. I know I'm just another voice in the wilderness and that I'm also preaching to the choir, and of course I'm not going to stop watching, but it's a ridiculous situation and one that MLB could easily rectify. And they wonder why their viewership among younger fans is down every October...

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Now, as for the game itself...WOW! The ebbs and flows and twists and turns and heart-stopping drama of game four was postseason baseball at its best. Heading into the game it seemed like it would be a bit lopsided. The Red Sox had Rick Porcello starting and he had looked downright dominating in his last start and his relief appearances this month. Opposite him was Charlie Morton who finished the season with a sore shoulder and had only pitched once in the last three weeks. When Boston scored a quick two runs in the first inning it looked like it was trending in that direction. With Mookie Betts and JD Martinez on base, Rafael Devers singled to drive them in and make it 2-0. The Sox caught a break, too, when a Jose Altuve home run was ruled an out due to fan interference in the bottom of the inning. Replay showed that Mookie was pretty clearly about to catch it when his glove was knocked away by fans trying to catch the ball. The Astros and their fans whined about it the rest of the night, but in my opinion it was the right call (and also a little karmic justice for the blown call on Tony Kemp's catch the night before). In any event, Houston got a run in the second off of a Carlos Correa single. For as shaky as Morton looked, Porcello wasn't much better. It was clear from the start that he just didn't have it and even when he got them out, the Astros were hitting him hard. The game was back and forth in the early innings as Boston would score and then Houston would counter.  As with game three against Dallas Keuchel, there was the nagging feeling that the Sox were leaving runs on the field and that they should have done more damage against Morton. Xander Bogaerts' RBI double in the third increased the lead to 3-1, but Houston tied it in the bottom of the inning when George Springer hit a solo home run and then Josh Reddick singled a bit later to drive in Altuve. They took the lead in the fourth when Kemp hit a solo homer that curled just inside the right field foul pole. That was it for Porcello and as I said on Twitter immediately after, when a weak player like Kemp homers off of you, you know it's just not your night. Red Sox fans, myself included, were shocked Alex Cora had even sent Rick out for the fourth inning after he'd gotten rocked in the third and it looked like we were vindicated. However, Cora has done just about everything right this season so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Boston tied it at four in the fifth when Xander drove in Andrew Benintendi with a singe, but yet again Houston answered in the bottom of the inning when the suddenly red hot Correa's single pushed Yuli Gurriel across to give them a 5-4 advantage. With Morton gone after just 2.1 innings, by this point the Sox were a fair bit into the Astros bullpen. With two outs and Christian Vazquez on base via a double that just barely missed going over the fence, Jackie Bradley crushed the first pitch he saw from Josh James over the right field fence for a two run homer and an instant 6-5 lead. It was Bradley's third huge RBI hit in as many games and gives him nine RBI over that span, all with two outs. That quieted the crowd and as the Boston bullpen began to shut the Astros down you could see and hear the desperation and panic start to set in. The Sox added another run in the seventh when Brock Holt walked with the bases loaded to push JD across and make it 7-5. They more insurance in the eighth when JD singled with two outs to drive in Mookie. At this point Cora made a strange decision to try and get the six out save with Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel has been shaky for the last two months and almost always only works clean ninth innings. His longest save this season was four outs and he'd never tried for six before in his career. He was erratic again in the eighth when with one out Altuve drove in Alex Bregman on a fielder's choice to cut the lead to 8-6. It could have been a lot worse and I need point out the fantastic play Mookie made in throwing Kemp (who led off the inning) out at second when he tried for a double. Betts fielded the ball, pivoted and threw an absolute bullet in one motion that hit Bogaerts right in the glove for the easy tag and out. It was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen and he made it look easy. In the ninth it looked like Boston was poised to break it open: with the bases again loaded and two outs, Mookie lofted a ball to the gap in right center field looked like it was going to drop in. It would have easily scored two if not three runs, but Reddick made a fantastic diving catch to grab it and end the inning. That saved the game for the Astros and when they came up in the bottom of the ninth, Cora had shockingly sent Kimbrel back out to get the final three outs. Given how bad he'd looked in the eighth I and everyone else in Red Sox Nation couldn't believe it. He got the first out quickly on a foul pop up caught by Ian Kinsler, but then he began to fall apart again. With the bases loaded and two outs, Bregman lined one to shallow left field that looked like it was going to drop in and end the game, but Benintendi made the very gutsy decision to go all out for it and he made an incredible diving catch to end the inning and the game. He instantly jumped up cheering and yelling as the Sox ran out of the dugout in front of the stunned Astros and their fans. It was a fitting ending to one of the most intense and exciting postseason games I've seen in a long time. The win puts Boston up 3-1 in the series with three games left to win one (including two at home).

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This one was all about clutch hitting, defense, and the bullpen. Porcello was not good, only going four innings and giving up four runs on seven hits. With Justin Verlander slated to start game five for the Astros and uncertainty over who would start for the Sox with Chris Sale still ill, I felt all along that game four was a must-win lest they go back to Boston down three games to two. The relief corps trio of Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, and Matt Barnes were excellent which leads us to Kimbrel. I don't know if he's hurt, mentally shaken from pitching in high pressure games, tired, or something else but he is an absolute mess right now. He's walking way too many batters (three in this game alone), his command is all over the place, and he just cannot get the job done the way we were used to seeing. I keep hoping he'll sort it out and return to form and there's still time for that to happen, but my goodness does he make some of these games much more difficult and stressful than they need to be. As for the hitting, the Sox were outhit 13-11 but they made all of theirs count. An incredible seven of their eight runs were driven in with two outs which is just staggering. Simply put, the Sox made all of the clutch hits Wednesday night and Houston did not. Combined with some of the best defense they've played all season it's easy to see why they're a game away from winning the pennant and going to the World Series. Game five will pit Verlander against David Price and I think I speak for most Red Sox fans when I say that makes me nervous as hell. Still, it's good to have the cushion of two home games at the end of this series with Chris Sale and (most likely) Nathan Eovaldi on the horizon. I'm getting greedy, though...I had said all along I wanted the Sox to take two of three in Houston but now I'd love for them to sweep them all and go for the series win in game five. If Price can give them a quality start and they can get to Verlander early, that may just happen. No matter what, I'll be watching; even another late start to the game could never keep me away. I can catch up on sleep once the Sox are finished playing, right?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

ALCS Game 3: Red Sox at Houston Astros (October 16, 2018)

The series shifted to Houston for the next three games in a scheduling quirk I've never been a fan of. In my opinion, the team with home field advantage should always have pivotal game five at home. The NBA does it right by having a 2-2-1-1-1 format for their playoffs (until the Finals when for some stupid reason, they go to 2-3-2). I wish Major League Baseball would adopt 2-2-1-1-1, but if they ever do it would be too late to impact this series anyway. Heading into this three game stretch, my hope was that Boston could take two of three in Houston so that they could return to Boston up three games to two. Nathan Eovaldi got the start for the Red Sox with the hope that he could give them quality innings similar to what they got from him in game three against the Yankees. Opposite him was Dallas Keuchel, a Cy Young Award winner in 2015 whose velocity has dropped precipitously and who the Sox have had recent success against.  No one ever said playing the defending champs was going to be easy, so I settled in to watch a battle for control of the series (doubly pleased by the early 5pm start time!).

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For the second game in a row the Sox jumped out to another quick lead when, after Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi reached base, JD Martinez doubled to drive in Betts. Xander Bogaerts then hit into a fielder's choice which drove in Benintendi and quickly made it 2-0. Houston got one back in the bottom of the inning when Marwin Gonzalez singled in Jose Altuve, but it never felt like Eovaldi was in any real danger. The Sox threatened again in the third with runners on and two outs when Steve Pearce lofted a towering fly ball to left field. Tony Kemp appeared to make a leaping catch against the wall for the third out and despite the challenge, the call was upheld and the inning was over. I've seen the replay from a couple of angles as well as close up frames and I'm still convinced as much as I was at the moment the play happened that it grazed the wall and should have been a hit. It was too inconclusive for them to overturn it anyway and in the long run it ended up not hurting. In the fifth Alex Bregman tied the game when his sharp grounder was misplayed by Rafael Devers (who had come into the game for Eduardo Nunez) and turned into an RBI double. Pearce made sure the next one he hit counted in the top of the sixth when he crushed a solo homer that curled just inside the left field foul pole to regain the lead for Boston. As I was hoping, Alex Cora sent Eovaldi back out for the sixth to get one more inning out of him. I liked the smart aggression behind the move and it paid off as he retired the side and finished throwing ninety-two pitches over six innings with four strikeouts, two walks, and two runs given up over six hits. It was just what the team needed as he came up huge for them again this October. The funny thing about this game is that, even with the Sox leading 3-2, it felt almost as though they were losing. It may have been just me, but I had the feeling the Sox should've had a lot more than three runs to that point; they'd hit Keuchel hard all day, but just about everything they hit was either right at somebody or was vacuumed up by an incredible play (they kept Alex Bregman very busy at third base). Keuchel was topping out at 90 mph and he wasn't great, giving up two runs and two walks (with no strikeouts!) in five innings of work, but there was that nagging feeling that Boston should've tagged him for more. Coupled with the fear of the dangerous Houston lineup I wasn't comfortable with a one run lead late in the game. That all changed in the eighth when Houston brought the loathsome Roberto Osuna in relief. After JD flied out, Xander hit a swinging bunt down the third base line to reach first. He was rubbed out at second when Pearce hit into a fielder's choice and there were two quick outs. However, Osuna lost his control and the Sox were patient at the plate. Devers singled to put two on with nobody out and then Brock Holt was hit on the foot to load the bases. Mitch Moreland came in to pinch hit for Christian Vazquez and took a 1-2 fastball to the shoulder to drive in a run and make it 4-2. (I guess Osuna hits men, too...sorry, bad joke). The insurance run was nice, but it still felt like it wasn't enough against this potent Houston team. Jackie Bradley was up next and I said to my wife "he needs to hit another bases loaded double like he did last game" to which she said "a grand slam would be even better." He must have been listening because on a 1-1 count he crushed a high fastball into the right field stands for a grand slam that blew the game wide open and put it away at 8-2.  We were jumping up and down in the living room cheering as he made his way around the bases...there's nothing quite like postseason baseball whether you're on your couch or in the stands, that's for sure! That makes seven RBI for Jackie over the last two games and was a huge moment for him and the team. You could see it take the collective wind out of the Astros' and their fans' sails. Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly combined to shut down Houston in the eighth and Eduardro Rodriguez pitched a quick and clean ninth to wrap it up, put a bow on it, and give the Red Sox a 2-1 series lead.

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There was so much to like in this game, first and foremost the pitching. Eovaldi had a great outing, but the much maligned Boston bullpen had another great game throwing three scoreless innings and only surrendering a single hit in the seventh off of Ryan Brasier. For all of their issues in the regular season and the first two games of the Yankees series, Alex Cora has pushed all the right buttons and is getting superb innings out of them. While third base defense continues to be a problem, the rest of the field has been played superbly. As for the hitting, the Sox outhit Houston 9-7 and made all of theirs count. Mookie is finally hitting like we all knew he was capable of in October, Benintendi is coming around, and the Sox are getting solid contributions from the bottom half of the order. Whether it's been via hits or walks, guys are getting on base and allowing the hitters behind them to do damage. Pearce has been a revelation, too, with his solid defense at first and some great hitting. This Red Sox team can beat you in so many ways and they seem to be clicking at the right time; they also have a little bit of extra motivation after Bregman tried to troll them on social media before the game (how'd that work out for him?). They're a tight-knit group led by Cora who have a way of circling the wagons and banding together to get the job done and that's what they're doing right now. They've also been the ultimate road dogs this year with the best road record during the regular season and now a perfect 3-0 away from home in October. Game four pits Rick Porcello against Charlie Morton in a game that would really put the Astros in a hole if the Sox can win it. With the way they're playing and Houston back on their heels right now, I would be surprised if Boston didn't take one of the next two before heading back to Fenway. As always, that's why they play the games and the drama that will unfold Wednesday night should be more must-see TV in a series that feels like the real World Series.

(A quick aside: toward the end of game three a story came out that the Astros had been caught cheating at Fenway Park in game one by secretly videoing the Red Sox dugout. Further details emerged that the Indians had similar concerns during the ALDS against Houston. MLB is investigating this but a source was quoted as saying that "this is a big story." Stay tuned...)


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Monday, October 15, 2018

ALCS Game 2: Houston Astros at Red Sox (October 14, 2018)

It was a great night to be a Boston sports fan. The Patriots had the Sunday night game and were taking on the undefeated Chiefs at home, but before that was the more important of the night's two events: game two of the ALCS. After looking outclassed and overwhelmed against the poised Astros in game one, Boston needed to approach game two as a must-win scenario. With the next three games of the series in Houston, the Sox could not go on the road down two games to none and feel good about their chances. After losing a mediocre Chris Sale start (and maybe now we know why: it was announced during game two that he's in the hospital with a stomach virus), all eyes turned to David Price and his abysmal career postseason record to salvage a split. Regardless of how Price pitched it wouldn't amount to much if the Boston bats didn't wake up, but thankfully the team got enough of both on a night when they desperately needed them.

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Before going any further, I want to just say that no, David Price wasn't great and no, he didn't come close to exorcising his postseason demons with his performance in game two. With that being said, he wasn't awful and two of the four runs charged to him weren't his fault (looking at you, Xander Bogaerts). The Sox went for the quick strike and scored first in the bottom of the first when Andrew Benintendi followed up Mookie Betts' leadoff double with an RBI single to make it 1-0 after just five Gerrit Cole pitches. With the bases loaded later in the inning, Rafael Devers singled to drive Benintendi in and it looked like Boston was going to blow the game wide open and knock Houston starter Cole out early, but they squandered their chance and settled for two runs. In the top of the inning George Springer doubled down the right field line with two outs to drive in Carlos Correa and Martin Maldonado to tie the game, but I don't put those runs squarely on Price's shoulders. Prior to that, Xander took his sweet time with a routine grounder that should have been the third out of the inning and instead lengthened it for Houston. You can't give away outs in any game, but especially not in October and against a good team like the Astros who will make you pay (which they did). The next two runs surrendered were on Price when he gave up a two run home run to Marwin Gonzalez in the third to put Houston up 4-2. It seemed like the same old David Price and just took the wind out of everyone's sails; everyone except the Red Sox, that is. They came storming back in the bottom of the inning led off by Steve Pearce who doubled. They'd eventually load the bases with two outs for Jackie Bradley who ripped a double into the corner that glanced off of the Green Monster. He was aided with some luck from quirky Fenway Park as the ball hit the ground and then bounced up onto a ridge on the side wall and rolled toward the infield as Gonzalez gave chase. That allowed all three runners to score and gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. Boston got another strange run in the seventh when Mookie Betts walked and then advanced to second, third, and home all on passed balls. That gave the Sox a much needed insurance run without the benefit of a single hit! It still felt too close to comfort until the eighth when, with Devers and Mitch Moreland on base, Mookie smacked a double to center field to drive in a run and extend the lead to 7-4. Craig Kimbrel came in to close out the game in the ninth and I think I can speak for all Red Sox fans when I say that I prayed we wouldn't get a repeat of his performance from game four of the Yankees series. For a moment it looked like it'd be as easy as 1-2-3 as he got the first two outs in short order. Then, he gave up a double to Springer and a single to Jose Altuve which cut the lead to 7-5. With the dangerous Alex Bregman coming to the plate representing the tying run it looked like it might fall apart and it nearly did, but Kimbrel induced a fly out on a ball that had Benintendi with his back flat against the Monster in order to catch it. That was the ball game as the Sox got a series-tying 7-5 win.

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Before I look at the hitting, I want to focus on the pitching. Price went 4.2 innings and gave up four runs on five hits. He did strike out four but he also walked four and while he wasn't as good as he needed to be, he wasn't as bad as it looks at first glance either. As mentioned above, the first two runs he gave up should never have happened had the inning ended with that play to Bogaerts. Price wasn't great, but he kept the game close enough for the Sox to come back and win it. He still needs to be better (a LOT better) in the postseason and I'm not sure if that can ever happen, but for now it was sufficient. The narrative that he was terrible in this game is lazy at best and inaccurate at worst. He was mediocre, yes, but far from terrible (see: game two of the ALDS). The bullpen was fantastic and again exceeded any and all expectations I had for them. Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and a particularly filthy Rick Porcello combined to throw 3.1 innings of no hit ball in relief with only one walk (Brasier). It wasn't until Kimbrel in the ninth that Houston threatened and scored. As for the hitting, it looks like this might have finally been the game where Mookie broke out of his career postseason funk. He was 2-4 with two runs scored, an RBI, and a walk; hopefully he's shaken out of the postseason doldrums he's been in because as he goes, so usually go the Red Sox. Everyone contributed in this one apart from Christian Vazquez (0-4), Ian Kinsler (0-4 as he continues to have a miserable postseason apart from his RBI double in game four against New York), and JD Martinez. JD is an interesting case because since game two of the Yankees series he hasn't done much of anything at the plate. He seems to be waving at pitches and pressing; it's sure frustrating watching him right now. He was 0-4 with two strikeouts in this game and the team really needs him to start producing if they want to have a good chance to win the series. Bradley had the most key hit of the game with his three-RBI double and Devers went 2-3 and played solid defense at third. He should get the bulk of the playing time there over Eduardo Nunez for the remainder of this series just for his bat alone...we'll see if Cora finally decides to do the same with Brock Holt at second in place of the unproductive Kinsler.

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The series now shifts to Houston for the next three games. Game three on Tuesday will pit Nathan Eovaldi against Dallas Keuchel in what should be an excellent pitching match up. If the Red Sox can continue to hit and minimize their mistakes, they've got a good chance of getting the series back to Boston for game six. There is no margin for error against the defending champions so the Sox will need to play nearly perfect baseball in order to win this series, but if they play the way they did in game two then I like their chances.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

ALCS Game 1: Houston Astros at Red Sox (October 13, 2018)

After the euphoria of eliminating the Yankees on Tuesday, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans when I say that I couldn't wait for the ALCS to start. By winning two straight games on the road at Yankee Stadium and dominating the Yankees in the ALDS, the Sox showed that they weren't regular season frauds and that they were a legitimate powerhouse team. However, we all knew that the defending champion Houston Astros were now in the way and would be an even tougher test than the Yankees for numerous reasons, not least of which that they've been playing their best baseball of the season over the last month. With a marquee match up of starters Chris Sale and Justin Verlander facing off, game one looked like it was going to be October baseball at its best. What we got instead was one of the strangest and most frustrating Red Sox games of the entire season.

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From the outset, Chris Sale did not look sharp in this one. I can't abide by the fans who think it was because of his one inning relief stint near the end of game four against the Yankees on Tuesday; he only threw fourteen pitches and then had three full days of rest before game one of the ALCS. Perhaps it was the pressure of the moment (this game was the biggest game everyone on the team not named Dustin Pedroia has played in) or the fact that game one was almost seen as "must win" with the uncertainty of David Price starting game two, but Sale just didn't have it. His velocity was down and his control was lacking. On a night when they needed him to go deep and eat some quality innings, he only lasted four innings. True, he only gave up two runs on one hit and he did strike out five, but he also walked four (which is a LOT for him) and just wasn't himself. Whether it was nerves, his shoulder, or something else it was exactly what the Red Sox didn't need. After a shaky second inning (where he was admittedly hurt but some atrocious defense from Eduardo Nunez...more on this later), he actually settled down and started mowing down Astros hitters. However, by then he'd thrown a Pomeranz-esque eighty-six pitches and was lifted from the game. The aforementioned damage in the second inning came when Sale, who had gotten two quick outs, put two men on via a walk and a hit by pitch. George Springer singled via a grounder toward Nunez that went under his glove. The replay showed that he may have stumbled on his way to field it, but an inning ending out turned into a two run single. Neither team was hitting much in this game and heading into the fifth, both teams only had a single hit to their names. It was Verlander's turn to melt down in the fifth when he suddenly lost his control after looking otherworldly to that point. He walked three in the inning, including Mitch Moreland to drive in the first Boston run of the night. With only one out, it looked like the Sox were poised to break it wide open, but on the very first pitch he saw, Mookie Betts swung and grounded to Alex Bregman who threw Nunez out to get the force at home. It was a terrible piece of hitting from Betts who has frankly looked absolutely awful at the plate this entire postseason. I love the guy, he's one of my favorite players and I want him on the Red Sox for many, many years to come, but he's looked lost at the plate this month and that at bat crystallized it all. Why the hell would you swing at the first pitch when the pitcher has literally walked three in a row immediately before you? It was terrible mental baseball from a player who is usually one of the smartest baseball minds in the game. Andrew Benintendi was up next and Verlander uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Jackie Bradley to score and tie the game. Benintendi then continued his miserable night (he finished 0-4 with three strikeouts) by getting rung up on an awful call by the home plate ump (who also had a lousy night for both teams). Benintendi slammed his bat and helmet down and justifiably argued it, as did Alex Cora who ended up getting tossed between innings. In the sixth inning, Carlos Correa singled off of Joe Kelly to drive in a run and give Houston a 3-2 lead and while that's how it stayed for the next few innings, it never felt as though the Sox seriously threatened. They spent the entire night flailing away at the plate and looked like they were pressing. One thing I did not like was how whiny and argumentative they were with the umpire all night; while he did blow a fair number of calls, it was bad for both teams and yet Houston comported themselves in a way Boston did not. Even players who are normally above that got into the act, most egregiously JD Martinez. He was rung up on a blown check swing (he didn't go) strike three that got past catcher Martin Maldonado, but instead of running to first base he stood there with his bat under his arms arguing with the ump. By the time he finally decided to run, Maldonado had the ball and easily threw him out at first. Cora's ejection ended up hurting the team when bench coach Ron Roenicke decided to put in Brandon "Blowout" Workman in the game. As I've said all season, Workman only belongs in blowout wins or losses, and this game showed yet again why that is. In the ninth, he gave up a solo homer to Josh Reddick and then a few batters later, a three run blast to Yuli Gurriel that put the game completely out of reach at 7-4. That's how the game ended and with that, the Red Sox completed one of the most disgraceful and embarrassing losses of the season. When the best part of the night is inadvertently hitting Joe West with an errant throw down to second base, you know it was a night to forget.

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Game one was seen as almost a must win with David Price starting game two and I'll say it right now: if the Red Sox play the way they did in game one, this is going to be a very short series. They looked over matched, overwhelmed, and under prepared, almost as though they figured the Astros would just roll over after seeing how the Sox dispatched the Yankees (remember, the Astros went one better by completely obliterating the Indians in a laugher of a sweep). The Sox spent the entire night whining and arguing calls and had petulant body language that I'd expect to see from Little Leaguers, not grown professionals. Truthfully, it was the first time all season where I've disliked this team. Meanwhile, the Astros looked poised, calm, and in control from the very beginning. They only outhit the Sox 5-3, but they looked to be in a different class from wire to wire. The three Boston hits came from Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Steve Pearce but all were singles and no one on this team did any damage; remember, their two runs were via an RBI walk and a wild pitch. Defensively, Eduardo Nunez was directly responsible for the first three Houston runs as not only did he stumble on Springer's hit, but he threw a ball away and also muffed an easy double play ball when he dropped a ball on the transfer after cleanly fielding a sharp grounder. The night was just a disaster all around. (Ten walks and three hit batters from Red Sox pitchers aren't going to cut it). I hope that the team got it out of their systems and come back ready to play in game two. This series now hinges on David Price's start tonight and if that doesn't terrify you, it should. It's time to see what the 2018 Red Sox are made of, all of them.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Van Halen Rising



Let me get it out of the way here at the beginning by saying that I am a relatively new Van Halen fan. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s I of course knew who they were and had heard a ton of their songs on the radio and MTV (back when MTV actually played music), but I never considered myself a fan. In fact, at times I was openly hostile to them. I thought David Lee Roth was a clown, Eddie Van Halen a great but overrated guitarist, Alex Van Halen an average drummer, and Michael Anthony a barely competent bassist. And Van Hagar? I couldn't stand the power ballad cheese that oozed out of my speakers once Sammy Hagar replaced Roth. I had heard their Roth-era material so much that I knew all of the songs and words but just didn't like the band at all. Then something funny happened: as I got older, I started to find myself enjoying the Roth-era stuff more and more. When it came on the radio, I'd turn it up and listen and sing along. I started listening to the Roth albums over and over and realized "holy moley, this is great stuff!" As a guitarist, I always appreciated Eddie's influence but it wasn't I really listen to him attentively that I realized he was more than just a two-hand tapping shredder. There was a lot more to Roth's lyrics and vocals than his consummate entertainer persona let on, and the rhythm section was tight and solid and rocked hard...those two guys were great musicians. From there the floodgates opened and I became a huge Van Halen fan (I still don't like Van Hagar, though). A short while before I finally had this epiphany, I had come across a writer named Greg Renoff who was working on a book about Van Halen's prehistory entitled Van Halen Rising. We mutually followed each other on Twitter some years ago and I kept an interested eye on his project. The book was released near the end of 2015 and over the ensuing couple of years I saw nothing but effusive praise for it. Finally, this year I decided that I needed to read this book. I was hungry to learn anything and everything I could about the band's original Roth-era career and learning about the band's very earliest beginnings through their legendary backyard party and club days seemed like the perfect place to start. With the "original six-pack"albums (as coined by Eddie himself) as my soundtrack, I set out to read Van Halen Rising and see what the fuss was all about.

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Most books that deal with a band's prehistory typically fall into two camps: they're either hastily dashed off and just pluck facts from primary sources, or they're extensively and exhaustively researched and detailed (think Mark Lewisohn's first volume of his Beatles biography, All These Years: Tune In). Van Halen Rising falls into the latter category. Renoff spent years researching this book and interviewing numerous people who were actually there from the very beginning as a part of the band's story. These even include Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, Van Halen producer Ted Templeman, and original Mammoth/Van Halen bassist Mark Stone. Because of the richness of his sources as well as the numerous other print and interview sources he cites, Renoff is able to paint a richly detailed and vibrant account of the band starting from the very beginning. Alex and Edward Van Halen were young boys when they and their parents emigrated from the Netherlands to the USA and settled in Pasadena, California. Growing up in a musical family (their father was a jazz clarinetist and saxophonist and their mother was a singer) and bitten by the music bug in the 1960s after hearing the Beatles and other British Invasion bands, the brothers began to take piano lessons. In addition, Eddie started playing drums and Alex the guitar. They realized they both preferred each other's instruments and made their famous switch. After going through the usual succession of bands in junior high and high school, the brothers ended up in a power trio format (emulating Eddie's beloved Cream) with Eddie handling vocal duties. Another local kid, David Lee Roth, tried to join the band as their singer in the early 1970s but was rejected after a couple of disastrous auditions. Information like this was brand new to me and it was only one of the myriad new morsels of information unearthed by Renoff in his research. Eventually Roth improved his singing enough and, with the leverage of owning a high quality PA that the band desperately needed, he was asked to join. After jettisoning original bass player Mark Stone in favor of Michael Anthony, the classic Van Halen lineup was complete by 1974.

This is a great box set of all of the David Lee Roth-era albums remastered for only $22! I highly recommend it...this is what I bought to complete my Van Halen collection.

Van Halen Rising then traces the band's trajectory as they became legends in the Los Angeles area for playing wild backyard parties and relentlessly gigging at the smallest, most obscure, and sleaziest clubs around before they were able to break through onto the Sunset Strip. Along the way they became adept at playing covers of songs by everyone from Black Sabbath, Cream, and Led Zeppelin to the Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, and anyone in between. The personality clash between Roth and the Van Halen brothers that would splinter the original lineup in 1985 was evident from the beginning of their uneasy alliance, but Renoff does an excellent job showing how Roth's pop sensibilities forced the brothers to tighten up their original material and add catchy hooks to eventually culminate in the infectious "big rock" sound they became famous for with the release of their self-titled debut album in early 1978. The author also shatters the myth of Roth as a spoiled rich kid who sat around and used his father's money to become successful. While his father's connections and fortune did help in some cases (and in other cases, not so much), it was Roth's shrewd intellect, tireless work ethic, and constant encouragement that kept the spirits of his three bandmates up as they endured their years-long slog in pursuit of their ultimate goal. By the time Reboff chronicles the whirlwind of their first album recording sessions and first tour in support of it, you can't help but feel proud of the guys as if you had actually been there the whole time.



That feeling of being there in 1970s Los Angeles is one of the things that makes Van Halen Rising such a great book. Renoff uses the words of those who were there and knew the band well before they were famous to place the reader in those dingy clubs, crammed backyards, and basement rehearsal sessions. This not only paints a vivid picture of the band's ascendancy, but gives a wider immersion into the more innocent and frankly fun times of the 1970s. That feeling of being a fly on the wall, the engaging manner in which it's written, and the new information crammed in its pages made Van Halen Rising a book I couldn't put down once I started reading it. When I was finished, not only had I learned so much about the band's early history, but I craved more. Simply put, if you're a fan of Van Halen then you need to read Van Halen Rising. I highly recommend it as one of the best band biographies I've ever read. Word is that Greg Renoff is now working on the authorized biography of Ted Templeman which promises to be another must-read. After that, I pray it's not too much to hope that he'll write a book on the David Lee Roth-era of Van Halen's career because if he does, I know it will be every bit as good as Van Halen Rising.

MY RATING: 10/10