September 3, 2008

OK, so the Baltimore Orioles – my choice for the absolute worst team in baseball, BTW were part of it, but the run the Boston Red Sox are on right now is eerily familiar to 2004. Remember how that year went down? The team, playing fairly lackluster baseball for the better part of three months, found itself rejuvenated after the shocking trade of fan fave and premier shortstop Nomar Garciaparra at the very last minute of the trading deadline. Sure, it took the team a few weeks to find its new identity, but once it did it hit the afterburners and the Sox rocketed their way to their first World Series in a gazillion years.

Fast forward to this year. A team, heavily favored to if not repeat as World Series champs, at least compete for their third World Series in five years, languishes between hot and cold as the Manny Ramirez saga grows ever stranger and more frustrating to management as the July trading deadline looms ever closer, then pulls the trigger on a last-minute deal. Those first couple of weeks after the deal sure felt strange with no “Manny Being Manny” hitting cleanup (and no one looked more out of sorts than fellow basher “Big Papi” David Ortiz). But ever so slowly, the team began to form an exciting new identity – one founded around “the kids” (second baseman Dustin Pedroia, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and shortstop Jed Lowrie) and “the professionals” (Ortiz, infielders Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell, and outfielder J.D. Drew), as newcomer and Manny replacement Jason Bay made his presence felt immediately.

All of a sudden, this team seemed happier and more motivated, and playing harder all around, their record is beginning to show. They know without Ramirez’s big bat in the four-spot they will occasionally have to manufacture runs (like they did today, taking advantage of the Orioles’ woeful defense), but that’s all part of the package now, and “Manny Being Manny” now seems like a distant memory. As the Boston Herald’s Jeff Horrigan writes:

Is there anyone in New England still having any regrets about the Manny Ramirez trade?

Manny Mania initially swept Southern California in the first few weeks after the blockbuster, three-team trade that sent Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers, brought Jason Bay in from the Pittsburgh Pirates and totally changed the collective mindset of the Red Sox [team stats]. In the long run, however, it appears the Sox once again are getting the last laugh.

The Sox improved to 20-9 since the trade, while the floundering Dodgers entered last night’s late game vs. San Diego only 14-16 since acquiring Ramirez. With Ortiz comfortable with the new configuration, Pedroia hotter than Ramirez has ever been and a cavalry of Josh Beckett [stats], Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew [stats], Bartolo Colon and Sean Casey on the way from the disabled list, matters couldn’t look better for the Sox heading into the season’s final 24 games.

One of the big questions arising out of the Ramirez trade, of course, was, who – if anyone – would step up and play leader, helping to lessen the impact of loss of Manny’s bat. And who woulda thunk that it would be none other than diminutive second baseman Pedroia, who has been on an absolute Roy Hobbs-esque tear these last several weeks. Multi-hit games, doubles, triples, clutch home runs, incredible defense – Pedroia has done it all, and done it so well that he now deserves serious consideration for Most Valuable Player consideration. The Herald’s Stephen Harris writes:

It may be that some voters can’t look past the home run column in Pedroia’s stats. That would be hard to understand, considering how liberally the 25-year-old’s name is spread across nearly every offensive category. He came into last night leading the American League in batting average (.327), hits (185), multiple-hit games (54) and runs (107) and was tied for third in doubles (42) and tied for fourth in total bases (276).

By matching his career high with five RBI last night, he has knocked in 22 runs in his last 19 games.

And then there is his solid, at times spectacular, defensive play.

Pitcher Paul Byrd has been dazzled by Pedroia during his brief time with the Sox.

“This guy in my opinion is the MVP of the league,” Byrd said. “He’s unbelievable. I didn’t know he was that good when I came over here. The guy plays hard, he dives, he plays great defense. I feel like I’ve got two guys playing second base.

“He gets the big hit when it counts. (He is a) clutch player. I just can’t say enough about him. As he goes, we go.”

Pedroia has been so en fuego lately, that what his performances really bring to mind – at least to me – is Carl Yastrzemski’s incredible season of 1967, where Yaz virtually carried the team on his back all year, getting clutch hits and making clutch plays to a point where he absolutely dominated the game for stretches at a time. This is exactly what Pedroia is doing right now – I mean, manager Terry Francona has been hitting him in the cleanup spot, fer Gawdsakes! while Youkilis has been out, and that hasn’t seemed to faze the little player with the VERY BIG swing one bit.

I don’t know how far the Sox are going to go this year, but watching this team, and especially Pedroia, lately has sure been a lot of fun.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 17:11 | Comments Off on 2004 All Over Again, Or 1967?
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