Wakefield, Strasburg and the Celtics

Posted: June 9, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Buried under Strasburg-mania and the NBA finals (both of which I’ll get to in a minute) was a milestone night for Tim Wakefield in Cleveland. In picking up just his second win of what’s been a tough season, Wake went 7 1/3 innings to pass Roger Clemens as the Red Sox’ all-time leader in innings pitched with 2,777.

Although longevity isn’t really indicative of greatness, I do think this is a great feat. In the age of free agency, not too many players spend 16 seasons with the same franchise. It says a lot about his faith in the Red Sox and their faith in him. I love Wake for a number of reasons, with longevity being just the start of it.

I love that he’s done everything the Sox have asked of him. When Tom Gordon went down with an injury in 1999, he moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen and ended up with 15 saves. When he was being constantly shuffled between the rotation and the ‘pen from 2000-02, he never complained.

When the Sox were getting crushed in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS and were on the verge of going down 3-0 to the Yankees, he volunteered to pitch 3 1/3 innings to save the ‘pen, sacrificing his Game 4 start in the process (by the way, the Boston relievers would be called on for 14 2/3 innings over the next two days, including three scoreless innings by Wake himself in Game 5).

When the Boston ‘pen had to pitch 11 innings of relief in one game last April, Wake told Francona he was going to pitch as long as possible the next day and proceeded to toss a complete-game shutout. When he wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation this year, he didn’t make a big fuss about it despite the fact that he was clearly upset.

I also love the fact that he does so much community service. He hosts an annual charitable golf tournament and he works a lot with the Franciscan Hospital for Children, the Pitching in for Kids organization, the Space Coast Early Intervention Center and the Touch ‘Em All Foundation. He’s been nominated seven times for the Roberto Clemente Award for charitable contributions.

All in all, I can’t imagine anyone ever being a better representative for the Red Sox organization. I still can’t believe he felt the need to apologize to fans after giving up Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and was legitimately worried he was going to be booed the next season. I don’t know anyone who even for a minute thought about blaming Wake for that loss. He would’ve been the series MVP had the Sox won.

Strasburg-mania

I got to watch Strasburg’s debut thanks to the greatness that is MLB Network (which has also allowed me to watch the final innings of three perfect games this season), and holy crap was he impressive.

Even though I was already a devout member of the Church of Strasburg, I thought there was a chance his first start would be a disappointment just because of all the hype and media attention. Then I remembered he was facing the Pirates and those doubts quickly vanished.

Still, I don’t think anyone expected him to be as great as he was. Seven innings, four hits, two runs, 14 strikeouts and no walks. That’s unheard of. No, really, it is — no pitcher has ever struck out as many as 14 without walking a batter in their debut. No pitcher since 2003 has struck out 14 batters before reaching 100 pitches (Strasburg finished with 94).

Even more impressive than the box score was his stuff. He consistently hit 98-100 mph with both his four-seam and two-seam fastball (more than half of his fastballs hit 98 or higher). His changeup is one of the filthiest I’ve ever seen, right up there with Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum. He could put his knee-buckling curve wherever he wanted (more than 70 percent of his hooks were strikes).

He threw all three pitches for strikes and used all three in any count. I’ve heard some people say, “Let’s see what happens when teams see him for a second and third time and have more of a scouting report on him,” but I just don’t see anyway anyone’s ever going to truly solve him. Orel Hershiser is one of the best pitching analysts in the business, and he said he’s completely sold after last night. So am I.

Come on Celts

Well, the Celts have to win the next two if they’re going to get banner No. 18. If they go back to LA down 3-2, they’re not going to win. I, for one, still have plenty of faith, and I’ll tell you why.

Why did they lose last night? Because Ray Allen went 0-13 from the field and 0-8 on 3s. Sure, you could find some other reasons — losing the rebounding battle, Rondo not being aggressive enough, Pierce getting into foul trouble — but Allen’s dreadful shooting performance was clearly the main reason.

Does anyone think there’s any chance of that happening again? No. Allen is a career .450 shooter and .396 3-point sniper. In the playoffs, those numbers are .449 and .408. That means that on an average night, Allen would’ve hit six of his field goals and three of his 3s. Had that happened last night, he would’ve ended up with 17 points rather than two and the Celts would’ve won by eight instead of losing by seven.

I know I’m playing the what if game here, but my point is that Allen is not going to have another game like that in this series. The Lakers still gave him too many open looks, and if they do it again, he will hit those shots.

I have plenty of other reasons to remain confident, too. Getting Garnett going at both ends of the floor was huge. Now he knows he can match up against Gasol on offense and defense. He knows he can get to the rim, and he knows he can force Gasol into some bad shots.

I’m also finally convinced of something Bill Simmons has been harping on since before the series started — that having to play defense is wearing Kobe down. The combination of facing a team that actually plays defense and having to defend either Rondo or Allen at the other end seems to be taking a toll on him. I still think Kobe’s the only player in this series capable of single-handedly winning a game, but I’m starting to believe more and more that it’s not going to happen.

Finally, Derek Fisher is not going to take over any more fourth quarters. He’s just not that good of a player. I don’t care about his “championship experience” or “veteran leadership,” the point remains he’s been a mediocre point guard his whole career. If the Lakers have to depend on him late in a game like they did last night, I still feel pretty good about the Celts’ chances of winning that game. Just like I still feel pretty good about Allen taking open 3s.

Today’s list: 10 favorite Red Sox players of my lifetime

10) Kevin Youkilis — I don’t like his hissy fits, but I love the way he hits and plays the field.

9) Mike Greenwell — The dude wrestles alligators and races trucks. Plus, he once had all nine RBIs in a 9-8 win over the Mariners.

8) Dustin Pedroia — The longer he stays with the Sox, the higher he’ll climb on this list. Nothing not to like.

7) Mo Vaughn — My first memories as a Sox fan are being glued to the TV every time Mo came up, expecting him to hit a homer.

6) Trot Nixon — The quintessential Dirt Dog. He never put up great numbers, but he always gave everything he had.

5) David Ortiz — A postseason legend and a great personality. As for the steroids, there’s no doubt in my mind other players on this list used them, too. We’ll never really know who did and who didn’t.

4) Jason Varitek — A great leader and one of the two greatest catchers in franchise history (behind only Carlton Fisk).

3) Tim Wakefield — See the beginning of this post.

2) Nomar Garciaparra — I so badly wanted to be Nomar when I was a kid. I used to even play with my batting gloves like him in Little League. Plus, he’s the best shortstop in team history.

1) Pedro Martinez — I loved Pedro’s intensity and dominance. I made sure I was watching every time he took the mound. His 1999 and 2000 seasons are the greatest back-to-back seasons any pitcher has ever had.

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