It’s about time. Kevin Youkilis charging the mound against Rick Porcello in last night’s game against the Tigers was a long-overdue effort at real retaliation by the Red Sox. Let’s review the sequence:
Boston starter Junichi Tawaza hit Miguel Cabrera on the hand in the top of the first. There were two on, one out and Cabrera was in a 1-2 hole. The ball was not blatantly inside. Cabrera was leaning a little bit and the ball barely caught him. There was simply no way this was done intentionally. If it was, it was incredibly poorly timed and not very well executed.
In the bottom of the first, Detroit starter Rick Porcello threw very obviously inside to Victor Martinez, who just got out of the way before firing a “What the ?*#” look to Porcello. There were none on base and two outs. Smart money says it was retaliation. And there’s no problem here on my end. Even though hitting Cabrera wasn’t intentional, I completely respect the view that says if you hit our star, we’re going to come back at you. As NESN analyst and former Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley pointed out, this is common practice for Tony LaRussa (his skipper back in their Oakland days) and we would further add that Tiger manager Jim Leyland is tight with LaRussa. Quite frankly, I wish the Red Sox played it this tough. If we did, we might not have the problems that ensued.
Cabrera came to bat again in the second inning. A couple of swings made it apparent his hand wasn’t right and he had to leave the game. He is reported to be day-to-day. Nothing further happened in terms of Tawaza throwing inside or hitting anyone. In the bottom of the inning, Porcello obviously threw at Youkilis and plunked him in the back. Youk charged the mound and a brawl ensued.
The Sox have put up with far too much for far too long in the beanball wars. We’ve let Joba Chamberlain use Youkilis for target practice. There’s something to be said for being cool and professional. Porcello wasn’t, and as a result Detroit gave up a game they should have won, with one of their better starters getting tossed with a 3-zip lead and the Sox quickly taking the game over against the bullpen. But at some point you have to draw a line. Youkilis drew one last night. Better late than never.
Boston’s in great position in this series, having ensured at least a split with a first-place team, and playing with house money tonight when Beckett takes the mound. But when it’s time to turn on the TV set, I have to say I’m going to tune into the North Side of Chicago. Pedro Martinez makes his return to the bigs when the Phillies visit the Cubs. It’s been five years since Pedro made his last start in a Sox uniform, a Game 3 masterpiece in St. Louis during the World Series. And though Pedro had a lot of Manny-type moments during his tenure in Boston, the dominance he showed and the heart he showed should command the continued loyalty of Red Sox Nation. Just think back to one October night in 1999.
It was the fifth and deciding game of the Division Series against Cleveland. Boston had rallied from 0-2 down to force this game at Jacobs Field. Pedro wasn’t able to start because of a problem in his shoulder, and I still recall Fox studio analyst Steve Lyons saying that Pedro shouldn’t be allowed to work, in the interests of preserving his career. The game got away from both starters quickly and was 8-8 in the fourth inning. Pedro was summoned for duty. Bad shoulder or no, he turned in a history-making performance, throwing six perfect innings against a feared lineup (Thome and Manny were just a few of the luminaries the Tribe had in those days) and the Sox got a grand slam from Troy O’Leary to advance to the LCS.
Pedro’s outing that night deserves a place in Red Sox lore right up with Schilling’s bloody sock. It hasn’t taken on the same kind of legs. It wasn’t in Yankee Stadium, it didn’t lead to a World Series championship and it lacked the powerful visual imagery of the blood, but it was no less courageous. We might further add that in an age when sports heroes on all teams, including our own, keep getting tainted with steroid revelations, there’s nothing to suggest Pedro was on the juice. I can’t say I’d bet on him making a difference for the Phillies at this point in his career, but I’m pulling for him.
Football talk continues today as we look at the Redskins’ backfield. Clinton Portis remains the signature of the franchise right now. He is one of the very few difference-makers this team has. The concern is going to be whether he’ll start to slow down, and I think this concern is a real one. He carries a very heavy load and defenses are able to load up and key on him. Portis is very strong in the lower body and has greater endurance than most, but taking as many hits as does is bound to wear on anybody. And while I like Ladell Betts, he is not what we need in the backup role. The ‘Skins need someone along the lines of a Darren Sproles in San Diego, a shifty little guy who can make people miss and catch passes out of the backfield. Or the other extreme, a pounding back who can handle short-yardage situations and spare Portis the pounding in those circumstances. Betts is functionable, but has no defining skills. Filling the #2 running back spot is a vital need for this team if it is going to reach championship-level.
No NFC East rival has played at a high level for longer than the Philadelphia Eagles. They haven’t won the Super Bowl, but they’ve won and done most everything else. This decade alone has seen them play for the conference championship five times. The 1-4 record is a sore spot for Eagles fans, but considering the Redskins haven’t played in the NFC Championship Game since 1991, I’m not all that sympathetic. Andy Reid has shown he has the best operation in this division over the years.
But that operation took a huge blow, personally and professionally, this offseason when defensive coordinator Jim Johnson passed away from cancer. On the field, there’s instability on the offensive line. And Brian Westbrook’s durability issues in the backfield make my concerns about Portis look trivial by comparison. The receivers have been a problem in recent seasons, but DeSean Jackson had a good rookie year in ’08 and I like the draft choice of Jeremy Maclin out of Missouri. Donovan McNabb will have to carry a much bigger part of the load this year. The defense is good, but not great, and with a new coordinator there will be an adjustment period. If Reid scrapes nine or ten wins and a playoff berth out of this team, he should be given his due as a consistent winner.