Lead Slips to 1.5 Games

It would seem to me that should the Red Sox be fortunate enough to make the playoffs, that any team that they face would best be served by finding pitchers that have never faced the Red Sox before, and trot them out there for each game. This maddening trend continued last night as rookie Joe Blanton, (admittedly a step up from some of the stiffs that have shut down the Red Sox) took his turn at mystifying the Red Sox, and in the process, shrinking their AL East lead to 1.5 games. Chris Snow wants to give the Red Sox the benefit of the doubt, and I admire that. Not too often you see that in this city. He points to their late night trip from Toronto, number of days played in a row and their emotional fatigue after losing Gabe Kapler for the season as reasons for their sluggish performance. Jeff Horrigan points to another stumbling outing for Curt Schilling, who yielded 11 hits and four runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. Steven Krasner writes that the Red Sox looked like a team staggering towards the finish line last night. David Heuschkel reports from a frustrating night at Fenway as the team is tired, Schilling struggled, and the Yankees continue to march closer.

The panicmongers (© Mike Felger) are coming out of the woodwork as well. Jim Donaldson stirs it up, saying that Red Sox fans’ worst fears are coming true and that the season is going to all come down to the Yankees series the final weekend of the season. Lenny Megliola says feel free to start worrying and fretting over that final series. Steve Buckley (subscription only) writes that yes, the Red Sox have plenty of injuries right now, and yes, they still are on top and they team to beat. but he claims that: In that spirit, the Sox remain the team to beat.

But if they lose . . . to the Yankees . . . on the last day of the season . . . it won't be about injuries.
It'll be about assigning blame.
I've never bought the mulligan theory. Injuries or no injuries, it could get ugly around here.

Sounds like some are already preparing and looking forward to that ugliness. Wouldn’t WEEI love that? I’m just glad I didn’t have to read a Shaughnessy “The Curse is back” column today or something. Bob Ryan is the columnist of the day at the Globe, and he examines the performance of Schilling last night, who struggled with his location and ended his night ticked off at the home plate umpire and himself. Joe Haggerty also reports on a night to forget for Schilling and the Sox. Jay Payton made his return to Boston last night for the first time since shooting his way out of town earlier this year. Kevin McNamara writes that Payton is enjoying the last laugh in the matter for now anyway. Nick Cafardo has more from Payton, who says he didn’t want to come to Boston, and downplays the incident in Texas where things reached a breaking point. Alex Speier notes that Payton now happy that he is playing everyday. To me, the fact that the A’s are winning is irrelevant. It appears Payton just wanted to play everyday somewhere, so he could put up numbers and make more money next year. Howard Bryant (subscription only) also writes about Payton and how “miserable” he was here in Boston, and how the trade here was the “worst day of his life, at least this season.” The Standard Times engages in a on-line version of the MVP debate, with Jon Couture playing the devils advocate and promoting ARod, since he plays in the field, and Nick Tavares picks David Ortiz. Mike Fine also looks at the ARod/Ortiz MVP race.

Cafardo also writes about Oakland manager Ken Macha choosing to stick with his young guns last night in Blanton and closer Hudson Street. I’m still a bit mystified by this whole “pitcher they haven’t faced before” issue. Is there an explanation? Is it the Red Sox advance scouting that is poor? Or is the scouting good and the players don’t study it, choosing to go on their own instincts, skills and experience? Is this being completely overblown? Paging SoSH…we need numbers from around the league on how teams fare against pitchers they are facing for the first time. My gut would tell me this isn’t a league wide thing, otherwise you’d have more young pitchers having success as they first enter the league. Steve Buckley writes that the Red Sox rookies are going to be among those who miss Gabe Kapler’s presence the most, as the outfielder always treated them well, helped them out and set a good example for others. Ron Indrisano writes that the A’s aggressiveness against Schilling was a key for their early success against him. Horrigan provides an update on Johnny Damon as he tries to play through the pain. Horrigan also has a good Minor League Report, where he lists out the top 15 prospects in the Red Sox system and their potential.

Snow’s notebook reports on Johnny Damon’s return to the lineup last night. Horrigan’s notebook looks at the return of Adam Hyzdu. Krasner’s notebook has more on Damon as he manages his pain. Heuschkel’s notebook says that with the injury to Kapler, Damon couldn’t afford any more rest.

Alan Greenberg looks at the flexibility of Bill Belichick’s system, where he tailors the systems to his players and talent, not the other way around. It seems to be working. Ian M Clark notes that it will be important for the Patriots to be able to run the football this week better than they did against Oakland. Karen Guregian concurs that the ground game needs improvement over week one. Dan Pries suggests that this game with the Panthers will be a bit early season test for New England. Albert Breer submits a solid article outlining the challenges that Julius Peppers and the Panthers will provide for the Patriots. Chris Kennedy also reports on the Patriots and Panthers renewing acquaintances.

Jerome Solomon and Michael Felger each have articles on Troy Brown, who has persevered and remained with the Patriots for another season. Felger’s piece notes that the Patriots searched for a third receiver in the offseason, but that Brown just might be better for them than any of the other options that they had explored. Tom E Curran looks at the curious case of Kyle Eckel, who finds himself in a tug-of-war between the Dolphins, the Navy and your New England Patriots. Christopher Price notes that the Patriots might attempt to target rookie safety Thomas Davis with their offense on Sunday. Eric McHugh profiles rookie offensive lineman Nick Kaczur. Felger has a bit on Jarvis Green, while Guregian talks clutch with Adam Vinatieri, who is impressed by David Ortiz.

There was a segment from Tom Curran’s blog/mailbag yesterday that I thought was worth rehashing here. The first question and answer reads as follows:

QUESTION

Tom, long standing Pats fan from Warwick here (still have my '85 Craig James jersey from when I was 10). I was curious to know how you prepare for Coach Belichick's press conferences when you may get the chance to ask only 1 question (as opposed to a 1 on 1 interview). Obviously, you probably want to probably have several questions ready in case other reporter's ask the same thing, plus you want it to be thoughtful/valid as you don't want to end up like some poor soul in front of a Belichick firing squad.

Rob B.

ANSWER

Rob,

I like to go with a plan for the day, a thesis for what I'm writing about. For instance, yesterday (for today's paper) I wanted to highlight Jake Delhomme's passion and the versatility of the Panthers running game. I asked Belichick about their ground game, how intricate it is in terms of personnel and about Stephen Davis. He took Delhomme questions from some other writers so I didn't need to ask any on him.

He appreciates a question that shows at least a passing knowledge of the subject, that goes a little beyond the surface of, "Talk about Stephen Davis," for example.

In the press conference setting it's not hard to ask two or three consecutive questions and Belichick is very good about taking follow-ups and helping out by going into further detail anytime a reporter says he needs something explained to him.

I think that, because of his style, even people who cover the beat only part-time know far more about why things happen at game-time than they ever did.

T

To me, this outlines a point I have tried to make in the past. Time and again we hear from writers, and radio hosts about how boring Bill Belichick’s press conferences are and how he never says anything. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth, and I was glad to read Bob Ryan acknowledge it yesterday. The problem, it seems, stems with media persons who are not willing to do any work or preparation for the Q&A sessions with the coach. Belichick rewards those who show an interest in the game and who ask legit questions, as opposed to those who, as Curran points out, stand up at the conferences and order the coach to “Talk about Stephen Davis”. The transcripts of the conferences are amazing as Belichick always teaches you something, or stuns you with his recall of the 49ers seventh round pick in 1992.

The BSMW Patriots Game Day looks at the coverage of the Patriots this week, looks ahead to the Panthers and has a number of other worthy observations.

Solomon’s notebook says that Josh Miller is trying to put his blocked punt from the Oakland game behind him. Guregian’s notebook looks at Richard Seymour suiting up for practice yesterday. Curran’s notebook looks a little more at Julius Peppers.

Jim Lazar and Jim McCabe have the NFL picks against the spread for the Herald and Globe respectively. I.M. Bettor also looks at some of the numbers. Double D has more Herald money picks. Patrick Hanrahan looks at fantasy numbers and players for the week. The Globe also trots out a little fantasy football information.

David Scott looks at the Globe coverage of the Patriots and a number of other items in Scott’s Shots. Bill Griffith looks at ESPN Gameday coming to Boston College tomorrow and has a number of other media items. John Howell examines how ESPNU isn’t getting picked up on as many cable stations as the network giant had anticipated.

Catch the coverage on the Red Sox/A’s series from out west on the Bay Area Sports page. Get the stories on the hard charging Yankees (and some Red Sox coverage) on the New York Sports News page.

I ran out of time quickly today, despite starting earlier than usual. I didn’t get to Boston College and the Bruins. I apologize for that.

UPN38 has Red Sox/A’s at 7:00. (ESPN nationally) ESPN2 has Houston/UTEP college football at 8:00.

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