First inning on an overcast, blustery afternoon in Ft. Myers, Sox. v. Astros. I cue it up on the DVR expecting to take in a sleepy, routine exercise, and before I know it, there's Jon Lester taking "a step and a half" toward the dugout, in Jerry Remy's words, on what he presumes is strike three to Chris Johnson. But the home plate ump catches him short by calling a ball. Lester fumes, takes the hill again.
This early, the story is, everyone's fine-tuning. The games are pretty much meaningless. But you wouldn't know it looking at Lester's taut posture as he stalks off the field after the next pitch.
The latest Sox commercials are making the rounds -- I enjoyed Don Orsillo's maniacally enthusiastic explanation of Boston-area highways to John Lackey, especially when Lackey asks, "What's a rotary?" And Orsillo chuckles, "oh-ho-ho! You'll see!" Don Orsillo: part mannequin, part human, all comedy.
The lesser of the two is the barbershop spot, which features some relative non-acting by a lineup of core Sox: Papi, Tek, Wake and Paps. It features a mouthy Yanks fan who storms into a barbershop blathering about how "My Yankees" are set up to win the World Series again this year, followed by the professional athletes in the room rising as one to kick his ass. It sounds a bit better than it's actually carried off, unfortunately, although my Best Actor goes to Papelbon, surprisingly enough. If I ever saw him slowly rising out of a chair and whipping off a cape like that in real life, I'd run shrieking in the opposite direction.
Then there are the outtakes. Turns out the mouthy Yanks fan seems like he's doing a good imitation because he is an actual mouthy Yanks fan, who had to trade having a 'B' shaved into the back of his head for the chance to insult actual members of the Red Sox in person.
I'm curious, folks in blogland, if you had a chance to trash-talk Jeter, A-Rod, Posada, and Joba Chamberlain, all at once, on TV, would you make a similar deal vis a vis the Yankees logo and your scalp? Me, I just don't know. That's a tough one.
Apparently nobody told the Sox or Patriots that signing Alan Embree and David Patten can't actually make it 2004 again. Elsewhere, I like the Alge Crumpler signing at tight end, provided the Patriots are going to actually throw to the tight end this year. Bonus points, also, for adding the name Alge Crumpler to the roster.
What are we going to do about Mike Lowell? I've just been sort of avoiding it, like discussing religion in public. What an excruciating situation for all involved.
Today, Lowell had an at-bat in the second inning, got under a pitch and skied it to right center, where Jason Bourgeois gloved it on the run. Shades of Varitek, 2008...if that's what we have to look forward to, it's going to be a long season for all involved, too -- already unable to move Lowell once, the Sox might also be facing having him like an albatross on the roster if he can't perform well enough to be shopped.
In better news, there was the ageless Mike Cameron, who followed Lowell with a booming two-run shot to straightaway center, putting the Sox on top 2-1.
Must also pause to note Bourgeois again, for making even niftier diving catch in center for the second out of the inning, another burst of midseason intensity. It's getting closer.
Someone caught Tom Brady on camera taking boxing lessons in a gym near L.A. I'll pause for those of you to whom this applies to mop up your drool. I came across this post via Extra Points, the Globe's Patriots blog, which accompanied said linkage with kind of a weird rant about people questioning Brady's commitment to football.
I realize team leadership was an issue last year, but my only real thought when I saw this...echo of a discussion, if you will...was that it makes me glad to have kicked the talk-radio habit when I did. I can only imagine this is where the idea of questioning the commitment of Tom Brady to football would come from -- in fact, I can think of no other place where such an idea could be nurtured long enough to catch the attention of columnists.
When I used to listen to talk radio, I might've followed up an angry car ride talking back to my radio about this with a tirade here on an issue that doesn't even really warrant that much energy to refute. Now that I don't listen, I see the beginning of the discussion -- Brady opting out of the official off-season program -- and the end -- Frank from Gloucester questions Tom Brady's commitment to football -- and it's like hearing the beginning and mangled ending of a game of Telephone. All I can do is shake my head.
Meanwhile, back in the second inning, Houston pitcher Bud Norris (who looks approximately 60 years too young to be saddled with such a moniker) was in a world of hurt; Dustin Pedroia squared up on a fastball and knocked it over the wall for his own trip around the bases. Kevin Youkilis followed with a double.
Today, the Sox offense was looking well.
(As was Daisuke this week, reportedly. In both cases, we shall see what we shall see.)
If you were to graph today's box score, it would be a series of step functions as the Sox and Astros traded runs in the early innings, played another two scoreless, then upped the ante to 7-4 by the top of the seventh.
Here would follow a sharp spike, an aberration, as a migraine-stricken Papelbon was lit up for 6 runs. 10-7 Astros your final. A weird, unresolvable feeling -- instinctively, you want to be pissed off, but there's also the it's-only-exhibition panacea to reach for.
As for my boy Jonathan, I have to question the logic of forcing oneself through a March 21 inning when you have a crippling migraine, but then I remember this is Papelbon, and logic may have little to do with it.
Or maybe that was just another part of the intensity you could sense being ratcheted up another notch today: the lazy season ramping up in earnest toward April.