My disgust with Schilling has only opened my heart further for Jonathan Papelbon, whose first inning today I watched with delight, as he got three lovely outs but still walked off the field gesturing, shaking his head and clearly talking to himself.
He cuts a tall, lithe, almost archetypal figure in his crisp white pants and brilliant red jersey today. That doesn't hurt, either.
The first hitter of the second inning is tubby Tony Batista, who looks more like a manager or coach who's spent a few seasons on the bench than the starting third baseman for anybody. Papelbon gets him on an almost inverted fastball, a looping corkscrew pitch at which Batista swings helplessly.
The next two outs are made in the field--one an arcing fly ball that drops in Manny's glove, the next a routine 4-3 ground ball out to the goateed Kevin Youkilis on first.
My mother often compares these athletes, especially the multimillion-dollar baseball stars, to racehorses. Often you can see the resemblance as a trainer walks up to a baseball player and touches him with striking familiarity, like a groom yanking down the halter of a thoroughbred. The ballplayers bear it with the same passivity and regality as the horses. Another similarity is in the fact that the most prominent ballplayers, like Manny or Pedro, are coupled with a secondary player, like the way racehorses prance to the starting gate coupled with a buddy horse, usually a scrubby stable dweller who poses no threat to the racer's speed or talent.
Is Enrique Wilson a Manny "buddy horse" this year, or what? Especially now that Millar is gone. Manny will never have a better "buddy horse" than Millar.
Watching Youkilis trot the bases after his first home run of 2006, I'm reminded somehow of Doug Mirabelli and his roly-poly stride. This makes me miss Mirabelli, especially after the reports about backup catcher Ken Huckaby's injury and, of course, Flaherty's retirement.
Papelbon flusters Ruben Sierra, but the erstwhile Yankees pinch hit specialist manages to cling to a walk. The next hitter reaches on a single through the gap into left and then a perfectly executed bunt juices the bags.
Lew Ford's first swing brings him to his knees. He fouls the next one off. Papelbon meets with catcher Dusty Brown (what a name!) and puts one in the dirt. The next one is right in Ford's wheelhouse and Sierra scores from third on a neat little single to right for Ford. Things are going pear shaped quickly for Papelbon, especially after Youkilis fails to dig out a double play attempt from Wilson.
Now that the topmost sheen is off the kid, the major leaguers have gotten the better of him in the blink of an eye. It reminds me of the phrase, "Old age and treachery will always beat youth and skill."
Then again, it's early in spring training, Papelbon's a pitcher and it's the third inning. It may just be par for the course.
The Twins have the upper hand quickly, leading 3-2 by the time the seventh batter of the inning takes the box in the person of aforementioned Tony Batista. Papelbon gets a visit from pitching coach Al Nipper, and as Nipper walks away and Papelbon rolls his shoulders and tugs at his jersey, it's the first glimpse I've gotten this season of that profound loneliness called pitching. Papelbon looks pained, but to me, in the lazy forgiveness of spring, it's beautiful.
Batista, mercifully, pops out. As does the next hitter, a sky-scraper flyout that Crisp manages to glove, just a few feet from the wall, that distance the precise difference between a game Jonathan can salvage and his day's certain end.
The Sox offense fails to avenge their pitcher, and Michael Cuddyer knocks the first pitch of the fourth over the fence in deep right. Jonathan watches it go, eyes on fire. I'm more than ready to forgive him if this game keeps going in the same direction, but I deeply love his intensity--what Orsillo refers to as his "mound presence"--just the same.
The Twins' shortstop ends his afternoon in the next several minutes, diving in to first on a bleeder to Wilson at second. I may be strange, but I deeply dislike cutthroat tactics--whether a beanball or a headfirst slide into first base--this early in the spring. It seems petty and unnecessary, and somehow offensive.
Jonathan looks dejected, slumping down the dugout steps. I'm surprised, myself, at the fact that in the course of this game he's become "Jonathan" to me. It's one of those things, though--I could only ever call Derek Lowe "Derek." Now here's another first-namer.
Franklin Nunez takes the ball with one out and one on, looking like a deer in the headlights. With Jonathan gone, I start contemplating the rest of my afternoon.