Monday, April 23, 2018

Game 21: Red Sox at Oakland Athletics (April 22, 2018)

Well, the Red Sox have another streak going...unfortunately now it's going in the opposite direction of the previous one! The team dropped their second straight game and their first series of the season to the lowly A's with a 4-1 loss on Sunday afternoon. I only had a chance to watch the ninth inning because I was busy coaching my son's travel baseball team in their doubleheader all afternoon. What little I saw seemed to mirror what happened over the last two games in Oakland...the offense suddenly went quiet. The Sox didn't get their lone run until the top of the seventh. Starter David Price pitched 7.2 innings, striking out six and only walking one. Heading into the eighth he'd only given up one run and the game was tied, but a three run home run he surrendered to Khris Davis put Oakland up by three and would prove to be the difference. Cora also went with a very unusual line-up, one that included moving Jackie Bradley to right field, Andrew Benintendi to center field, and JD Martinez to left field. While I understand the need to give Mookie Betts a day off, moving Jackie out of center makes no sense to me given his stellar defense there, nor does putting JD in left given his atrocious defense. I personally would've left Jackie in center, Benintendi in left, and hidden JD in right, but what do I know? The batting order was also unusual, with Bradley leading off. Whether it was a result of this strange line-up or whether it was just an off day, the offense couldn't get anything going.

With an day off for travel Monday, the Sox head to Toronto to being a series Tuesday with the Blue Jays who have had a surprisingly good start to their season. The Jays always play the Sox tough so it will be another early season test for this team. I'm hoping for a bounce back after the disappointing end to the west coast trip. Some winning momentum would be nice heading into their mini home stand at the end of the month because after that is another extended road trip with some tough series against the Yankees and Blue Jays. It's time to see how good these Red Sox really are. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Game 20: Red Sox at Oakland Athletics (April 21, 2018)

Well, now we know what it takes to slow this Red Sox team down...a no-hitter! One day shy of being exactly twenty-five years since they were last no-hit, the Red Sox couldn't muster a single hit against A's pitcher Sean Manea and only got on base twice via walks. On a night against this frankly poor A's roster and with Chris Sale pitching, surely no one saw this coming. Sale went seven innings and struck out ten but gave up three runs early in the game. Manea, however, went the distance, also striking out ten with only the two walks keeping him from a perfect game. There's really not much to say about this game other than a tip of the cap to Manea for his performance and wondering how and why the Sox bats suddenly fell so silent. 

When I think about it, it's remarkable that a team as talented and playing as well as the Red Sox were actually no-hit to snap their eight game winning streak. That's baseball for you...such a quirky game that something extraordinary like this can happen to a great team in the middle of a crazy run of success. I'm interested now to see how they respond in the series finale!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Game 19: Red Sox at Oakland Athletics (April 20, 2018)

I finally managed to stay up for an entire west coast game this season...good thing it was a Friday night! Even so, I coached my son's baseball team for two hours after work before getting home and settling in for the night so I was already pretty tired when it started. I was very interested in seeing how Drew Pomeranz would do in his first start back off the DL. Unfortunately, he gave up three runs in the bottom of the first and the Red Sox were inexplicably in a 3-0 hole. It says something about this season that an early deficit felt strange. Drew really labored to get through only four innings, but after the first he settled in nicely and ended up striking out seven by the time he was lifted. Even during his fantastic 2017 season, he always labored to get through innings and had high pitch counts by the fifth or sixth innings. Last night he was unfortunately hurt by passed ball on a third strike that kept the first inning alive and led to the A's runs. Luckily for Drew and the Sox, the offense was there to bail him out and get them back in the game. A three-run home run by Jackie Bradley tied the game in the second and Mitch Moreland hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw from A's reliever Emilio Pagan in the sixth inning. The team has now hit FIVE grand slams this season so far...after hitting ZERO last season. That was all the Sox would need as the bullpen kept the A's off the board and the Sox cruised to their eighth straight win with a 7-3 victory. That pushes their record on the season to 17-2 which is absolutely remarkable. With Chris Sale and David Price pitching the next two games of the series, the streak should continue as long as the bats remain hot.

I had to be up the next morning to coach my youngest daughter's team at 9am so maybe it wasn't the smartest idea to stay up until almost 1:30am to watch the whole game, but this team is so fun to watch that I couldn't help myself. It seems like whenever one player is slumping or taking a night off, someone else steps up to contribute. The line-up is basically the same as last year apart from the addition of JD Martinez, but somehow it feels like it's a deeper, more dangerous roster both at the plate and on the mound. Every day I look forward to watching the next game and seeing what else they do to make me shake my head in disbelief. I know it won't last all season and that they'll come back down to earth, but I still think this is a really, really good team that can make a run at 100 wins and the World Series.

BOOK REVIEW: Coal Black Mornings (Brett Anderson of Suede)

Brett Anderson's new memoir Coal Black Mornings is a book I've been looking forward to reading since I first heard about it over a year ago. As one of the most interesting, cerebral, talented, and mysterious musicians of his generation, I assumed this would be a book worth checking out. Brett's distinctive vocals and lyrics have defined the sound of Suede and British rock music for over twenty-five years. The band are currently enjoying a late-career resurgence after reforming almost a decade ago and as part of the process of maturing in their music, Brett also seems to have taken stock of his life now that he's fifty years old, married, and a father. Inspired by the complicated relationship he had with his eccentric father and wanting to document what his pre-fame life was in order that his children would have the record of their father's life that he himself didn't, Coal Black Mornings emerged.

Interestingly, Brett states quite clearly at the beginning of the book that his story will end right when Suede is starting to take off and become famous. Stating that he has no desire for the usual "cocaine and gold records" type of musician memoir, he wanted to limit it to his formative years and the people and places from that era of his life; his reasoning is that information about what came after can already be found elsewhere (including the excellent authorized Suede biography which I've reviewed). The book is devoid of any photographs or images of any kind apart from the front cover and a shot of Brett in a brief "about the author" blurb on the back inner jacket fold. It's as stark and free from artifice as Brett prefaced, but in a way it's all the better for it.

Beginning with his birth after the "first Summer of Love," Brett details his life growing up in an eccentric and poor upbringing in a council house in Lindfield, on the edge of Haywards Heath. The picture he paints is of a childhood where from the earliest age, he and his older sister knew they were outsiders and were reminded of it every day. Their father Peter was an eccentric, moody man who drifted from menial job to menial job and was an obsessive fan of classical music (especially Liszt). Their mother Sandra was a creative free-spirit who made everything from the families clothes to furniture and even their meals from second-hand bits and pieces the family scavenged or found at thrift stores or rubbish bins. Brett was a quiet and relatively sullen kid who gravitated to the types of music and literature that resonated with his feeling of "outsiderdom." In the reverse of how most of his musical peers of the 1990s came to be musically educated, he first fell in love with the punk and new wave of the late 1970s and early 1980s before then working his way backwards to the Beatles, Who, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and of course his eventual hero David Bowie. Brett also details his school years, with some degree of indifference if not a slight bit of fondness, from primary school through to when he left home to attend university. First heading to Manchester before transferring down to London, Brett began the seeds of what would eventually become Suede with his childhood friend Mat Osman and his new girlfriend Justine Frischmann.

While the years growing up are fascinating in learning about his impoverished childhood, the strange dynamic of his home life and his parents' marriage, and how Brett looks back on his family, for fans of Suede it's the university years where the story gets even more interesting. While he stays true to his promise of cutting off the story right at the moment where Suede become famous and release their first single, he doesn't shy away at all from detailing their story from their embryonic formation to the very cusp of signing their record deal. Beginning with the first musical fumblings with Mat and Justine in their flats, it's when Bernard Butler enters the picture that I really couldn't get enough of what he had to say. The Anderson/Butler partnership has long been one of my favorite and in my opinion, is one of the greatest songwriting teams of not only the 1990s but of all time. I maintain to this day that virtually everything Brett and Bernard wrote and released in their all too brief time together in Suede was perfect. However, as discussed in the authorized Suede biography, Bernard was the one person who would not open up about his time in the band or his partnership with Brett. While the others talked about it in that book, they never got too in depth. Luckily for us, in Coal Black Mornings Brett talks openly and candidly about his relationship with Bernard, both as he felt then as well as with twenty-five years of hindsight and maturity. Describing his initial impressions and interactions, how their friendship and working partnership grew, and what it means to him now was some of the best stuff I've been able to read about Suede. Add in his pulling back the curtain, ever so slightly, into their songwriting process and inspirations and this was the most exciting part of the book by far.

Along with the excitement of Suede's birth, however, Brett also takes time to discuss his parents divorcing when he was away at university, the heartbreak of losing his mother to cancer suddenly as a young man, and the complicated relationship with his father that lasted well into adulthood. It wasn't until his father passed away when Brett was in his late thirties that he was able to reconcile the love, confusion, anger, resentment, and affection he felt for him. Brett is able to offer a fuller perspective on who his father was as he also begins to relate it to the relationship with his own children. The book never feels mawkish or salacious, yet Brett is able to imbue his story with a lot of depth and emotion such that it remains a page turner throughout. His writing style is, as would be expected given his songs, rather florid and grandiose, but somehow it never detracts from what he's trying to say. It in fact is the perfect voice with which to tell his story and now that I've finished the book, I couldn't see him writing it in any other way. The one critique I do have is that he does still have the slight tendency to slip into some of his comfortable cliches. As anyone who is familiar with Suede's music circa, let's say 1997-2002 (and even some of their more recent work), Brett has a fair number of pet phrases and subjects that continually pop up in his lyrics. Therefore, I had to suppress a chuckle when for instance he used the phrase "pebble-dashed" twice within the first dozen pages of the book. The repeated uses of the title phrase throughout the book seemed a tiny bit forced and there were plenty of references to Brett's love of exploring the more downtrodden, grimier, seedier, less glamorous aspects of life in his art, but the slight lack of restraint in reining in these cliches is also part of the book's charm, at least if you're a Suede fan. There are also several subtle swipes at his perpetual nemesis Damon Albarn and Blur...never explicitly named but obviously the recipient(s) of more than a few digs (which, as big a fan of Blur as I am, I can honestly say are mostly warranted).

Coal Black Mornings is to the Suede story what Morrissey's memoir is to the Smiths story, only less bizarre, less bitter, and more readable. The single-minded and minimalist presentation of the book, from the text to the lack of images, immediately brought Moz's book to mind. But whereas I didn't really enjoy Morrissey's book and can't see myself reading it again any time soon, I feel quite the opposite about Coal Black Mornings. There's a warmth and real heart to it that is indescribable but obvious. It's one of the most unique and enjoyable musician memoirs I've read in a while and for any music fan, and especially a fan of Suede or 1990s British rock music, an essential read.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Game 18: Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels (April 19, 2018)

I'm so glad it's Friday because these late night games really do a number after a few days. I managed to watch the first inning before succumbing to sleep, but I did see Mookie hit his second leadoff home run of this series. Just incredible. He's really mashing right now and if he keeps it up, I see a repeat of his stellar near-MVP 2016 season unfolding. He's already well on his way. The Angels actually managed to tie the game at one in the bottom of the second, but as has been usual this season, the Red Sox pulled away by scoring two in the fourth off the bats of Rafael Devers and JD Martinez. Former Red Sox outfielder Chris Young hit a solo homer to bring the Angels within a run, but the Sox would tack on five more runs before the game was over, including three RBI from Andrew Benintendi (one of which was a solo home run), another RBI from Devers, and an RBI from Mitch Moreland. When all was said and done, the relentless Red Sox attack propelled them to a series sweep and their seventh straight win with a final score of 8-2. It seems like every game there's one or two guys who are hot with the bat, and then the next game someone who may have been slumping a bit steps up and has a hot stretch. They all pick each other up and together, it makes for a very dangerous offense.

As for the pitching, the Sox got six innings from Eduardo Rodriguez and then three innings of one-hit ball from the bullpen to close it out. With Drew Pomeranz coming back to make his first start of the season Friday against Oakland, this Red Sox rotation looks to only get stronger as the season progresses. Except for David Price's disaster against the Yankees last week, all of the starters have gone at least through six innings in their starts and have pitched extremely well. With their record now 16-2, the Sox have the best start in team history. At this point, I'm not going to worry about setting records or how many wins they finish the season with...I'm just going to enjoy the ride. I do think they should be able to pad that record and extend their streak with this next series against the dreadful A's, though I hope I didn't just jinx them now!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Game 17: Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels (April 18, 2018)

These late games are a killer! I coached my youngest daughter's team last night after work and by the time I sat down to watch the game, I only managed to make it partway through the second inning. What I did see was very encouraging, though. In the top of the first, the Sox managed to push a run across on Mitch Moreland's RBI double and they had runners on second and third before Rafael Devers popped up to end the inning. They were definitely getting to Angels starter Tyler Skaggs, who really labored throwing almost forty pitches in the first inning. In the bottom of the inning, LA loaded the bases with one out, but Rick Porcello got two huge strikeouts to get out of it unscathed. Looking at the box score, it looks like I should've toughed it out until the third inning like I did the night before because the Sox exploded for five runs, including a grand slam by Devers. Yet another Sox rout was on and there were two more homers: a solo shot from JD Martinez in the seventh and a two-run homer from Moreland in the ninth. The Angels never threatened and the Sox won 9-0 for their sixth straight win. This victory pushed the Sox record to 15-2 and this team is absolutely firing on all cylinders right now. Alex Cora has the team prepared, relaxed, playing hard, staying loose, and having fun and it's showing up on the field every night.

After the first week of the season, all anyone said was the Red Sox hadn't played any "real" teams yet. Well, they've now taken two of three from the Yankees and two straight on the road against the Angels (who were playing great ball heading into this series). They've knocked the Angels starters out of the game after two and four innings, and they've worn out the LA bullpen. They're winning with dominant pitching, relentless and clutch hitting, and excellent defense. Cora has pushed all the right buttons and seems to put the right lineup out for every game. Case in point, last night was a scheduled night off for Andrew Benintendi, so the lineup included Martinez in left field (*cringe*), Mitch Moreland at first base, Hanley Ramirez at DH, and Tzu-Wei Lin at shortstop. When I saw the lineup before the game, I thought it was a strange one and that we'd suffer from a bit of a dip at the plate and on defense. So what did they do? They dominated the game from the first pitch to the last. 

This Red Sox team is clicking and storming through their competition in a way I haven't seen in a long time, if ever. They're one bad inning from the bullpen and one bad inning from David Price from being undefeated. Even the fantastic teams of 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2013 were slow out of the gate (as the Red Sox traditionally are). This is unlike anything I can remember and I've been watching this game and this team religiously for over thirty years. While it's a certainty that they'll lose upwards of fifty games as that's what even the best baseball teams do over the course of the marathon MLB season, right now it doesn't look like there's going to be an extended swoon any time soon. I know it's early and there are still 145 games left to play, but I wouldn't be surprised if this team made a run at 100 wins this season. At this point, I'll be disappointed if they don't!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Game 16: Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels (April 17, 2018)

I went into this game knowing there was no way I could possibly stay up and watch the entire thing. After a full day of work, family time, taking my kids to the batting cages, and then watching the Celtics win their second playoff game, it was just after 10pm when I laid down in bed to watch the start of the Sox game. I'd been looking forward all day to seeing Shoehi Ohtani with my own eyes, and to be honest what I saw was pretty ugly. Coming into the game, he'd been lauded beyond belief by the media. The highlights I'd seen showed that he had some truly nasty stuff, but I also knew he'd only faced the woeful Oakland A's (twice). How would he fare against a real lineup like the Red Sox? The answer: not well. He lasted two innings and really labored, throwing nearly seventy pitches and didn't look sharp at all. His fastball was good but he had zero command of his off-speed stuff. Mookie Betts hit a leadoff solo home run in the top of the first and the Sox tacked on two more in the second inning. It could've been more because they had loaded the bases with one out and only came away with two runs. The top of the third is when the wheels completely fell off the cart for LA. Hitting against Angels reliever Luke Bard (brother of former Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, which is a sad story if you haven't read it), the Sox exploded for five runs off of three home runs! First was a two-run blast by Jackie Bradley, followed two batters later by another two-run homer from Brock Holt. Immediately after Holt, Mookie clubbed another solo shot. The Angels pushed across a run in the bottom of the third, but at that point it was 8-1 Red Sox and my 6am alarm was getting ever closer so I called it a night. Rafael Devers hit a solo shot later and Mookie hit his third homer of the game in the eighth inning as the Sox ended up embarrassing the Angels 10-1. It was the fifth straight win in their latest streak and pushes their record to an absurd 14-2 on the season. The official story from the Angels was that Ohtani was pulled from the game because he was dealing with blisters on his pitching hand...the truth or a convenient excuse after getting rocked? You decide...

David Price started the game for the Sox and while he wasn't sharp, he was more than adequate, going five innings and only giving up a single run. He struck out six but he also walked four. He's much too talented to continue giving mediocre performances like this so I hope it's just a case of needing to get into a groove early in the season. Love him or hate him, if the Red Sox are going to make a run at the World Series, they're going to need everyone to contribute and perhaps none more so than Price. I'm now looking forward to seeing if Rick Porcello can keep up his redemption tour tonight, although once again I'm sure I won't be able to watch more than a few innings. While I've always enjoyed staying up late to watch west coast games, whether they're baseball or basketball, it's just not doable to watch entire games when I've got to be up early the next morning. With a series in Oakland following this Angels series, I'll do the best I can over the next week and hope I can catch up on my sleep next week.