Jewish World Review June 5, 2003/ 5 Sivan 5763


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Consumer Reports

Theo Epstein's Rocky Start | Only the Boston Red Sox's front office could take Billy Beane's playbook and skim through the important parts. Mind you, I'm really tired of the Beane hype, which the overrated Michael Lewis' new book has elevated, but you can't deny Oakland's trio of Zito, Hudson and Mulder. Not that Beane has a World Series title to his credit, but I'm digressing. Who wouldn't after witnessing Boston's meltdown, especially this past weekend when the team was swept by the suddenly explosive Blue Jays by scores of 13-2, 10-7 and 11-8? That the Yanks didn't sweep the lowly Tigers, and only salvaged a second win in the 17th inning on Sunday-the bullpen spoiling Roger Clemens' second attempt at 300 wins-is of small consolation.

The Toronto disaster, which one hopes will cause John Burkett to consider retirement, could, if you're as superstitious as Nomar Garciaparra, be attributed to the Curse of Shea Hillenbrand. Yes, the Sox are desperate for pitching-hell, I've seen Little Leaguers hurl as well as Matt White or Ramiro Mendoza-but trading away the All-Star player who all but led the team with 38 RBIs, while hitting .300, was bad karma. Hillenbrand's cardinal sin, which made him more expendable than the atrocious Jeremy Giambi, is that he doesn't walk enough, and that's actionable according to gospel of Billy Rickey, I mean Beane. Never mind that Hillenbrand was a clutch hitter, hustled, above-average with the leather and a rare product of Boston's pitiful farm system.

So now it's on to interleague play, which traditionally has been the Sox's Waterloo. As Jimmy Breslin would say, "Beautiful!" Pedro Martinez is scheduled to pitch this weekend, but if you believe that you probably also think that Bosox manager Grady Little is a disciplinarian and that GM Theo Epstein is a viable candidate for secretary of defense. Epstein thinks small: If he wanted to dramatically improve the team's rotation he'd have traded icon Garciaparra for a first-class arm and two hot prospects. Instead, he unloads the inexpensive Hillenbrand for Byung-Hyun Kim, who promptly gave up two runs in single inning last Sunday in his Bosox debut. Hillenbrand didn't get a hit in his first Arizona game, but walked twice.

Silver linings? The Yankees are also having problems-bullpen, defense (that means you, Derek Jeter) and hitting-and might have trouble this week against the Cubs' young pitching staff. But that's temporary, because if the team doesn't soon go on a tear, watch George Steinbrenner jettison Jeff Weaver, buy Carlos Beltran from the fading Royals and another arm to replace Juan Acevedo.

Oh, and if the Blue Jays don't sufficiently terrify the Sox and Yanks, the lowly Orioles are creeping up into contention, only four and a half games behind the first-place Bombers.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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