Theo’s redemption

Well, here we are, with the Red Sox up 3 games to 0, after a 10-5 win.  Did you hear the sound of the drama being ****** out of the room?

Theo Epstein must be feeling good right now. 

The rookies his "scouting and player development machine" produced are coming up big in the World Series.  Ellsbury and Pedroia were the first rookie teammates to get 3 or more hits each in a single World Series game.  They were 7 for 10.  With those guys on ahead of Ortiz and Ramirez, a lot of runs are bound to score.

Epstein’s 3 big free agent signings from last winter, Lugo, Drew and Matsusaka, all failed to "earn their money" during the regular season, and Epstein took a lot of heat for that, but they’re all making up for it in recent postseason games, when it really counts. 

Drew has swung a hot bat lately, and has a long postseason hitting streak (I think it’s up to 10 games now).   

Lugo has also started hitting more, batting .400 so far in the World Series, and going 1 for 3 tonight with 2 walks and 2 runs, but his defense tonight was what really stood out.  He helped snuff out 2 Colorado rallies, the first one at a key time, when Matsusaka often starts to struggle: the 5th inning.  With runners on 1st and 2nd and 1 out, he went deep into the hole for a Matsui grounder, and realizing that his momentum (and Matsui’s speed) gave him no chance of getting a force play at 2nd or 1st, he threw a one-hopper to Lowell at third (who also had the presence of mind to not go for the ball, and go cover 3rd instead) to get the force out.   So it was 1st & 2nd, 2 out, instead of bases loaded with 1 out.  Then he caught a popup to end the inning. 

In the next inning, after Colorado had scored 2 and had 2 on, Jeff Baker hit a bullet of a line drive over Lugo’s head, and with very little time to react, Lugo made a huge leap to snag what I thought would be a 2-run double in the gap, for sure.   2 more runs saved. 

Finally, there’s Matsusaka.  He’s been looking better each game this postseason.  He had given up only 1 hit through 4 innings, and no runs through 5.  He ended up giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in 5 1/3 innings for another win.  But his pitching wasn’t the only story.  Dice-K did it all tonight!  Defense and hitting! 

We’ve seen Dice-K defend his position well all season.  In the ALCS he made a nice quick stab on a grounder up the middle.  Tonight he did it again.  Are all Japanese pitchers good fielders?  I think I’ve seen others defend well.  Anyway, Dice-K stabbed what looked like a base hit, then alertly caught Matsui too far off 2nd base.  Matsui must have been as surprised as I was.  He shouldn’t be.  He saw Dice-K play defense as his teammate on the Seibu Lions.  Matsui was playing right behind Dice-K in Japan!  Dice-K did the fundametally sound thing.  He ran directly at the frozen Matsui, finally throwing behind him as Matsui inched closer to 2nd base.  They tagged him out in a rundown.  Nice going, Dice-K! 

As if that wasn’t enough, Dice-K got his first major league hit!  In the regular season, it made sense for the Sox to ask Dice-K not to swing.  They wanted him healthy for the long season.  But in the World Series, with almost nothing left in the season, it’s swing away!  Dice-K’s first at bat saw him buckle his knees as he was fooled on 2 good curveballs.  So in the 2nd at bat, he was ready for the first pitch curveball, and belted it through the left side for a 2 run, bases-loaded single.  That was a key hit, since it came immediately after Manny Ramirez had been thrown out at the plate after he’d been sent home (foolishly!) against the great arm of Matt Holliday.  I couldn’t believe they’d sent Manny.  Any momentum Colorado felt after that was quickly wiped out.  After Lugo was walked on 4 pitches so they could get to Matsusaka, Colorado must have figured they’d pulled a "Houdini" and escaped the inning with only 3 runs given up.  Next thing you know, it’s 6-0.  The momentum was squarely back with Boston.

This could mark the beginning of a "settling-in" period for Lugo, Drew and Matsusaka.  There’s a good chance they could all have much better regular seasons next year for the Red Sox.  If they do, all their weak spots will be gone, and the Sox will probably win over 100 regular-season games for the first time in their history… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  The Sox have one more win to focus on getting this season.  For now, next season can wait.

In the meantime, yes, Theo Epstein must be happy.

(For an encore, Theo, I’d like to see if you could cut the payroll down closer to $100 million over the next 2 years while keeping the team competitive.  That would be even sweeter!)

Notes:

If Terry Francona looked comfortable doing double-switches, he should be.  Remember, he managed the Phillies (National League) for 4 seasons!

Colorado’s defense has been great all year, but I have to question Brad Hawpe’s decision to go into a slide on Ellsbury’s final double in the 8th inning.  The ball was blooped down the right field line, and Hawpe had a long way to run.  He missed catching it by inches.  At the time, the Rockies were down by only 1 run, but Papelbon was warming up, and the Sox had 2 very fast runners on with 1 out.  This is the World Series.  You’ve got to give your body up in that situation to keep it to a 1 run lead, at all costs.  There wasn’t even really a wall that close to him.  He could have gone into a headfirst dive without running into any wall.  Instead, he went into a feet-first slide and missed by inches.   A head-first dive could have gotten the ball.  That play made a difference of 2 runs if you play out the rest of the inning the same way.  Give it up for your team, Brad!

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