Category: Dailies

First-timers

The Red Sox had a lot of guys who were in their first World Series.  It made for a lot of great stories.   Rookies Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daisuke Matsusaka and Hideki Okajima made huge contributions in their first World Series.  Kevin Youkilis did, too.  Even though he was on the team in 2004, he didn’t get to play in that Series.  2nd-year player Jonathan Papelbon also made a huge contribution, getting 3 saves in his first World Series.   Another 2nd-year pitcher, Manny DelCarmen, had some inconsistent middle-inning relief, but did get used in some key situations.

Then there’s Julio Lugo, in his 8th season, but almost 4 of them with Tampa Bay, getting only his 3rd chance at the playoffs, and first in the World Series, and he hit well and fielded well. 

Royce Clayton didn’t really play much in the playoffs, but was on the roster, and I think he pinch ran at some point during the playoffs.  He’s in his 16th or 17th season, depending on whether you count his 26 ABs in ’91.  He was a lifetime .258 hitter whose main assets were speed (231 career stolen bases) and defense at shortstop.   At 37, this might be his last season.  His stints with teams were getting shorter:  5 season with San Fran, then 2.5 each with St Louis & Texas, then 2 with the White Sox, then 1 each with Milwaukee, Colorado and  Arizona, then half a season each with Washington, Cincinnati, Toronto and finally Boston.   He’d been in the playoffs 3 times in the late 90’s, but never in the World Series.  Despite not getting to contribute much, you could see he was visibly emotional in the clubhouse after the Sox won the World Series.  He probably figured this was his last chance.  He’ll be wearing a ring next spring.  You could see Papi and others noticing his emotion, and going up to give him pats on the back and hugs.

One of the best stories was another young, 2nd-year pitcher named Jonathan.  This one’s last name is Lester, not Papelbon.  (Hey, I’ve got the first name, just not the "young" and the "pitcher", but I can dream, can’t I?)

Before game 4, I posted this comment on the "Red Sox Angst" blog:

To me, the great thing is that no matter how long the Series goes, there can be a great story, and I’ll be happy and entertained, which is what it’s all about after all, isn’t it?

If the Sox win it in game 4, it could be a great story if Jon Lester wins the clinching game of the World Series, can you imagine a better way to cap a comeback from cancer, and a better inspiration for cancer survivors?

If the Sox win in game 5, it’s Beckett who could be breaking the record for wins in a single postseason with 5.

If the Sox win in game 6 or 7, we get to see the instantaneous wild celebration which we missed out on in 2004, and we either have the first Halloween clincher or the first November clincher. …

So fortunately, Lester did pitch well, and got the win, and we got the great story of the cancer survivor winning the clinching game of the World Series exactly a year after he was undergoing chemo, while his cancer-surviving teammate, Mike Lowell, hit a homer and won the Series MVP.  Plenty of good stuff for the sportswriters!

My favorite story, however, was Bobby Kielty‘s.  He started the season with the Oakland A’s.  He’s been a lifetime *backup* outfielder.  He knows that’s his career.  He gets traded mid-season to the team with the best record in baseball, and doesn’t play much, but makes a solid contribution when he plays, and wins lots of respect from his teammates. 

In the playoffs, however, his only chance to play was when CC Sabathia was pitching, because he had good numbers off Sabathia, and gave them an extra right-handed bat against him.   So, Kielty didn’t get into any of the 3 games of the ALDS against Anaheim, then started games 1 and 5 of the ALCS, going 2 for 5 off Sabathia.  In both games, JD Drew replaced Kielty in rightfield as soon as Sabathia was out of the game.  So through the first 2 series, Kielty only had "Sabathia duty", and nothing else.

He knew that his only way into the World Series, barring injury to a starter, was as a pinch hitter for the pitcher in the National League park, and he’d only get that chance if the game situation were right, and if they needed a righty.

With the Sox leading by 2 in the clinching game, time was running out on Kielty’s chance to play in a World Series, when finally, in the 8th inning, he got his chance.  He said he was going to make the best of it by being aggressive.  He got a first pitch fastball up and over the plate.  He didn’t waste it. 

By being aggressive, he actually shortened his only World Series appearance to about one minute.   He didn’t stay in the game to play the field.  That was it, just the one at bat.  But it’s all about quality, not quantity, in this case. 

That one minute was a glorious one minute!

One minute, one pitch, one swing, one well-hit home run, one grown man feeling like a little kid again, running around the bases in his backyard.  Wow.

And this wasn’t just a home run in a World Series, it was a home run that mattered a lot, giving the Red Sox their margin of victory, their 4th run in a 4-3 win to clinch the World Series.  It also preserved Lester’s storybook win by coming before the Rockies scored their 3rd run. 

That home run was about as significant as a solo home run can get, and it came to a guy who has a career total of one minute of playing time in World Series games.

Now that’s making the most of your opportunities!

Bobby Kielty, if you ever felt disappointed about being a career backup player and never achieving the status of a regular starter, you can wash all those feelings away.  You’ll always have that home run to look back on at the end of your career.  You’ll always be able to tell your kids and grandkids how you won a World Series with a home run.  You’ve been to the top of your profession.  You’ve climbed Mount Everest.  You’ve reached the peak.  You’ve lived the dream.  Everything after this is icing on the cake. 

Congratulations!

Afterglow

I haven’t posted in a while.

I’ve been too busy celebrating, watching interviews on TV, and trying to catch up with the rest of my life, to boot.  Like, my real job, for instance! 

By now, if you’re reading this, you know the result of the World Series, so I don’t need to repeat it.

Needless to say, I was wrong.  I thought that Colorado would regain enough confidence and momentum to take games 3 and/or 4, especially with the Red Sox having to adjust to an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar rules.   Then I thought the Red Sox would win the rest of the games.  Well, the Red Sox got hot at the right time, including their starting pitching.   

The thing was, they weren’t overachieving.  They were just all achieving to their potential at the same time, which is a rare thing.  Somehow, they were all at their best for 7 straight games.  Credit Francona?  Credit the veterans?  Who knows?  The amazing thing is that even the rookies performed outstandingly well.  Maybe credit Theo Epstein for finding and developing young talent that won’t be phased by the biggest of stages.

Mike Lowell got the MVP of the World Series, but really it could have been about 5 different guys.  Lowell had key RBIs and runs in the 2 low-scoring games, so in a way he was most valuable, but choosing him was due to his "tiebreakers".  A lot of the other MVP candidates were rookies.  They’d rather give it to a veteran, all things being equal.  Also, the regular season isn’t supposed to play into it, but Lowell was the Red Sox team MVP with 120 RBI’s and good defense (excluding April’s defense), yet everyone knows that A-Rod will win the league MVP, so perhaps the knowledge that Lowell won’t get the league MVP for the regular season despite a great year was enough to "break the tie" with all his deserving teammates. 

This was as much a "Sox season MVP" award as a "World Series MVP" award.  I think they made a good choice.  Of course, it has brought even more attention to the fact that Lowell and the eventual league MVP, A-Rod, are both 3rd basemen who’ll be free agents, and who’ll both make a lot of money.  Half the callers on sports talk shows in Boston Monday morning wanted to talk about Lowell vs. A-Rod.  After the game was over Sunday night, Theo Epstein was interviewed on the field by Boston’s Fox affiliate, and lingering Sox fans chanted "Re-sign Lo-well (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)" and "Don’t sign A-Rod (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)" .

Feeling good

The afterglow of winning the World Series will last a couple of weeks, but Boston-area sports fans will have other events to distract them.  Friday will be the Celtics’ season opener, with their new all-star starting lineup.  Saturday will be another BC football game.  Sunday will be perhaps the most significant mid-season game in NFL history, with the 8-0 Patriots playing the 7-0 Colts, with both teams dominating their opponents by record margins. 

Will these events take away from the memory and good feelings of the Red Sox championship, or perhaps enhance them somehow?  I guess each person has to answer that for themselves.

Whatever the case, it’s a great week to be a sports fan in Boston.

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!

JD Drew

Forecast:

JD Drew will hit very well the next 3 games.  He’ll have at least 1 home run in Colorado, and at least one extra base hit per game in Colorado.

He’s used to National League parks, and this is one of them!

Happy Anniversary

It was 3 years ago tonight that the Red Sox beat the red birds under red moon (full lunar eclipse) to win their first World Series in 86 years. 

Happy 3rd anniversary, Red Sox fans! 

I know you want to celebrate with a victory in game 3 tonight, but I don’t think that will happen.  However, think about how we could have another "poetic" World Series victory.  If the Red Sox win in 6 games (as I expect) it’ll be a Halloween night World Series celebration.  You can run out in the streets at midnight, in full costume, to celebrate the World Series as you welcome in the month of November! 

Hmm, if the Series does end in 6 games, I wonder if the game will be over before October is over (at least in the Eastern time zone).  That would be a first, for a World Series to last into November.

Relax, Sox fans!

Listening to sports talk radio these last couple days has been painful at times, although entertaining at the same time.  These talk show hosts really earn their money at times like this.  Their patience with some of the fans is incredible, although you could tell that their patience is being tested by hearing the same tired arguments over and over. 

The main concern is which player will sit on the bench the lack of a Designated Hitter in the National League park.  These fans hear the answers, but they keep calling.  I suppose different fans tune in at different times, so they don’t hear the answers before they call.  To the talk show hosts, it’s so repetitive.

For the uninitiated, here’s the story:

If the Red Sox best home run hitter and clutch hitter, Big Papi, is to hit, he has to play in the field, which for him means first base.  That means that the hottest hitter on the Red Sox, Kevin Youkilis, would have to play somewhere else.  The only other position he’s used to is 3rd base.  But Mike Lowell normally plays there, and he’s been the Red Sox best hitter this season, shattering the team record for runs batted in by a 3rd baseman. 

The callers say: "Move Youkilis from in Rightfield and sit JD Drew". 

The hosts explain:  But Drew is hitting very well now, and Youkilis has only played a few games in outfield in his career, and is much slower than Drew, and Coors Field has a HUGE outfield.

RedSoxForecaster adds:  JD Drew hit his best during interleague play in familiar National League parks.  This is his first time playing in a National League park since interleague play.  His entire career before this year was in the National League.  He’ll hit well.  This is the worst time to take him out of the lineup!!!!!

Callers say:  "Move Mike Lowell to shortstop, and sit Julio Lugo"  (with Youk at 3rd and Papi at 1st).

Hosts explain:   Shortstop takes a completely different mental approach than 3rd base.  Lowell would have to re-learn where to position himself on defense for each type of hitter and situation, where to position himself for cutoff throws from the outfield, how to communicate with his 2nd baseman for who covers 2nd base on a steal attempt, and more.  It takes several weeks of practice to get the thinking for a shortstop position to be automatic so that you can make decisions instantly, on the fly, without hesitation.  YOU CAN’T JUST THROW HIM IN THERE WITHOUT A FEW WEEKS OF PRACTICE, ESPECIALLY NOT AT THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME OF THE YEAR, IN ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT POSITIONS ON THE FIELD!!!

The calls keep coming.  The hosts keep explaining. 

The one thing I wanted to call and say was FINALLY mentioned by one of the hosts.   The Red Sox will need to pinch hit for their pitcher at some point in the game.  They’ll need a good bat off the bench.  It will actually be good to have one of those 3 players available to pinch hit. 

Here’s how I’d explain it:

Imagine the situation:  top of the 8th inning, bases loaded, 1 out, you’re down by 2 runs, you’re going to bring in a new pitcher for the bottom of the 8th anyway, and the pitcher is due up.  You want a VERY GOOD hitter to come up.  You want to avoid a strikeout, a double play, or a popup.  You want a hit, or at the very least, a deep fly ball.  Who would you rather have come up:

Alex Cora, Bobby Kielty, Coco Crisp, Royce Clayton, Doug Mirabelli, or Eric Hinske?    Tough choice? 

How about if you had one of these 3 players as an additional choice:

Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, or David Ortiz?

No brainer!!! 

You need one of those guys available to come up for the pitcher in that key situation.  Use the other guys to pinch hit for the pitcher in less critical situations when you’re going to pinch hit for him anyway.  Try to save Clayton and Crisp for pinch running situations.  Mirabelli has to be saved for backup catcher if Varitek gets hurt.  Cora and Kielty are decent hitters, so they’re your "normal" pinch hitters.  Hinske is for lefthanded power only, when you’re looking for a 3-run homer off a right-handed pitcher.   You need a "super-pinch-hitter" for the most critical times, and without one of Lowell, Youk or Papi there, you won’t have one. 

Up next: Rocky Mountain High

In my post after game 1, I said this about game 3:

I think the Rockies will get a boost in game 3, as Fogg, who beat the Red Sox earlier this year, will get a home-crowd boost, and the Red Sox will have to either play Youkilis in rightfield, or Lowell at shortstop if they want to have Ortiz, Youkilis and Lowell in the game at the same time.  In other words, either an important bat sits, or someone plays an unfamiliar position. 

With Lugo heating up, and having speed, and shortstop being such an important position, you can bet Lowell will either at 3rd base, or sitting.  In the last few postseason games, Lowell has struggled at the plate a bit compared to his teammates, so perhaps he’ll be the one to sit in game 3.

No sooner do I say that than Lowell scores one run and drives in the other in a 2-1 win.  I think most likely, Francona will give each one a day off.  First Lowell, then Youkilis, then Papi.  Think of it this way:  they’ll need pinch hitters, and each of those guys would make a great pinch hitter.

Preliminary Forecast:

So far, no change in my forecast.

The Rockies will recall their winning ways when back in their familiar park, in front of their fans.  They’ll win game 3 with a lot of energy, and probably by a fairly wide margin (4 to 6 runs).  Fenway will seem like a  fading dream to them (or perhaps a fading nightmare), which will allow them to put it behind them more easily.  It was just a strange dream.  "Reality" for them is Coors Field, and they’ve played their best baseball there. 

Jon Lester is a big variable in game 4, but will probably falter with there being so much pressure, and it having been a month since he started a game.  He’s good at pitching out of jams, but also gets himself into jams a lot.  The Rockies will probably outscore the Sox in a high-scoring game 4 for both teams. 

Beckett will shut things down and win game 5 on Monday.