Monday, April 12, 2004

Nine by Nine, 04.11.04

Let's get right to the big stuff....

1. With two runners on and none out in the bottom of the 10th, Francona allowed Jason Varitek to swing away. Instead of bunting and getting runners on second and third, Tek grounded into a double play, effectively killing the Sox rally. The thought here, as is often the case with Bill James Baseball, was to avoid giving up outs. You only get 27, and in general, the best way to score runs is not to hand any back to your opponent. The key letter here though is 'S". No, the one after "run". Runs. Right. In every inning up to the eighth, it handicaps an offense to sacrifice runners over. The best way for lineups to thrive is with multiple run innings, and it's progressively harder to do that with each out on the board. After the 8th inning however, for the home team, multiple runs make no difference. You need only to be one ahead, not four. Had Boston wanted to break the game open, Tek should have swung away. If he bounces into a double play, so be it, you gave your team the best chance. Breaking it open in the 10th inning doesn't mean anything though. One run = victory. Get that runner to third, move the infielders in, and win the damn baseball game. Even if Varitek had singled through the hole, it still would have been wrong. Bunt when you need one.

2. Toronto G.M. J.P. Ricciardi might have the biggest nose in baseball. Just saying.

3. The Red Sox had 1 hit through 6 innings yesterday. Hello Tigers. All of Boston seems to be waiting for the offensive explosion that we witnessed last year, but this is a very different lineup at the moment. The April 2004 Red Sox are weaker in THREE spots than the September 2003 ones. Nixon to Kapler, Walker to Bellhorn, Garciaparra to Reese -- that's a third of the lineup. And big drops in quality too. Add Damon to Crespo, and you're almost talking half. It's quite possible that once everyone is healthy this team still won't produce like it did last year, but we really can't evaluate that now. They're just missing too much.

4. Link-based humor: Do you think Terry Adams has to ask dead people if he stinks? They look the same you see.

5. Francona likes to keep things interesting. In the 7th, he had Kapler on first, 2 out, and decided to hit McCarty for Reese. The Ninth is all for getting Pokey out of the batter's box whenever possible, but this wasn't the best time. One on, two out is hardly a peak scoring chance, and against right-handed pitching Diamond Dave slugs a dynamic .405. All of a sudden he's going to rope a double off the wall? Nope. The chance of his producing a run in that situation was not such that he should have appeared in the game. And once he came in for Reese, Francona was stuck. With only one backup on the bench, when Pokey left the game Crespo would be in it to stay. No one else could play the position. The shortstop could only be hit for once then. Wouldn't you rather wait for a decisive moment to hit for your worst player? (The Ninth asks a question it already knows the answer to.)

6. Either the Red Sox staff has a different notion of "injured" than they used to, or this is one feeble team. Ramiro Mendoza, Scott Williamson, Mike Timlin, Nomar Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon. All have been unable to play at some point this season because of mild strains, creaky limbs, or ouchie ouches that have been described as "not that serious", but "worth a few days off". Obviously Nomar and Trot really needed some time. The rest of these guys might be getting babied though. Damon, Willy, and Mendoza have all said they could play. Sure, better safe than sorry, but these games count too, and we really need those guys. Bobby Jones almost lost the game yesterday because Francona wouldn't go to Williamson. Could he really not pitch, or was it being overly cautious? I know what'll make me sorry, losing a game I don't have to.

7. More on Dave McCarty. In his second at-bat of the game, he found Cesar The Great on 2nd base with nobody out. I was shocked as you were. Bottom of the 9th, Boston down one, this is the game. McCarty's job here, his absolute must, was to move Crespo over to third. Groundball to second, groundball to first, fly ball to right -- job done, pat on the back, someone else drives him in. Problem is, you almost never see an outside pitch in this situation, and it's hard to push the ball the other way. McCarty was facing Ligtenberg though, who relies on a slider that most often cuts away. So there's a chance. On 1-0, Dave gets that slider on the outer half. Perfect pitch to shoot to second on the ground. What does he do? Swings for the fences, because he's, you know, a real power threat, and misses. Oy. 1-1. On 2-1, Ligtenberg improbably throws another slider away, and the always keen McCarty takes the pitch for a strike. No Dave, don't want to go after that one -- you might accidentally do your job. The count later goes full, and sure enough, McCarty gets another pitch away, but off the plate. He lunges for it, tries to pull, and misses entirely. Bad approach, bad results, bad play. And this guy pinch hit for some before? Thank goodness for Bellhorn.

8. Mark Malaska pitched like heck, but he's not much of a fielder. After being called to clean up the Bobby Jones Special (8 pitches, two walks, no outs), Malaska got a bouncer back to the mound for the easiest double play in the book of double plays. But he double clutched and threw late to second, so they only got one. That's really a play you have to make. But he pitched brilliantly and got out of it. The Ninth, while somewhat annoyed, is intrigued.

9.Ortizzle. For Shizzle.