Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Rotation Nation

The Red Sox have been in the playoffs for a total of 18 hours, and as Jimy Williams would say "uh oh, there's a problem, there's a problem in Boston."

Going into the 2003 postseason, the Red Sox were viewed as perhaps the most dangerous playoff opponent out there. Jayson Stark, Peter Gammons, Tom Verducci, they all said keep an eye on Boston. Why? Because they had the one-armed equalizer. Pedro Martinez, especially in a five game series, they felt, could take anyone down. Give him the ball a few times and gas up the plane. But if you listen to the radio and read the papers in 2004, Pedey is a five minute chat from starting just once in the ALDS, and doing it only after Curt has tackled Game 1. Well if what they said was true then, why isn't now? Of course Pedro's 1-1, 4.82 in last year's playoffs didn't help, but the reality is, it wasn't really true then. Pedro didn't have the stuff of a shutdown #1 anymore, and Sox fans knew it. The interesting development is that now, Curt does. So the decision seems simple, and even The Ninth, normally so considered and deliberate, jumped quickly to resolution that Schill must go first. But here's the thing...

The truest statement that can be made about Game 1 is that someone is going to win it. One team will be up 1-0, another be down 0-1, and tomorrow they'll eat lunch. That is to not say, of course, that it doesn't matter who the Red Sox start, but it only matters for one game. An bad choice in Game 2 however can matter for the series. Joe Torre has always said that the biggest contest in a set of 5 is the second one, and as always, he's right. Being down or up after one is of little consequence, but you take that to two and you've got problems. Every Game 2 is a tide turner. You battle your way into the series or you're one game from elimination. That's consequences. That's when you need your best starter. Say The Ninth starts Game 1. An unconventional move, but we've seen Francona do worse. I plod out to the mound, throw up a few of the patented deuce knockas, and the Twins get a quick 5 spot. It would be more, but these guys ain't Puckett and Hrbek. Santana is going against me (a bit of piling on if you ask me), he spins a gem, and the Sox are in the hole. In a gallant post-game speech, The Ninth accepts all blame and insists that I should never have promised Francona I was capable of pitching major league baseball. Terry agrees, but says he would do the same thing again if given the chance. That's Tito for you. But here it is - even with a Game 1 that ridiculous, you can still leave Minnesota 1-1. You throw a shutout tomorrow and you're right back in it. In fact, you have a chance to win the series on your home field. Let an overweight internet writer pitch Game 1 and still be even in 24 hours.

That's the power that Game 2 holds. If you lose it, you're in a big time mess, if you win it, you're made in the shade. That's where I want my best pitcher. Might you just want to put Schilling out there in Game 1 and hope for the win? Sure, but this is insurance. Johan Santana is the '88 Hershiser right now. He has not been hit hard in two months. Send out Pedro, hope he gets fired up, and see if he can duel. If he doesn't, you know you've got your real ace going tomorrow. You may be giving yourself a worse chance to win Game 1, but you're helping yourself win one of two. And that's all you really want. It's unconventional, and I'm not sure the Sox would try it, but it's worth considering. Honestly, if it wasn't for Game 5 implications, I'd do it in a second.