Thursday, October 07, 2004

Sweep the Leg

Is the Ninth so smart that he can actually see the future? Simply put, yes. I'm not sure I've ever been arrogant enough to quote myself, but last Thursday I wrote the following about Pedro: "wouldn't it make sense that a guy who tries to reserve his best for the late innings would do the same for late (season) games?". Wow. He predicts a revitalized Pedro, and we get a revitalized Pedro. I'm also crackerjack with horoscopes and dog racing. Anyhoots, it's impossible to know if Pedro was actively holding back energy in his late season starts, but Game 2's appearance against the Angels certainly suggests it. He hit 94 or above more times in one game than he seemingly has all year, and had a solid curve and change to match. The only difference between this Pedro and vintage was the drop off in precision. We learned once and for all last night that #45 still has the 95, but it isn't effortless. He was rearing back to get that juice, and his control suffered. The fastball he threw to Guerrero with the bases loaded had mid-90's heat, but he didn't have anything left to guide it to the corner of the plate. It sat fatly, and Vlad turned it around. But that's what MVP's do, and heck, Martinez shouldn't have been in that jam in the first place. The Red Sox are playing so free and loose right now, and with Pedro looking determined to show his mettle, I wouldn't bet against them. They're a confident club right now, and they're in a groove. Watch out.

Attention must be paid to Terry Francona's management last night. An absolutely deft, downright Torreian handling of a crucial game. Game 2, in that situation, was equal to a Game 7. Going up 2-0 with two games coming at Fenway is fat lady territory. Anything that could be done to pull away had to be tried. And to Terry's credit, that's exactly how he managed. In the 7th, with the score tied, Mueller reached on an infield hit. Almost before he can get to first, Roberts is there to pinch run. Would Terry do this so early in the game normally? Losing his best pinch runner, replacing his top 3rd baseman, weakening his defense -- all to try to squeeze one run out in a game that has three full innings left? I would say almost certainly not, but it was the right move here. The fact is, you don't know what's going to happen in the 8th or 9th. One run probably won't be enough and you'll likely regret losing Mueller, but you have to take that chance. The possibility that that one run could put you up by two games is worth the risk. It turned out the Sox scored in the inning, but Roberts wasn't involved. So Francona had spent his speedster and a starter for nothing -- but it was still the right move. As we like to say, just because it failed, doesn't make it wrong.

Terry also managed his bullpen expertly. When Pedro was tiring, he had people up. Once Boston got the lead, Martinez had guys warming behind him. How many times have we seen them wait to give up a baserunner before calling the pen? Not in a big game. Then, once Pedey had gassed his way out of the 7th, and every phone in New England was buzzing with the question of "he won't bring him back out, will he?", Terry made a gutsy call. Yes he would pull Pedro, because that was obvious, but he replaced him with Timlin instead of Myers. Camo Mike had gone two innings the night before, and a lefty seemed the more logical call against left-handed Erstad. But Francona checked his numbers, saw that Darren had a robust .375 OPS against Timlin, and went with it. He also knew that Garret Anderson, up two hitters later, had horrendous numbers against Myers and it was better to save him for that at-bat. So Francona made his moves, and they ended up working, thanks largely to a thrilling Timlin K of Vlad Guerrero (on the replay notice that he cuts the ball instead of sinking it, and that makes all the difference). It seems so obvious and clear now, but most managers wouldn't do that. The Ninth promises. So many skippers would've just defaulted and brought in a lefty for Erstad. Even though every stat they have tells them it's wrong, they would've done it anyway. They either don't have the guts or don't trust their own convictions, but I insist that at least two thirds of major league managers would've called Embree, even though Erstad is 3 for 4 with a home run against him. In the late innings, lefties pitch to lefties and righties pitch to righties, no matter what the stats show. And if Timlin had gotten clocked in the eighth, Terry would've been toasted for it. Why didn't he bring in the lefty, wasn't Timlin tired out, shouldn't he have saved him the night before, yada yada. Francona knew he'd get fired at, and went with his mind anyway. That takes guts, and he gets our kudos. Good work Tito.

A few bullets:

- Several fantastic AB's by Sox batters last night. Manny's sac fly against K-Rod was expertly earned, as was Millar's single before Tek's homer and Trot's RBI in the eighth. Really tough battles against great pitching. Bodes well I tell you.

- What a psychological lift for Boston that they were able to score off Anaheim's vaunted relievers. Should this series get frisky, that'll make a big diff down the road.

- I love that Terry was warming Arroyo in the 8th just in case. Get the W at all costs. This ain't 162.

- Sweep the leg Johnny, sweep the leg.