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September 19, 2007
ART MARTONE: Sox choosing to look the big picture
BY ART MARTONE
Journal Sports Editor
If your travels took you out of range of sports talk radio yesterday — any sports talk radio, anywhere in New England — allow me to provide this public service. The focus could be summed up in two words:
With “Terry Francona, Managerial Decisions Of” as a prominent subtext.
And that’s understandable because, on the face of it, Francona’s decision to stick with Gagne during the Blue Jays’ three-run rally in the eighth inning Tuesday night was indefensible. The game passed approximately three checkpoints where the call could have gone to Jonathan Papelbon for a four-out save, and Francona ignored all of them. His explanation afterwards — “That’s (Gagne’s) inning to get out of. There are a lot of long-term reasons to keep him out there and have success.’’ — rang hallow with much of the fan base, since this isn’t a long-term time of year.
Or is it? Are the advantages of finishing first so overwhelming that it’s worth a pedal-to-the-metal push to make sure it happens, consequences be damned?
History tells us no. It’s not that finishing first wouldn’t be a good thing, or that there are no benefits. But if the choice is finishing first, or making sure players are as healthy as they can be / pitching rotation is in order / bullpen usage is set heading into the postseason, it’s obvious Francona — and, presumably, the Red Sox brass — feels the latter outweighs the former.
Start with the assumption the Sox are a lock for the postseason. Barring a never-before-seen collapse, that’s true. Their magic number for clinching a playoff spot is three if the Sox lose, two if they win. They should have their ticket to the dance punched before the weekend is over.
In that light, Francona’s decisions become more understandable. Were the season actually on the line, Coco Crisp would probably have started last night. Kevin Youkilis might have. David Ortiz wouldn’t be getting a day off tomorrow in Tampa Bay, as he’s been promised. Even Manny Ramirez might feel more a tad more urgency to get back into the lineup, though trying to guess along with Manny Ramirez is truly a fool’s errand.
Some, however, feel the season is on the line. The Red Sox have led the A.L. East — and by a pretty overwhelming margin most of the way — since late April. Losing the division title, and to the Yankees to boot, would make the whole thing a failure to these folks, wild card or no wild card. The time for rest is over, they say. Get out there. Now.
But to what end? All of these players — and more that we don’t know of, probably — are hurting. Playing through pain is an admirable trait as far as sports fans are concerned, but it’s not conducive to healing. If time off now means they’ll be healthier, even if just a little bit, in two weeks when the playoffs start, is that a fair trade?
Francona thinks it is.
The all-but-clinched playoff spot gives him that luxury. That’s why Clay Buchholz pitched last night: So that Daisuke Matzusaka and Curt Schilling got a little extra time off heading into the postseason. And why Gagne was left out to dry Tuesday night: So the Sox can determine if he’s ever going to be the eighth-inning bridge to Papelbon they envisioned he’d be when they traded for him.
What you surrender when you play it like this is short-term success, which may cost the Sox the division championship. It probably won’t — they’re still in good shape as the season nears the wire — but it could. What that means, in concrete terms, is that it would also cost them home-field advantage in the playoffs.
But in 2006, the teams without home-field advantage won six of the seven postseason series. According to ESPN, teams with the home-field edge have won only 54% of the time since the playoff system was instituted in 1969. And we don’t have to recite the list of wild-card teams — ’06 Cardinals, ’04 Red Sox, ’03 Marlins, ’02 Angels, ’97 Marlins — that have won the World Series, do we?
The Sox’ position: The advantage of that extra home game won’t mean anything if the team isn’t in the best possible condition to play it. So quietly and without fanfare, they’ve made it clear through their actions that getting their team into the best possible condition — and not necessarily finishing ahead of the Yankees — is priority one.
Maybe you agree with that; maybe you don’t. If you’re a Red Sox fan and there’s an insufferable Yankee follower crowing in your ear about a typical Boston collapse, you definitely don’t.
Doesn’t matter. That’s the path they’ve chosen.
Posted by Art Martone at 6:33 PM | Permalink
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BY SEAN McADAM
Journal Sports Writer
TORONTO -- Terry Francona said Manny Ramirez' strained left oblique remains an issue. Ramirez hasn't played this month.
''It grabs at him a bit (when he runs),'' said Francona Wednesday afternoon. ''We're stuck there. He's taking (batting practice), but there's some reluctance to let it loose. It's frustrating that we don't have him in the lineup, but he's not ready to play.''
Francona was asked, given Ramirez' sometimes sketchy injury history -- former trainer Chris Correnti has admitted that when Ramirez didn't want to play, he would cite hamstring soreness as an excuse -- if there was a reason to be skeptical.
''I understand, over the course of the last few years, there have been some hiccups,'' said Francona, ''because I've been around for some of them. But he's trying his best to be out there.''
Posted by Sean McAdam at 6:01 PM | Permalink
Okajima ailing, unavailable Wednesday
BY SEAN McADAM
Journal Sports Writer
TORONTO -- People wondering why Hideki Okajima wasn't warming up during Eric Gagne's meltdown Tuesday night got their answer Wednesday afternoon.
Okajima, said Terry Francona, has been unavailable to pitch for physical reasons. The left-hander last worked Friday night against the Yankees at Fenway Park, when he gave up four runs in one-third of an inning and was the main -- though not the only -- culprit in the Sox' squandering a 7-2, eighth-inning lead in their 8-7 loss to New York. Francona gave no details of Okajima's problem, but it sounds like simple fatigue.
Okajima did some throwing Tuesday, and Francona said he would not be available Wednesday night.
Posted by Art Martone at 4:27 PM | Permalink
Wednesday night lineups
Jacoby Ellsbury cf
Dustin Pedroia 2b
David Ortiz dh
Mike Lowell 3b
J.D. Drew rf
Jason Varitek c
Eric Hinske 1b
Bobby Kielty lf
Julio Lugo ss
Clay Buchholz p
Vernon Wells cf
Matt Stairs 1b
Alex Rios rf
Frank Thomas dh
Aaron Hill 2b
Gregg Zaun c
Adam Lind lf
Russ Adams 3b
Ray Olmedo ss
Jesse Litsch p
-- SEAN McADAM
Posted by Art Martone at 4:23 PM | Permalink
Projo SoxTalk with McAdam: Anyone but Gagne
Click here to listen to today's edition of projo SoxTalk with Sean McAdam. The topics: Terry Francona's decision to stick with Eric Gagne in the eighth; Gagne's state of mind; what are the set-up alternatives? Clay Buchholz as a possible eighth-inning man; Jon Lester's impressive start; and the mounting toll of injuries.
Here are some excerpts from Sean's comments.
Francona's decision: "I thought it was a mistake. I understand the long-term need to get Gagne back on track and [to have him] know that the Red Sox have confidence in him in that spot, and I think it's true they're a better team, obviously, with a dependable Eric gagne in the seventh or eighth inning than they are without. That's why they made the trade back on July 31. But to me, it's one thing to take that stance when you have, say, a five- or six-game lead with 11 or 12 to go, and it's quite something else to do it when the lead is shrinking and you run the risk of losing your rather tenuous hold on first place that youve had since April. I was perplexed. I understand what he was doing, I just don't think this is the time to be putting faith in players over results, because they haven't wrapped anything up yet."
Gagne's reaction: "To talk to him afterward -- his voice was, as I wrote [in today's Journal] barely above a whisper. He looked almost in a daze, couldn't believe this had happened, and he just seems a mess right now. I'm not sure there's much rationale for sending him out in those spots when he clearly is struggling with his own confidence."
On the team's health issues: "To me, that gets back to trying to wrap this up as quickly as possible, and the benefits [of doing so]. I'm certainly not suggesting that they're not trying to do that. But on one hand it seems as if Francona is more interested in getting his bullpen set up for the postseason, than in necessarily winning games. But if you win games and lock up the division, which is now going to take some time given what the math dictates, then that gives you the opportunity to not only set up your starting pitching -- which they couldn't do in 2005 and had to go with Matt Clement in Game One [of the ALDS] -- but it also gives some rest to guys who are scuffling, like Ortiz."
Posted by Mike McDermott at 10:18 AM | Permalink
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Baseball Today: Wednesday, September 19
|TOPIC FOR TODAY: If your travels take you out of range of talk radio -- any talk radio, anywhere in New England -- allow me to provide this public service. The focus will be summed up in two words:
With "Terry Francona, Managerial Decisions Of" as a prominent subtext.
What you'll hear from the fans regarding Gagne (left, CP Photo) was articulated as well as anyone by Dan Lamothe on his Red Sox Monster blog.
There's a NSFW line I can't cross here so I can't link to good friend Allan Wood's take on Francona, but you'll probably be hearing versions of it from your Red Sox fan friends all day. (You can go there -- Joy of Sox blog -- if you'd like; be forewarned if salty language gives you the vapors.) Back on September 6, the good folks at Sons of San Horn started a thread entitled We're not talking about Terry Francona (and that's a good thing)
, which meant he was doing his job so effectively that none of his decisions were ever in question. Well, they're talking about him now and it's not such a good thing
. Even so, many of the posters understood the overall reasoning behind last night's decision to stick with Gagne, and it's a fascinating discussion . . . far more fascinating, I might add, than what you're likely to hear today on the radio.
And that sigh of relief you hear is from Foxboro, since it appears Gagne and Francona have managed to finally place Videogate on a back burner.
SO WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED? Sean McAdam has the details of a crushing 4-3 loss in Toronto that got away when the Red Sox -- attempting to get Gagne ready for his anticipated postseason role of eighth-inning bridge to Jonathan Papelbon -- stuck with what we media types would call "the embattled reliever" through a two-out, five-batter implosion that went walk/single/walk/walk/double, allowing three Toronto runs to score. Sean quotes Francona as saying he left Gagne in because ''that’s (Gagne’s) inning to get out of. There are a lot of long-term reasons to keep him out there and have success,'' an indication the Sox are still thinking big picture at a time when the division title is very much in play. There is, as you would expect, much angst in Red Sox Nation over this philosophy -- especially since it's the despised Yankees making the charge to the top -- but the Boston Herald's Tony Massarotti says the Sox ''are in tune-up mode with regard to the postseason . . . [They] are not about to sacrifice potential postseason success simply so they can say they won the division.'' Since any postseason success they will have depends on Gagne succeeding in the role he was in last night, Francona's decision becomes more understandable.
MORE BIG PICTURE STUFF: One of the reasons Clay Buchholz is pitching tonight is because the Red Sox are lining up their pitching for the playoffs. (projo.com) Buchholz is rested and, he says, ready to go. (Boston Herald) Speaking of pitching and the playoffs, Jim Donaldson doesn't think the Sox have enough of it to win in the postseason. (projo.com)
INTERESTING TAKE: Gagne seemed to be overthrowing as the inning progressed last night, which led to a loss of command, and Alex Cora, who was a teammate of Gagne's in Los Angeles (where Gagne was as dominant a reliever as ever pitched), thinks he knows why. Gagne, he points out, hasn't had to deal with failure very much in his career which led him to get ''away from certain things that make him successful.'' (Boston Herald)
GUTTING IT THROUGH: The Red Sox' lineup is depleted -- Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and Coco Crisp are all on the sidelines -- so David Ortiz is playing through knee pain that normally would keep him on the bench. (Boston Herald)
STILL HURTING: Ramirez is still feeling pain from the injury to his oblique muscle and isn't ready to get back in the lineup. (Boston Globe)
MEANWHILE . . . everything's coming up roses in Yankee Universe. The previously declared dead Mike Mussina stifled the Orioles -- not that that's a big trick, but it seemed beyond Moose's capabilities not so long ago -- and the Yank offense continued its obliteration of substandard pitching in a 12-0 win that pulled them to within 2 1/2 games of the Red Sox. (New York Post) How well are things going for them now? Even Doug Mientkiewicz is chipping in. (New York Daily News) YU is intoxicated with the notion of overtaking the Red Sox, but the New York Post's Jay Greenberg says that shouldn't be their first priority; now that the playoffs are all but assured, the Yanks need some rest before the postseason starts, and they shouldn't empty the tank in an effort to catch, and then hold off, Boston.
DESPITE ALL THAT . . . the Red Sox are still No. 1 in SI.com's Power Rankings.
ET TU, COWBOY? Kevin Millar, of all people, says the Yankees are the team to beat. (New York Daily News)
ANTICLIMACTIC ENDING: Preliminary versions of the 2008 schedule have the Yankees closing the regular season in Boston on Sept. 28, meaning the final regular-season game in Yankee Stadium history -- the new stadium should be ready for Opening Day 2009 -- won't be the last game of the year. (New York Daily News) Yankee officials were surprised, since they assumed they'd be closing the season at home and, according to the Daily News, ''had planned a host of festivities around the event.'' But an MLB executive noted that the Mets also are opening a new stadium in 2009 and therefore will be playing their last game at Shea in 2008. Since the New York teams can't be home at the same time, one of them would have to be away the final weekend.
A.L. RACES: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto has declared the A.L. Central race to be over, and it probably is after the Indians increased their lead over the Tigers to 6 1/2 games with another come-from-behind win over the reeling Tigers (Akron Beacon Journal) The Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg writes the Tigers' obituary in both the division and wild-card races, and he's probably right, too; Detroit's now five games behind the Yankees in the loss column and the teams appear headed in completely opposite directions. The Indians' focus now should be securing the best record in the American League, and they're tied with the Red Sox and Angels in the loss column. Los Angeles of Anaheim kept pace with Cleveland, and gained on Boston, with another one-run win over Tampa Bay. (Los Angeles Daily News)
END OF THE LINE? It appears that wherever the Angels go this postseason they'll have to get there without Bartolo Colon, who apparently has played his last game for LA of A. (Los Angeles Times)
N.L. RACES: Normally we just link to the stories of playoff-important games, but the Mets' collapse deserves some notice. They lost their fifth straight last night as they blew a 7-3 lead in their 9-8 loss to the Nationals (New York Post), and the Phillies are now only 1 1/2 games back after they beat the Cardinals in 14 innings. (Philadelphia Inquirer) And FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal says don't listen to the be-calm/all-is-well bleatings of Willie Randolph; the Mets, he asserts, are in real trouble.
As for the rest of it, the Brewers beat the Astros (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel); the Dodgers lost a doubleheader to the Rockies (Los Angeles Times), all but eliminating them from the playoff chase in both the N.L. West and the wild card; the Cubs lost to the Reds (Chicago Tribune); the Diamondbacks beat the Giants (Arizona Republic), and the Padres beat the Pirates (San Diego Union-Tribune).
To see how all those games affected the races, check out the divisional standings and wild-card standings. (Projo Stats)
AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING: Even if they hold on, the Mets may not have Orlando Hernandez for the playoffs. (New York Daily News)
HERE'S THE REASON: Astros manager Cecil Cooper called commissioner Bud Selig to explain why Houston is starting three rookie pitchers in its series against the Brewers. (Houston Chronicle) Apparently, some members of the Cubs' front office -- Chicago is battling Milwaukee for the N.L. Central title -- complained.
WE LIKEY: Fans in Milwaukee have flocked to Miller Park in record numbers this year as the team surged into contention. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
QUICKLY: Carlos Guillen says he's willing to move off shortstop but only if the Tigers get a Gold Glover to replace him, which -- as far as Guillen is concerned, at least -- would preclude Detroit's much-rumored acquisition of Jack Wilson (Detroit Free Press) . . . The Rangers were surprised at the length of Vicente Padilla's suspension for his role in Sunday's fight with Nick Swisher of the A's (Dallas Morning News) . . . And the Mets' Marlon Anderson was upset at his two-game suspension for arguing balls and strikes, and then flinging his helmet, Saturday night (Newsday) . . . The Brewers are trying to convince closer Francisco Cordero to re-sign with Milwaukee (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).
OLD FRIENDS: David Wells says he'd consider retiring if he won a championship ring this year. With the way the Dodgers are going, it looks like he'll be back in 2008, at least if someone wants him (Los Angeles Times).
-- ART MARTONE
Posted by Art Martone at 6:38 AM | Permalink
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