June 2, 2004

Catching Up. I watched four Red Sox games yesterday -- zipping through tapes of Saturday, Sunday and Monday -- and then watching the Red Sox lose to the Angels 7-6. Some quick notes:

Saturday -- Mariners 5, Red Sox 4: You always hear that a knuckleballer can lose his stuff in a blink of an eye; pitches go from unhittable to flat and back again. Wakefield seemed to have that trouble in this game. He allowed 8 hits and 5 runs in the first 2.2 innings. Then he settled down and retired 12 of the next 14 batters on only 38 pitches. But with 2 outs in the 7th, his control deserted him. He walked two and after a passed ball, intentionally walked a third (none of the walks scored, however). ... There was a strong wind blowing in and from left to right most of the afternoon. In the 3rd inning, Mirabelli was absolutely dumbfounded that his shot to deep left was caught at the warning track. In the next inning, Manny blasted one through the wind and off the Sports Authority sign above the Monster seats (the home run actually hit in the "O" in "Sports" -- like a bullseye).

I really liked the move Tito made in the 6th. Mirabelli had doubled home Millar, cutting the Seattle lead to 5-4. With shortstop Crespo up, Reese went in to run for Mirabelli and Varitek pinch-hit for Crespo. Boston couldn't get the run home (Tek flew out and Damon K'd), but it was a smart move -- getting the speedy Reese on 2nd as the tying run and removing Crespo's "bat" from the lineup -- without burning a player. And while I don't think the Red Sox really need another slow 1B/DH type like Andy Dominique, especially once the injured players are back, it's nice having a 3rd catcher to provide that type of flexibility.

Sunday, Red Sox 9, Seattle 7 (12): I made a list of all the offensive contributions after this game in an earlier post. Not much else to add, but it was great seeing Dominique get his first major league hit and RBI on his game-tying single in the 8th. Also great hustle by Youkilis to score from second on the wild pitch/catcher's error in the 7th inning. ... I followed the game on the web and watching the tape of the 12th inning, I actually wondered, as McCarty worked the count to 3-0, he's not going to hit a home run again, is he? ... He did.

Monday, Orioles 13, Red Sox 4: This game is best forgotten, but I don't think it had to turn into a disaster. Although he trailed 2-0, Lowe didn't pitch badly through the first 5 innings (one run came on a cheapo HR down by the right field pole). And considering Lowe's performances this season, it was probably unwise to expect too much more. Foulke had thrown 30 pitches the day before, but Timlin (12 pitches) and Embree (2) should have been ready. ... Lowe developed a blister on his thumb in the 6th or a pre-existing blister burst and he began bleeding. He walked Lopez on a full count and allowed a single to Surhoff and an RBI-double to Matos. At that point, the trainer came out quickly and the pen got busy. If Francona had wanted to pull Lowe here, wouldn't the relief pitcher get as much time as he needed? (Blisters do count as injuries, right? If not, Boston could have sent each infielder separately to the mound to stall.)

Anyway, Francona left Lowe in. Was he hoping for a ground ball/double play? Who knows, but it's better to yank Lowe a little early than a little late. So with his control obviously gone, and wiping his bloody fingers on his pant leg after every pitch, Lowe walked Bigbie to load the bases. Still no call to the pen. Lowe then walked Hairston on five pitches, forcing a run home and giving Baltimore a 4-0 lead. Then Tito brought the hook. And who did he bring in -- at a point when the O's rally absolutely needed to be stopped? Why, "Everyday" Lenny DiNardo, of course -- who with 4 pitches (ball to Roberts, 3-run double, ball to Mora, 2-run home run) -- turned the game into an 9-0 disaster. Francona made a huge blunder letting Lowe pitch to Bigbie and Hairston and it make zero sense to rely on DiNardo to keep the game close when there were better options available.

There are tough decisions a manager has to make where even if the move backfires, you can't really criticize or second-guess him for it. It was the smart move, but the players simply didn't get the job done. ... Then there are moves like pulling Lowe and bringing in one of the pen's top arms to keep a game within reach. Those two decisions seemed obvious, not only after they both blew up in Tito's face, but at the time. ... Overall, Francona has done a very good job so far, but some of his decisions on when to remove starters and his bullpen management leave me scratching my head.

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