Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thank You Tito for Not Being Joe Torre

One thing I really like about Terry Francona - and probably Joe Torre's greatest detriment in his later NY years - is his understanding of the fact that you won't win every game. This might seem a little blasphemous, but I think last night is the perfect example.

Heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Sox were down 9-7 with the bottom third of their order due up in the ninth and the middle portion of their bullpen already gutted due to Bucholz not making it out of the 4th. Realistically, the chances of them winning this game were not the greatest. As such, Tito had a decision to make. He could either roll the dice with Mike Timlin who is officially in year three of, "why do the Sox still employ him if he can't get guys out?" status and hope that he can somehow hold the game at 9-7, or he could go with Manny Delcarmen or Hideki Okajima, his eighth inning guys of choice. Thing is, both Delcarmen and Okajima pitched the night before.

If the Sox have the lead, he definitely calls on one of those two, and if the game is tied then maybe he summons one of them. But they were losing, and I think Tito knew deep down that the chances of the bottom third of the order scraping together a couple of runs off of Mariano Rivera were not too great. Possible of course, but the odds were highly stacked against it. Knowing this, he figured he'd see one more time if Timlin was really as washed up and useless as he has appeared to date with the understanding that they probably weren't going to win anyway so he may as well see if he could steal a scoreless inning from Timlin - and just as imporant a night of rest for Delcarmen and Okajima - and then maybe the team could improbably rally in the ninth. Of course Timlin got crushed per usual and the Sox lost a game that they might have normally lost by two or three runs by six. A loss is a loss though and while that eighth inning abomination changed the ninth inning from "maybe we can win" to "let's take some hacks and get back to the hotel" the bottom line is that a loss was most likely coming regardless, the one that took place just looked a little uglier than it could have.

Because the Sox pitching staff currently consists of 4 guys (everyone but Beckett) where you can put the odds at 50/50 of them making it into the 6th inning on any given start - and I'd put Lester's odds at more like 25/75 (making it/not making it) on account of his quest to master the 30 pitch inning - you are going to need a lot from your bullpen throughout the entire year. As such, any night you can rest your three best bullpen options even at the expense of a relatively tight game exploding into a laugher you have to do that. If in said game your worst and oldest reliever finally proves to his manager once and for all that he should be put out to pasture and only used in games where the spread is ten either way, then all the better. So, if last night's game forces Tito to relegate Timlin to the bottom of the bullpen totem pole or better yet gives the Red Sox the ammo they need to forcefully put him on the DL then isn't it all worth it? Won't that potentially save some games in the long run? Granted we all know that a Tito hallmark is his rabid loyalty to his players so the chances of this actually happening are slight, but it should be noted that last year he did buck tradition in this sense in benching Coco in the ALCS when it became painfully obvious he was an automatic out in favor of Ellsbury. Because of this, maybe there is hope this year of Timlin officially taking up the position of Mopup. Keeping all of this in mind, not only do I think Tito made the right tactical decision in not using Okajima or Delcarmen last night, I also am holding out hope that there could be a silver lining contained therein which is no more Timlin in relatively close games unless absolutely necessary. We shall see.

I've been wanting to say that since last night. Now with that out of the way, three more thoughts about the game:

1. Despite his ugly line, I actually thought Clay looked pretty good after the first inning. In the fateful fourth he was victimized by a couple of tough calls behind the plate that didn't go his way, a bloop hit, and a classic Derek Jeter moment as he took a tough fastball the other way for a two run single where you must credit the hitter and not blame the pitcher. If you ever wonder why that guy will be a first ballot Hall of Famer or why he strikes fear into opponents whenever he is up with runners on base despite having moderate power, well that is the reason. Regardless, I think the numbers lie here about Bucholz's start and I actually came away encouraged.

2. Make no mistake about it, if Joe Torre were managing in Tito's shoes last night he absolutely would have used Delcarmen or Okajima in the game in that situation. Maybe the Yankees would have won and maybe they would not have - again, odds are highly in the favor of taking the L - but you know either way that Torre would have put in his Tom Gordon/Paul Quantrill Memorial Late Inning Reliever I Will Burn Out by August. Whenever it is documented that relievers were terrified to go to the Yankees because they thought Joe Torre would burn them out and possibly ruin their career you probably want to take note of that model and do the exact opposite. Francona did that last night and I appreciate it.

3. Tim Mcclelland's delayed ball/strike calls last night bordered on the absurd and were a perfect example of an umpire trying to make himself part of the game. I found his entire act to be completely obnoxious and I did not blame Manny at all for snapping at him early in the game. Yes, the 3-2 pitch he got called out on was a strike, but why did Mcclelland have to wait until Manny had already started his trot down to first to ring him up. This was not a case of Manny tossing the bat and immediately heading to first after the ball landed in the mit either. Manny paused for a second at home seemingly waiting to get rung up, then upon not seeing a call started down to first only for Mcclelland to make the strike three call after Manny had left the batter's box. If this was not a case of an ump trying to show up a player than I do not know what else would constitute that, but he kept the act going for the entire game and I found it thoroughly obnoxious and grating.

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