Results tagged ‘ Terry Francona ’

How To Lose The American League Championship Series

When Terry Francona managed the Red Sox to the 2007 World Series, his greatest contribution came two years ago this Friday. Down two games to one to the Indians in the ALCS and facing a fifth game in Cleveland, Francona resisted the temptation to start Josh Beckett on three days’ rest and instead stuck to his plan, and Game Four starter Tim Wakefield. Wakefield got lit up like Christmas, and much of Boston was ready for a new manager for their Nine. And then the Sox, buoyed by Beckett’s five-hitter over eight (with eleven strikeouts), won Game Five, and ran the table right through the World Series sweep of Colorado.

And yet Joe Girardi is mulling starting CC Sabathia on short rest in Game Four in Anaheim, then coming back with him on full rest for Game Seven. It is mighty tempting with a horse like Sabathia – as it was tempting for Francona two years ago. And the record book warns Girardi to dismiss the idea despite its obvious siren-like call, and its additional charms (like being able to keep Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, and Chad Gaudin off the line-up card).
Like all men, Bobby Cox, who by rights should be elected to the Hall of Fame next winter if he goes through with his plan to retire after next season, has had one Achilles Heel that he’s never overcome. Coxy has always been convinced that when all the chips were on the table his starters could do the job on three days’ rest, even as the statistics accumulated, proving they could not.
During Atlanta’s unprecedented, probably unmatchable playoff run of 1991 through 2005, Cox tried the short-rest thing nineteen times. The Braves lost thirteen of those games.
Every defeat has a thousand parents, but at minimum, starting a pitcher prematurely is a very heavy straw meeting a very weak camel. More over, all Cox’s successes came before 1995, when Steve Avery and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were all young and elastic. Cox would go on to try it six more times between 1996 and 2005, and the Braves didn’t win even one of the games. Tim Hudson couldn’t do it, nor Kevin Millwood, nor Greg Maddux, nor Smoltz, nor Glavine – and Glavine tried, twice.
If those stats aren’t a bright enough white line, there’s one more. Cox did it nine times in the World Series, and the Braves won only three of those games. You might get away with it – Beckett did once – but eventually the odds start mounting, and sooner or later it will cost you the playoff series, or the whole ball of wax.
Girardi can point, seemingly with confidence, to Sabathia and say that his personal track record is far more relevant than what Steve Avery did or didn’t do a generation ago. CC’s last three regular season starts of 2008 were each on short rest and all he did was go 2-1 (and give up just one earned run in the loss) and pitch the Brewers into the playoffs. The snag, of course, was that they decided to go to the well again in Game Two of those playoffs against Phillies – Sabathia’s fourth consecutive start on three days’ rest. And by the time Dale Sveum had to come get him with two outs in the fourth, he was out of gas, and the Brewers were essentially out of the post-season. His line was as bad as imaginable:

Milwaukee Brewers IP H R ER BB SO HR BFP

Sabathia L(0-1) 3.2 6 5 5 4 5 1 21


Would he necessarily repeat that in Game Four against the Angels? Nope, not necessarily. But what might the impact be on his Game Seven start? And what if there was no need for one, and Girardi was then faced with the scenario of opening the World Series with him, again bringing him back in Game Four on short rest, with the dream of having him ready for Game Seven?
The more often you try it, the less likely it is to keep working. The last month of 2008 might as well have been the post-season for the Brewers and Sabathia. The first three times, he either won, or pitched well enough to win. Then the fourth time, everything ended. Game Four of the ALCS will effectively be attempt Number Five. There could be a sixth in the Series.
The Braves’ fifteen-year record was six wins and thirteen losses. At one point, it was six wins and seven losses. The time of Lew Burdette shutting out the Yankees twice in four days is more than half a century ago. It might as well have happened before the invention of electricity. CC Sabathia on three days’ rest – a dramatic, romantic concept. And a recipe for dramatic, decisive failure.

Something Happened To Him

The very first entry in this blog was about the spring training work of a young relief pitcher, so impressive that it inspired home plate ump Tim Tschida to come over to the pitcher’s bench and say it was the most remarkable thing he’d seen all spring. Daniel Bard had not only struck out the Tampa Bay side, but he had cleared 100 MPH four times, and, according to Tschida he had put one in each corner of the strike zone. 

“How can you resist the temptation to take him north?,” I asked Terry Francona. The Boston manager laughed. “He’s still so young. If something happened to him, it could be crushing. But you’ll see him by summer.” 
Tonight here at Yankee Stadium, something finally happened to Bard. 
Brought in to protect Boston’s lead after 31 innings without a run and 36 without an extra base hit, having logged a save, five holds and 42 strikeouts in his first 30 appearances, the rookie instead surrendered a blast to Johnny Damon, who seemingly began to swing as the ball left Bard’s hand. With all false modesty aside, I then turned to one of my oldest friends, ESPN Radio Network Senior Director/Executive Producer John Martin and said “if Damon can time him, Teixeira can time him.” Teixeira promptly timed him into the upper deck. 
And now Francona has more to worry about than being swept four games here and falling six-and-a-half out. He has to deal with Daniel Bard’s first “something” – his first big league loss – a pivotal moment in the kid’s career and his team’s season.

Neatness Counts

It is inexplicable to me that the Yankees hold the last surviving “Old Timers’ Day” – they used to be regular features in nearly every ballpark, and for a time constituted a kind of floating franchise, managed centrally and sending the veterans on virtual summer-long tours of parks in the majors and minors.

I’ve been attending them off-and-on since 1967 and thus got to see Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams get basehits (Williams repeatedly homered into the stands in batting practice at Fenway in ’84). Since 2001 I’ve been privileged to be the sidekick to Hall of Fame Announcer Bob Wolff as he announces the nostalgia-fest over the PA system at Yankee Stadium, and thus tomorrow’s Day is a source of great anticipation.
The best part is always the first-timers. They are not exclusively the just-retired, like Mike Mussina. Lindy McDaniel, so long an ex-Yankee that his last act was to be traded to Kansas City for Lou Piniella, will make his debut tomorrow, as will Jerry Narron, whom I hope to be able to note has, simply, the best penmanship in baseball, perhaps in baseball.
Think I’m kidding?
narron2.jpg
This was one of Narron’s line-up cards while serving as a coach in Texas – a 1998 piece. His work during his one year for Tito Francona in Boston is still treated with hushed reverence by the Sox skipper, who says he has kept some of Narron’s line-up cards. One will notice that besides the calligraphy, there is a boxscore quality to the reserves. The White Sox “extra men” include “Cmrn” and “Snpk” – Mike Cameron and Chris Snopek.
I may try to convince Jerry to fill out the lineups in my scorebook for the Old Timers’ game.

Managers (Updated)

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that annually, Terry Francona lets me sit with him, on the bench, during a spring training game. This is half out of friendship and half, I think, to remind me how little I actually understand about managing – or baseball itself – compared to the pros.

Having acknowledged that, and presented the caveat, I’d still like to point out that actual major league managers have done the following things in the last few days:
Mike Scioscia sent poor Brandon Wood back to the minors – having given him, I believe, three starts during two weeks in the bigs, during which he hit the ball with authority and acquitted himself well in the field – so he could bring back Reggie Willits on the premise that “some of the outfielders are a bit nicked up.” This after explaining that previous plans for Wood were scuttled because Gary Matthews had played so well, and despite the fact that Chone Figgins and even Wood himself can play the outfield. The logical extension of this utterly illogical handling of one of the game’s premier prospects must be that the Angels hope to waste all of Wood’s options and wind up selling him on waivers, or possibly to the Samsung team of the Korean League.
Joe Girardi benches Hideki Matsui against Jon Lester Monday, even though Matsui had been hot, and particularly so against lefties. He thus instead DH’s Jorge Posada, who promptly sends himself onto the DL, requiring Joe to pinch-hit for Posada with… Matsui.
And though the Diamondbacks might be the coldest team offensively in the majors, and though he has one guy who can play first and third, another who can play first and left, and a third who can play third and second (poorly), when facing Jeff Weaver in the latter’s first major league start since 2007, Bob Melvin leaves Tony Clark on his bench. Batter-Vs-Pitcher numbers are sometimes misleading. But Clark was 7-for-11 lifetime against Weaver with two homers. The D-Backs got five hits off Weaver.
What’s worse is, if early in the week, Melvin happened to stand on a piece of paper that had fallen from the stands with the words “Play Tony Clark against Weaver” written on it, and his team had scored a run during the inning, he might’ve made the line-up change out of superstition.
Managers know 50 times as much as we do. Just not every second.
 
Postscript: Melvin deserves less tweaking, and I recall my snark. Tony Clark was put on the disabled list this afternoon (Wednesday) with continuing wrist problems. Presumably Bob knew about this Tuesday. It certainly denies us a chance for Melvin to take a re-test: Clark has four career homers against the pitcher Arizona faces tomorrow night, Chris Young.

Rockies + Bullpenwinkle

The Closer Carousel never stops; the only true accomplishment is knowing when it’s going to start spinning dangerously like the merry-go-round at the end of Hitchcock’s “Strangers On A Train,” and if the carny is going to get to the shut-off valve in time or if the entire bullpen is going to get launched in the general direction of the cotton candy machine.

As remarked here earlier it’s obvious the Nationals are in the most turmoil at the moment, but one wonders if that situation might not straighten itself out quickly and be replaced by the chaos bubbling to the surface in Colorado. Manny Corpas has pitched himself out of the top job, out of the set-up job, and probably out of the majors. Huston Street has lost the job, won it anew, but hardly gotten a firm handle on the reins. Taylor Buchholz is clearly not near a return from injury (he was just shifted to the 60-Day DL). You’re left wondering if Jason Grilli will actually wind up closing. He has the classic ’80s-’90s biography page: onetime top prospect who never quite made it as a starter and drifted around.
Of course Washington is already there, but, and this is nothing more than a hunch, that Content loud of Joe Beimel, Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, Garrett Mock, and Joel Hanrahan will resolve itself, probably later than sooner, with Hanrahan back in the job. Again, it’s just a hunch.
NEW HOUSE, SAME RIVALRY

Terry Francona said he loved the new Yankee Stadium, but as a creature of habit, he was more than a little thrown by the disruption of his rituals from years of coming to the old one. “No better place to win on the road, no worse one to lose,” he told me from behind the desk of the visiting manager’s office, a space about four times larger than the one in the old house. The Sox were most floored by the pre-game press briefing, which exceeds what baseball used to do for the World Series: a large, carpeted, well lit room with about 140 chairs, a podium for a moderator to call on reporters for questions, two wireless microphone wranglers, and a camera platform in the back filled with equipment.
IMG_0727.JPG
It did look a little like Tito was addressing a sales workshop.
As to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, now accelerated, future shock kind of way by all the intra-divisional play, he noted that “it seemed like that series in our place was a long time ago.” His charges then went out and contradicted him, waiting out a 2:20 rain delay, scratching Phil Hughes for a run in each of the first four innings, getting the benefit of Joe Girardi inexplicably benching Hideki Matsui when he’s been hitting lefties well, and outlasting two Teixeira home runs to take the first ever Sox-Yanks game in the new park.
Francona is, in fact, such a creature of habit that the charts and data taped to the dugout wall around him? He likes to print them out, and tape them up, himself.
BASEBALL BLOOPER OF THE WEEK:

It went by too fast to get an image, but when the Yankees asked their nightly trivia question, they pulled an ironic doozy. The contestant was asked to identify the oldest pitcher to win 20 for the first time. Among the choices were Mike Mussina (the correct answer), ’50s Yankees ace Vic Raschi, and Fritz Peterson, the pitcher who achieved the all-time lowest career ERA inside the original Yankee Stadium.
Except the video didn’t show Peterson, it showed his teammate Mike Kekich. And any vintage Yankee fan, or baseball expert, or student of the weird culture of the ’70s was instantly flashed back to 1973 when Peterson and Kekich exchanged more than just identities on a scoreboard. They traded wives, and families, in an infamous event that was shocking even then.
And 36 years later Kekich was mistaken for Peterson.
The real punchline to the Peterson/Kekich “trade” was not the latter’s banishment to Cleveland that summer, but the fact that while the ex-Mrs. Kekich actually married Peterson, Mrs. Peterson soon left Kekich, leaving him awaiting a Wife To Be Named Later.
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