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October 2, 2003

Prospectus Today

The Late Shift

by Joe Sheehan

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Sox fans, how's that 10 p.m. start working out for you?

I had no problem with MLB giving the A's a postseason home game at night for the first time since, well, maybe ever. That said, I do think the AL playoff structure as a whole is pretty ridiculous. The Yankees and Twins ended up with about 52 hours between the end of their first game and the beginning of their second. The A's and Sox will have about 13 hours. That's not fair, and it's the direct result of letting TV considerations override common sense. You can give the A's a night game or you can give the Yankees and Twins the off day; you can't do both.

As so often happens with things Selig, whatever could go wrong, did. The A's and Sox played 12 innings in a shade under five hours, ending just before 3 a.m. EDT. Worse still for Sox fans, the game ended in defeat, as Ramon Hernandez laid down a perfect two-out, bases-loaded bunt to drive home the winning run, this after the Sox had blown a ninth-inning lead.

Those who stuck it out saw an exciting ballgame. It wasn't the much-anticipated pitchers' duel, and it wasn't exactly a great game, but it was exciting. Todd Walker and Erubiel Durazo traded roundhouse punches for most of the night, with each player coming up a hero against a southpaw. The two starting pitchers were off their game, combining to allow six runs on 16 hits in 13 2/3 innings of work. Pedro Martinez wasn't himself, striking out just three batters and allowing four walks.

The story is going to be the ninth inning, of course, because it fits the established narratives. The Sox bullpen blew the game, and Byung-Hyun Kim failed in the postseason. That's not entirely fair; Randy Marsh's strike zone changed sizes more often than Oprah, and any number of close pitches went against Kim and Alan Embree in that ninth inning. The pitch by Kim that hit Chris Singleton, setting up Durazo's game-tying single, was so nasty that Singleton might well have swung at it. It's hard to blame Kim for the key hit; he was sitting on the bench when it happened.

I'm certainly confused by the way in which that inning unfolded, because it appeared that Grady Little kept making decisions that were contradictory. Mike Timlin was excellent in the eighth inning, striking out two men and retiring the side on 18 pitches. He didn't start the ninth, however; that was Kim's job, because Kim is the closer. Ten minutes later, it wasn't Kim's job; it was Embree's, just because there were men on and a left-handed batter due up.

The way I see it, you can have it one way or another: either you have a capital-C closer, and you let that closer pitch out of trouble in the ninth, or you have a bunch of pitchers you use to get matchups, and who pitch until they need to come out. Little is doing both, and for one night at least, it was to the detriment of the team.

That wasn't Little's only weird decision. In the seventh, he elected to let a spent Pedro Martinez face Eric Chavez with the bases loaded and two outs. I love Martinez, but he had given everything he had in trying to finish off Durazo, who walked on 11 pitches. Moreover, and I've mentioned this a couple million times, Eric Chavez can't hit left-handers. Allowing him to bat in a critical situation againt any right-hander, even Pedro Martinez, rather than any left-hander, even Scott Sauerbeck, is malpractice.

Fortunately, Chavez has a plate approach that features all the sophistication of "The Mullets." Despite having watched Martinez walk consecutive batters, Chavez swung at both pitches he saw, popping up the second to end the rally. The outcome was great, but Little's execution left a lot to be desired. Chavez's execution is being handled by Gary Huckabay.

I can also question Little's use of Derek Lowe in the 11th inning. Creativity is nice, but that's a bit of a desperation move, something you save for later in the series. Not to mention that Scott Williamson had been fairly effective in the 10th and had thrown just 18 pitches. There didn't seem to be much reason to remove him, other than panic.

Sox fans have been pinging me all year long about Little's management of the bullpen. It was just one game, but I think I have a better understanding of their complaints now. How this unfolds over the rest of the week is going to be a very interesting story, and may even be the difference in the series.

I'm going to cheat and bullet-point the rest of this column. Blame it on too much baseball, too late at night...

  • Tim Hudson did exactly what he had to do: take away the walks. The Red Sox offense is fairly complete, and it's hard to deny them everything. The Sox poked 10 hits and two home runs off of Hudson, but scored just two runs before he left the game, in part because he allowed just one walk.

    I point this out largely for this reason: it's exactly what Brad Radke has to do tonight against the Yankees.

  • The Sox had a lot of trouble turning double plays. In the seventh, 11th and 12th, the A's hit double-play ground balls that the Sox didn't convert. The first two made innings longer; the last led to them losing the ballgame.

    The one in the seventh was particularly painful, because it cost Martinez another 18 pitches. That could have been an additional inning. Todd Walker rushed a wild throw to first base for no reason; Jermaine Dye was running, and these days he runs like Fred McGriff after a full meal. How Dye ends up in the lineup instead of Billy McMillon is hard to understand.

  • You know what was interesting? On the Singleton hit-by-pitch in the ninth, when home-plate umpire Randy Marsh pointed down to third base after the Sox asked for an appeal, he was shaking his head "no"as he did so, a clear signal that he wanted the call to be no swing.

    I've long thought that the base umpires go off visual cues from the plate umpire as to whether they can override the call. If the request looks half-assed, the call will always be "no swing." No base ump will override a grudging request from their partner. Last night was just a particulalry egregious example of the phenomenon.

  • Ramon Hernandez had the play of the game, but the guy who saved the A's was Keith Foulke, who threw three no-hit innings. Credit Ken Macha for riding him, and Foulke for maintaining his effectiveness in what has to be one of his longest outings in recent memory. Having thrown 51 pitches, it's hard to see him being available for more than a strict one-inning save today.

  • In San Francisco, the Marlins took advantage of some terrible Giants' defense to tie their series at one game apiece.

    I was particularly impressed by the speed the Marlins displayed. Perhaps I was attuned to it after Tuesday's Cubs game, but it seemed like the Marlins always picked up the extra base. Some of that is a park effect--the vast Pac Bell Park gaps allow for more advancement--but it was consistent, and demonstrated that team speed is applied in more places than base-stealing and defensive range. Advanced work with play-by-play accounts will allow us to evaluate this skill; it's not an "intangible;" it's a tangible quality that we haven't yet been able to measure.

    The Giants just took the day off, and lost control of the series in the process. The excellent point Rob Neyer made in his Wednesday column could apply equally to the Marlins and Giants on Wednesday:

    "I couldn't help but be amused when the Yankees did their best to kick Tuesday's game away. Not because it's fun watching them lose (it is), or because if they continue to lose it's good news for the A's and Red Sox (it is). No, I amused myself with thoughts of what the pundits would have said if it were the Twins making all those mistakes.

    We know what they would have said, because they said it last year during and after Game 2 of the Twins' Division Series against the Athletics, in which the Twins looked like they couldn't beat the junior varsity squad from St. Mary's of the Blind. They said the Twins were inexperienced (which they were) and jittery (which they were not)."

  • I shouldn't minimize what the Marlins did. Do you know how many times the Giants have lost a game at Pac Bell Park that they led by at least three runs? Eight times. Eight times in more than 300 games over four years. (Thanks, Retrosheet.) It's not Coors Field: multiple-run leads are easier to hold when home runs are out of the picture.

    The Marlins came back by hitting line drives, picking up a bunch of singles that fell in in front of Marquis Grissom and Barry Bonds. While Carl Pavano and Chad Fox were stopping the Giants' lineup, the Marlins were pecking away at every reliever Felipe Alou tried. Joe Nathan, Jason Christiansen, Felix Rodriguez and Jim Brower all failed to keep the Fish off the board.

  • Jack McKeon got some more fuel for his walk-Bonds-at-all-costs strategy when, in the first inning, he had Penny pitch to Bonds with a runner on first and two outs. Bonds doubled down the right-field line to tie the game. That earned him two more intentional walks before he was pitched to in the eighth inning with the Marlins ahead 9-5 (he popped out against Dontrelle Willis). Bonds is now 1-for-3 with a double and five walks for the series. I think it's possible, even likely, that he will have more walks than at-bats against the Fish, and perhaps in the entire postseason.

  • The Braves guaranteed a full slate of games Saturday (Sophia is not happy) by beating the Cubs 5-3. The game looked a lot like the first one, except that this time it was Mark DeRosa, not Kerry Wood, hitting the two-out, two-run double to win the game.

    The Cubs might well have put the Braves away in the first inning, but just as they did Tuesday, they failed to convert on an opportunity, striking out three straight times after two runs were in and the bases were loaded. The Cubs added double plays in the third and the seventh, and again saw the twin problems of lousy plate approach and no team speed come into play in almost every inning.

    Dusty Baker likes guys who swing the bat; that's how Hee Seop Choi morphed into Randall Simon, and Mark Bellhorn became Aramis Ramirez during the year. Baker prefers a hack attack to a take 'n rake. He's got the lineup he wants, but it gives away many at-bats, especially against a pitcher like Mike Hampton who exploits impatience.

  • Baker's influence on the outcome was felt more directly in the eighth inning when, with an example of what to do right in front of him, he failed to take notice. Rather than bring in his best available right-handed reliever, Joe Borowski, in a tie game, Baker rode Dave Veres and his control problems to a loss. Veres walked Vinny Castilla after having him down 0-2--I understand the Hall of Fame asked for the ball--and then hung a 1-2 splitter to DeRosa that was just crushed into the left-center gap.

    Bobby Cox, who has exactly one good reliever, brought that reliever in in the eighth inning with the game on the line. John Smoltz provided two innings of strong pitching, although he did give up two singles and a sacrifice fly that tied the game in the eighth. It was the managerial equivalent of showing your golf partner the line on a putt. "Watch how this breaks to the left, Dusty." All Baker had to do was follow Cox's lead; he didn't, leaving his fifth-best reliever in to lose what was a very winnable game.

  • It's hard to know what to expect in Oakland today. The teams won't be away from the park for more than nine hours, which is a recipe for fatigue. With two pitchers who rely heavily on messing up timing, today may become the low-scoring game that didn't materialize last night. I like the Sox to win, 6-2, as Barry Zito gives up the walks Hudson didn't and pays for it.

    The game in New York is easier to call: the Yankees should beat up Brad Radke and get decent work from Andy Pettitte. Yanks, 8-3.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Running Game,  The Call-up,  Marlins Park

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