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October 8, 2005

Playoff Prospectus

Division Series, Day Four

by Paul Swydan

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After watching the Angels/Yankees game, the Red Sox/White Sox game feels like it happened in August. And while Red Sox fans that watched the "alien" experience at Fenway no doubt drowned their sorrows with a few extra UFO's last night, my best friend summed up any true Sox fan's feelings quite nicely: "only 131 days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training." Amen.

  • Sometimes, logic just does not apply. Orlando Hernandez was a most unlikely candidate to ice the Red Sox season. He is a flyball pitcher who was brought into a situation that demanded a ground ball, on a day when the wind was turning fly balls into home runs and Monster shots. He was brought in despite the third-best reliever of 2005 being available and warmed up. Somehow, this worked, and now people are standing up and applauding Ozzie Guillen for it. Guillen did a good job in this series, but this was not one of his finer moments. Guillen claimed afterward that he chose Hernandez because of his experience. To his credit, El Duque dismissed this notion outright, saying that "It's all about situations."

    The bottom line is that the Red Sox did not execute. Looking at the Expected Run Matrix chart, the Red Sox should have expected 2.31 runs to score in the sixth. They might have settled for the .31. El Duque gained a lot of momentum in the first at-bat. Ahead in the count, Jason Varitek expanded his strike zone, flailing at a high pitch on 2-and-1 and popping out. As I noted a week ago, Varitek has been doing this for quite some time now. Sox fans should not have expected him to come cold off the bench with magic beans in his back pocket, especially considering his history with Hernandez. However, this certainly does not excuse the performances of Tony Graffanino or Johnny Damon. The hallmark of Papa Jack's offense has been its ability to wait for either a mistake pitch or to simply go with the pitch. In other words, not overswinging. In this situation, all three players were too aggressive, something that did not work well against a pitcher who can throw all of his pitches at varying speeds.

    While El Duque pitched brilliantly in the sixth, his best inning was actually the seventh, when David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez came to the plate. In their previous four at-bats, the pair had combined for three home runs and one fly ball to the warning track. Duque was not fazed, striking out Papi on three pitches and retiring Ramirez on a sharp grounder to Konerko. This is essentially when the game ended. In the eighth, the Sox really started pressing, making two outs on three pitches before registering a harmless single. That John Olerud base hit was the Sox' only baserunner in the game's last 13 batters.

  • In the end, the White Sox did it their way, winning with home runs and an airtight bullpen. The squeeze they laid down in the ninth inning was cute, but the reality is that the White Sox scored 15 of their 24 runs in this series via the home run, and the home run accounted for all of the winning runs: A.J. Pierzynski in Game One, Tadahito Iguchi in Game Two, and Paul Konerko in Game Three. As for their bullpen, all they did was manage to hold the vaunted Sox offense to seven base runners in 7 1/3 innings of relief, none of whom scored.

  • Lest we condemn the Red Sox entirely, it is necessary that we hand out a big fist bump to Jon Papelbon. "Paps," as he is affectionately called in the Nation, looks like the real deal. When he is in a groove, the big right-hander can locate his mid-90s fastball anywhere he desires. This was in full flair in Games Two and Three. In a series where the Red Sox could rarely rely on their pitching, Paps delivered scoreless baseball during four crucial innings, keeping the Sox close twice. The Red Sox have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason, but among the more intriguing ones will be how they decide to utilize Papelbon.

  • It didn't have to be this close. This is what I thought to myself as I watched the Yankees take the lead from Brendan Donnelly and the Angels in the fifth inning. As the old saying goes, what's good for the goose isn't necessarily good for the gander. In the top of the fourth inning, Joe Torre smartly pulled the plug on Randy Johnson. RJ couldn't have thrown his fastball past Carla Tortelli last night, leading our Will Carroll to suggest Johnson couldn't get his back stretched out. Aaron Small escaped the two-on, none-out situation by getting a strikeout and then inducing a double play.

    Mike Scioscia then tried to pull the same maneuver in the bottom half of the inning, which was a little mystifying. Paul Byrd was tying up batters, getting ground balls left and right (mostly right actually). That they produced a couple of runs is no fault of Byrd's. While he could have done without the walk to Alex Rodriguez that extended the inning, the only player who really deserved to be pulled was Adam Kennedy. Kennedy nearly threw one grounder into the Yankee dugout, then got caught out of position on the subsequent single. However, Scioscia did not see it this way, and to his credit he brought in the right reliever for the situation. Donnelly ranked ninth on BP's 2005 Inherited/Bequeathed Runners Report. Unfortunately, the move did not work, and while the Angels went on to win, they taxed all the key members of their bullpen. With no off-day scheduled, the Yankees are now winning the bullpen war, using Tom Gordon for just twelve pitches and not using Mariano Rivera at all. Rivera, who has not pitched since Tuesday, can probably be counted on for three-plus innings this weekend.

  • A quick round of applause for Scioscia's lineup card. Scioscia stacked the lineup with right-handed hitters, even managing a start for Robb Quinlan thanks to the versatility of Chone Figgins. Unfortunately, this lineup, which featured Bengie Molina protecting Vladimir Guerrero, probably will be scratched tomorrow after the nasty injury Bengie endured, taking a Gordon pitch on the arm.

  • Does Matt Lawton have VD or something? Seriously, how did the Yankees justify keeping Bubba Crosby and Tony Womack, essentially the same player, rather than Lawton? If I have to choose among three players with career EqAs of .270, .243, and .196, I'm going to be keeping the guy with the .270 EqA 11 times out of 10.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  The Who,  Red Sox Nation

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