October 21, 2007
Beatdown in Beantown
Julio Lugo understands players who haven't provided value in return for large free-agent contracts. After all, the Boston Red Sox shortstop is one of those players. The Red Sox signed Lugo to a four-year, $36-million contract as a free agent last winter, and in return, they received sub-replacement level production: Lugo had a -1.3 VORP while putting together a .237/.294/.349 line in 630 plate appearances. Lugo hasn't been any better in the postseason, hitting .219/.265/.265 in 34 plate appearances.
So Lugo is well-qualified to talk about teammate J.D. Drew, the right fielder who was also part of General Manager Theo Epstein's shopping spree last offseason. Drew signed a five-year, $70-million deal, and his production also hasn't been up to his rate of pay, with a line of .270/.373/.423 in 552 plate appearances.
Of course, it's no surprise that Drew was a disappointment to his legion of critics. He has developed the reputation of being an injury-prone underachiever with the type of low-key personality that doesn't play well in a rabid baseball market like Boston, even though his career line was a fine .286/.393/.512 in nine seasons coming into this year. The decision wasn't unanimous within the Red Sox's brain trust to sign Drew, and Epstein's critics have been quick to tag Drew with the derisive nickname of "Theo's Favorite Player."
While Lugo doesn't have the high profile of Drew, he can empathize. "It's been a tough year for J.D.," Lugo said. "He's a good player, a really good player. He's got a lot of talent and he's had good years in the big leagues. It just hasn't been his year." Lugo then paused and smiled. "You know what the great thing is about playing in October? You get to start all over again."
Drew hit the reset button on his disappointing 2007 season in a big way Saturday night, as he helped keep the Red Sox' season alive. Drew's first-inning grand slam on a line drive to straightaway center field opened the scoring and sent the Red Sox on their way to a 12-2 rout of the Cleveland Indians, tying the series at 3-3 and forcing a decisive Game 7 tonight at Fenway Park. He went 3-for-5 with five RBI, adding an RBI single during a six-run third that pushed the Red Sox' lead to 10-1 and chased Indians co-ace Fausto Carmona, as Boston avoided elimination for a second straight game.
The Red Sox will send Daisuke Matsuzaka--another bauble of Epstein's winter splurge, as Boston invested $103 million in the Japanese right-hander--to the mound against Indians sinkerballer Jake Westbrook. Westbrook beat Matsuzaka in Game 3 on Monday in Cleveland.
Drew, as his custom, did not get overly excited about his biggest moment in a Red Sox uniform. He also wasn't that wowed by the Fenway crowd--which has booed him for a majority of the season--demanding a curtain call then chanting his name over and over when he went back out to right field to start the second inning. "I've had curtain calls before," Drew said. "You hear the fans chanting and the effect is uplifting. If you get too high, though, you're going to find yourself in a bad situation out there listening to the fans versus catching fly balls. The first priority is to play defense, though it does kind of put an inward smile on you, I guess."
The last half of the last sentence dispels the idea that Drew has no pulse. In fact, he believes he found his hitting heartbeat during September, when he hit .342/.454/.618 in 97 plate appearances. Prior to the final month, his season line was .256/.356/.385 in 455 plate appearances. "It's been a tough year," Drew finally admitted. "It was one of those situations where my expectations are high and I didn't have the year I would have liked to have had but I felt good coming into the playoffs and just wanted to have good at bats."
After hitting triple .182s in 11 plate appearances in the Red Sox' sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series, Drew is hitting .381/.409/.545 in 22 plate appearances in the ALCS. Red Sox manager Terry Francona's answer to a question about how personally happy he was with Drew hitting his slam pretty much gave the impression he is not a big fan of the right fielder. "I was happy that we won. J.D. certainly played a big part in it," Francona said.
However, Francona was a fan of scoring four quick and early runs off Carmona, whose 6.8 SNLVAR was second in the AL only to the 6.9 posted by Angels' John Lackey. Carmona, who gave up four runs in four innings in a no-decision in Game 2, got into trouble immediately in Game 6, as infield singles by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis and a walk to David Ortiz loaded the bases with one out. Carmona battled back and struck out Manny Ramirez swinging after falling behind in the count 3-0, then got Mike Lowell to pop out to shallow right. However, Drew blasted a 3-1 pitch to put the Red Sox ahead.
"We get the bases loaded off one of the best pitchers in the game, he makes great pitches to Manny, Mikey Lowell flies out and he's got a chance to wiggle out of it. One pitch later, we got four on the board. That was huge," Francona said. The third inning was even bigger as the Red Sox knocked Carmona out during the six-run outburst that turned the game into a laugher. Carmona wound up allowing seven runs and six hits in two-plus innings while walking four and striking out two.
Considering Carmona and left-hander C.C. Sabathia--whose 6.5 SNLVAR ranked fourth in the AL--have not recorded a quality start in this series, it is amazing that the Indians are still alive. Sabathia has allowed 12 runs and 17 hits in 10 1/3 innings, with seven walks and nine strikeouts, which is good for a 10.45 ERA. Carmona's 11 runs, 10 hits eight walks and seven strikeouts in six innings all help create his 16.50 ERA.
"Fausto had good stuff but he didn't do a very god job of working ahead in the count," said Wedge, mindful that Carmona threw just 33 of 63 pitches for strikes, and threw first-pitch strikes to just five of the 15 batters he faced. "He almost worked through that first inning but J.D. got him and things just sort of dominoed on him from there."
The Indians felt home plate Dana DeMuth had a tight strike zone, which hurt the sinkerballer. Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis both questioned DeMuth's calls from the dugout throughout Carmona's brief outing and catcher Victor Martinez got into a heated debate with the ump at the end of the first inning. Wedge, though, wasn't so critical of DeMuth after the game.
"We felt like it was a little tight, but then again, we weren't exactly pounding the zone with strikes," Wedge said. "Victor was a little bit upset and I was a little bit upset, but that's part of it." Wedge lifted Carmona after Drew's run-scoring single made it 5-1 and called on his best left-handed reliever, rookie Rafael Perez. However, Perez only compounded matters by retiring just one of the five batters he faced, allowing three hits and one walk while watching his ALCS ERA balloon to 45.00. He has allowed eight runs--five earned--in one inning of work, out of character from a guy whose WXRL of 3.142 was second on the team to Rafael Betancourt's 6.845 during the regular season.
By the time rookie lefty Aaron Laffey relieved Perez and pitched 4 2/3 scoreless mop-up innings, the damage had been done and the Red Sox had all but forced a Game 7. Meanwhile, Curt Schilling cruised to his 10th career postseason win, holding the Indians to two runs and six hits in seven innings with no walks and five strikeouts. That came after his shaky Game 2 in which he was tagged for five runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Schilling has never lost in five starts in which his team was facing post-season elimination. That made him giddy enough to invent a new derivation on the word fun. "We're playing a Game 7 and there's nothing funner in sports than a Game 7," Schilling said. "We scored 12 runs tonight and this was about our offense just doing a phenomenal job of working the counts and not being overly aggressive, especially in a situation where you're in a must-win where offenses can press and pitchers can take advantage of that," Schilling said. "Then, J.D. comes up with this incredible at-bat and it turns out to be a very gratifying night."