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October 22, 2007

Prospectus Today

Heroes and Goats

by Joe Sheehan

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I spent Game Seven of the ALCS talking about the game with a bunch of BP readers in our chat module, and you can see a lot of the first-take reactions to the game's events there. Today, I want to look back at the game through the people who mattered the most, in some rough order of importance.

  • Casey Blake: It happens. Casey Blake was 2-for-2 when he came to the plate in the seventh with two men on and one out, and the Indians down 3-2. With speed on both corners and a lefty on the mound, Blake didn't need to do much to tie the game and let the Tribe get their dominant middle man, Rafael Betancourt, into the game with a chance to make a difference. Instead, Blake did the worst possible thing, grounding into a 5-4-3 double play that ended the rally.

    It got worse. Leading off the Sox seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a one-hopper to Blake's left that he just misplayed, the ball bouncing off of his glove into foul territory. The error allowed Ellsbury to reach, but Blake's decision to let Kenny Lofton come get the ball, rather than chase it himself, may have cost the Red Sox a key base. If Blake chases the ball, it's possible that just by doing so, he causes Ellsbury to hold at first.

    You can argue that Dustin Pedroia's two-run homer made that irrelevant, but there's no way to have known what would follow at the time. Keeping the runner at first would have had a lot of value, and might have afforded Rafael Betancourt breathing room as the inning progressed.

    Finally, in the fateful eighth, Blake overplayed a pop-up down the left field line, knocking Jhonny Peralta off of the ball, which allowed it to drop for a hit. That play didn't have much to do with the outcome, but it was another mistake in what will likely end up as the worst hour of Casey Blake's professional life. Here's hoping he's remembered for something else.

  • Kenny Lofton: Lofton was involved in two key moments on the basepaths, neither of which went well for the Indians. He was out at second stretching a single while leading off the fifth, a play that would look even worse when the next two batters singled. Down by two runs, it was an unnecessary risk, and even though he appeared to be safe on the replay, the decision was a mistake, and would prove to be a critical one.

    In the seventh, Lofton appeared set to score from second on Franklin Gutierrez's single down the left field line, but when the ball hit the wall in foul territory and caromed into left, Lofton was held up by third base coach Joel Skinner. He would never make it home, as Blake's double play ended the inning.

    Did you know Kenny Lofton has more than 2400 career hits? No one thinks of him as a Hall of Famer, but he's going to end up north of 2500, maybe 2600, he's got a long and impressive postseason resume, and a lot of other markers. Now, I don't think he's a Hall of Famer, but I think he's a better player than generally given credit for. His peak was amazing, if short, and he's had a very long, slow, and generally productive decline phase. At 40 this year, he posted a .367 OBP and went 23-for-30 stealing bases. That guy can platoon in left field for 20 teams.

  • Dustin Pedroia: Wasn't this guy supposed to get benched at some point? His two-run homer will lead the highlights, but look back a little further: Pedroia went 7-for-13 with two walks and four extra-base hits in the last three games. A nod to Fox, which put together a package heading into Game Five of hard-hit balls by Pedroia, making the point that he wasn't lost at the plate, just finding gloves with hard-hit balls. He also made the turn on the critical Blake GIDP in the seventh.

  • Joel Skinner: There's just no way around this-Joel Skinner made a game-critical error in judgment. When Gutierrez's single bounced off the wall into fair territory, Skinner held Lofton at third base, rather than send what would have been the tying run home. It was a bad decision; although the ball bounced to straightaway left field, Ramirez was well behind it and had to change directions. While Ramirez had shown an accurate arm playing the wall in the fifth, he was going to have to make a scoop-and-throw to get Lofton, who had a head of steam coming around third.

    I'm comfortable saying, having looked at the play dozens of times, that Lofton not only would have scored, but he would have scored standing up. Skinner had less than a second to make his decision, and he made the wrong one.

  • Jake Westbrook: There were at least five points in the first four innings where I would have removed Jake Westbrook. Westbrook allowed single runs in each of the first three frames, on eight baserunners, but settled down from there and put up a quality start, retiring the last seven men he faced. It was an impressive performance, and the only real difference between it and his Game Three start was that the Indians scored enough the first time around to win the game.

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka: He did exactly what the Red Sox needed, going five innings, allowing two runs, not walking anyone, and turning a winnable game over to the bullpen. If it wasn't the performance of a Japanese legend, it was a professional start by an above-average professional pitcher. Based on what he had last night, I think he could put up a terrific line against the Rockies next weekend.

  • Julio Lugo: It's funny how we remember heroes and goats. Lugo made a terrible error on a pop fly with one out in the seventh last night, but because Joel Skinner and Casey Blake failed, and his teammates in the infield turned a double play, his mistake washes out. Skinner and Blake both needed that kind of help, and they didn't get it, so their errors will live on. Had events turned out differently, we'd be talking about Lugo's play for 20 years, and the two Indians would just be guys on a World Series team.

    Credit and blame, heroes and goats, clutch and choke…all complicated things, and none, in baseball, entirely laid at the feet of a single person.

  • Travis Hafner: I was asked repeatedly in chat last night, "Remember when Travis Hafner could hit?" He was awful against the Red Sox, .148/.207/.296, capping a truly disappointing season, and his strikeout against Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth was a key moment in the game, the point where the Indians might have clawed back in, especially had they been able to make Papelbon work hard.

  • Rafael Betancourt: Hopefully, he will not be remembered for last night's implosion, when his defense let him down repeatedly and he made a couple of bad pitches, and that when he was left in to throw 41 as Wedge desperately tried to keep the game close. What should be remembered is that Betancourt was a dominant reliever this year, and if I use him as an example of how the media is wildly inconsistent in its handling of the story of PEDs in baseball, I also hold him up as an example of both Mark Shapiro's work in finding relievers and the value of relievers outside of the closer role.

  • Manny Ramirez: He can hit, he can play defense in his home park, he's smarter than any of us give him credit for-lost in the hullaballoo over his off-day comments was that he was absolutely, without a doubt, correct-and he seems to love playing baseball. He's almost a bright-line test for humankind; if you just divided the world into "people who like Manny Ramirez" and "everyone else," which group would you rather hang out with?

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:  Casey Blake,  The Who,  Kenny Lofton,  Jake Westbrook

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