Archive for October, 2008

Join the Great Debate: Who Will Be Boston’s Next Championship Team?

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Join Rob Bradford and Alex Speier for a live chat at 3pm on Friday, October 31, to discuss which of Boston’s pro sports teams will win the next title.

Mike Lowell’s road back

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

For whomever might be interested, here is a very small snapshot of some of the rehab work Mike Lowell did over the past week at Fenway Park before heading home to Florida Thursday …

 

 

From Red Sox assistant trainer Mike Reinold: “Early in the rehabilitation program the emphasis is on recovering from the trauma of the surgery itself (ice, compression, gentle range of motion exercises), restoring motion and muscle activity of his hip and entire lower extremity (basic isometric exercises for the hip and strengthening of his other leg muscles) and normalizing his gait (crutches and exercises to help him walk normal again). Once this initial period is over, we can begin to emphasis more of the strength and balance of his legs and core, which will be a several week phase. He can then begin to integrate his normal offseason and baseball activities. At the end of the program, he will likely be even stronger and agile than before.”

Red Sox scouting director reflects on Cole-turned-diamond

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

PHILLIES ARE WORLD CHAMPS – STORY HERE

COLE HAMELS NAMED WORLD SERIES MVP – STORY HERE

The information that Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod can provide about Cole Hamels flows freely.

‘€œI can tell you everything,’€ McLeod said of the pitcher who claimed the NLCS and World Series MVP awards after going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts.

McLeod was a Padres area scout in Southern California in 2002’€”a year that featured an exceptional crop of left-handed pitchers. Hamels, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir were all taken out of high school that year. (Lester was the 57th overall pick, and the first overall for the Sox, who lacked a first-round choice that year.) Three additional college southpaws’€”Royce Ring, Jeff Francis and Jeff Saunders’€”were first-round picks out of college.

‘€œIt was just a talent laden year,’€ said McLeod, ‘€œand Cole was by far the cream of the crop.’€

McLeod recalled seeing the pitcher make seven starts as a senior. Hamels had missed his junior season while recovering from a broken left arm he suffered in a street football game.

The Padres team doctor, Dr. Jan Fronek, performed the surgery to repair the prized arm, and Hamels recovered to produce a spectacular year as a senior at the baseball factory of Rancho Bernardo High School, going 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA. McLeod recalls that time fondly.

‘€œAs far as ability, to this day, he’€™s the best left-handed amateur pitcher I’€™ve ever seen’€”especially coming out of the high school ranks,’€ said McLeod. ‘€œHe had everything’€”size, athleticism, competitiveness, stuff, came from a great family, really good home environment’€”he had everything you wanted to see.

‘€œHe always had that plus changeup. In high school it was a devastating pitch. He had a very good breaking ball in high school. (He was) just exceptionally polished. At that time, he had one of the best pickoff moves I’€™d ever seen. A kid would get on first and he’€™d pick him off.’€

The talent was obvious. A game against Torrey Pines High School, the foremost rival of Rancho Bernardo, proved to McLeod that the pitcher had the makeup to excel at the major-league environment.

‘€œHe was pitching comfortably at 90-92,’€ recalled McLeod. ‘€œHe was just mowing through the team. A kid tried stepping out of the box on him to break up his momentum. Cole threw the next pitch behind him. Then the next three pitches he went 94, 95, 96 and sat him down.

‘€œOnce he punches him out, he was like, ‘€˜Alright’€”now I’€™m going back to 90-92, plus-change, curveball, bang.’€™’€

The incident offered evidence to McLeod that Hamels possessed a remarkable ability to control his emotions on the mound. He could use adrenaline to his advantage without allowing the game to get away from him.

Needless to say, McLeod turned in a positive report on the pitcher. (Though it is unlikely that he included such relevant information, found here, as, “When Cole Hamels snaps his fingers, The Fonz comes running.”) As the 2002 draft arrived, many’€”including Hamels’€”expected that the Padres would select the local star (Rancho Bernardo was roughly 20 miles from the Padres’€™ ballpark) with the 13th pick in the draft.

But it was not to be. Perhaps the Padres’€”like many other teams’€”were skittish about Hamels’€™ medical reports. Or perhaps the opportunity to draft shortstop Khalil Greene, who was named the Collegiate Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award winner as a senior at Clemson, seemed too good to pass up.

‘€œIn the end, I can’€™t say that (the Padres) decided that the medical was too great of a risk. They took a player that ended up being pretty good in Khalil Greene,’€ said McLeod. ‘€œBut certainly it’€™s a little bittersweet (to watch Hamels now) for a lot of us who were area scouts that year and got to see how good he was in person.’€

The reluctance of other teams to draft a pitcher with an unusual medical history created an opportunity for the Phillies, who plucked Hamels with the 17th pick of the 2002 draft. It seems safe to assume that today, with a World Series trophy in hand, Philadelphia has few regrets about that choice.

Fit to be tied (or something like that)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

People are understandably dismayed by the suspended state in which Game 5 of the World Series has remained since Monday night. Those who want to drink from a half-full glass would do well to recall the great moments in baseball history resulting from suspended games. In honor of this year’s World Series, a top six of other great suspended games in baseball history:

6) JULY 18, 2001 – DIAMONDBACKS VS. PADRES

A pair of explosions in the light tower at Qualcomm Park in San Diego prompted the suspension of a game between Arizona and the Padres. The D’backs could be forgiven their dismay about the development, as the suspension of play meant that Curt Schilling (who had retired the first six San Diego hitters of the game) would be unavailable to continue.

Arizona manager Bob Brenley, however, made the most of the situation. With his team leading 2-0 at the start of the next day, he decided to have Randy Johnson, the scheduled July 19 starter, enter the suspended contest in relief of Schilling.

Johnson mowed through the next seven innings by striking out 15 Padres (the most punchouts ever by a reliever) and held San Diego hitless until the bottom of the eighth, when Wiki Gonzalez collected a single for the only Padres hit.

Other Wiki Gonzalez trivia: he once hit into a round-the-horn triple play on his birthday, and he now plays for the St. George Roadrunners of the Golden Baseball League. So it seems safe to say that breaking up this no-hitter ranked pretty high on his list of career milestones.

Schilling, meanwhile, made his next start on two days of rest and produced a dominating seven-inning, one-hit, 12-strikeout effort.

5) MAY 8, 1984 – BREWERS VS. WHITE SOX

The longest game (by time) in baseball history lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes, and had to be broken up over two days. The ChiSox assumed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth and immediately gave it back to the Brewers in the top of the seventh. The Brewers scored a pair in the top of the ninth, only to watch Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers give back a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. A curfew led to a pause after the 17th inning, and the two teams resumed play the next day.

Both teams scored three runs in the 21st (1), before Harold Baines finally won the thing with a fireworks-inspiring walkoff homer in the bottom of the 25th. The game was so long that the White Sox had time to reconsider their mystifying shorts-wearing experiment in favor of other aesthetic atrocities that, at the least, involved pants.

The Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins squeezed 26 innings into a single afternoon in 1920, but with the game remaining deadlocked 1-1, it was suspended due to darkness and replayed in its entirety. The Mets and Cardinals locked down for 25 innings on Sept. 11-12, 1974, and, of course, the mighty, mighty PawSox claimed a 3-2 triumph in a 33-inning battle of attrition with the Rochester Red Wings in 1981. The epic conflict of Triple-A teams–which featured 28 combined plate appearances for future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken–was suspended after 32 innings at 4:06am on April 18 and resumed on June 23.

4) OCTOBER 9, 1912 – RED SOX VS. GIANTS

The first-ever World Series game at Fenway Park ended in an inglorious tie. Game 2 of the 1912 matchup between the Red Sox and Giants produced an 11-inning, 6-6 deadlock (Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was believed to tell New York manager John McGraw that he could stick his pitch count in a pipe and smoke it) that was called due to darkness.

The result of the prolonged series was rather remarkable, as the Game 8 showdown ended in a 3-2, 10-inning walkoff win for the Sox. The Giants appeared to be on the cusp of a startling victory in the series when they pushed across a run in the top of the 10th to take a 2-1 lead, but the Sox scored a pair against Mathewson (who was still pitching in the 10th, and might have benefited from a pitch count on the heels of a 310-inning workload in the regular season).

Tris Speaker had a game-tying single, and then Larry Gardner collected the first-ever walkoff hit in Sox postseason history, lofting a sac fly to score the immortal Steve Yerkes and prompting a series of celebratory kicks to the groin. The World Series title was the second in franchise history, and would spark a Sox dynasty that produced four championships in seven years.

The other World Series games that ended in suspended ties proved less meaningful. The Cubs and Tigers played to a 3-3, 12-inning tie in Game 1 of the 1907 Fall Classic, but the Cubs went on the sweep the next four games. And in Game 2 of the 1922 World Series between the Giants and Yankees (no Subway Series, this–both teams resided at the time at the Polo Grounds), the game got banged at a 3-3 deadlock after 10 innings, but the Giants went on to sweep the rest of the contests.

3) JULY 9, 2002 – AMERICAN LEAGUE VS. NATIONAL LEAGUE

The All-Star Game at Miller Park in Milwaukee was supposed to represent a career triumph for Bud Selig. Instead, it served as one of the worst moments of his baseball life.

Both sides ran out of pitchers with the game tied 7-7 after 11 innings. A distraught Selig–who was the driving force behind the building of the ballpark in his home city–repeatedly flapped his arms in agonized fashion, and appeared to devolve amidst his distress, as most pictures from that night featured him at a loss for opposing thumbs.

2) SEPTEMBER 23, 1908 – GIANTS VS. CUBS

The suspended game to end all suspended games. The Giants (then of New York) and Cubs were tied for first in the National League with roughly two weeks left in the season. The teams played a game that offered further evidence of their evenly matched talents, taking a 1-1 tie into the bottom of the ninth.

The Giants staged a rally in the ninth, putting men on the corners with two outs. New York shortstop Al Bridwell lined a single to center, inspiring pandemonium at the Polo Grounds. But with Moose McCormick having already crossed the plate with what appeared to be the winning run, the runner on first, Fred Merkle, a rookie making his first big-league start, made a beeline for the Giants clubhouse without touching second base.

The practice was standard at the time, in the ur-culture of the walkoff. You did not have players clearing a landing spot around the plate or a base and pointing in exaggerated fashion to cross safely before delivering a pounding.

Instead, players lived in terror of the fans. Typically, at the end of games’€”particularly walkoffs’€”

they were left to run for their lives, fearful of the likelihood that the rambunctious fans of the era might punch them in the nether-regions or torch the premises.

Merkle followed the well-accepted strategy, defined later in ‘€œMonty Python and the Holy Grail’€ as the ‘€œRun Away! Run Away!’€

But Johnny Evers took issue with the tactic, somehow retrieving the ball through the throng, touching second, and informing the umpires that Merkle should be out on a force.

Umpire Hank O’€™Day said that he would think on the matter, largely to ensure that he did not have to soil himself while confronting an angry mob at the Polo Grounds. That night, O’€™Day ruled’€”from the comforts of his hotel room’€”

that Merkle was out at second. Instead of a 2-1 win that would have given New York a one-game lead in the standings, the Giants and Cubs had played to a 1-1 suspended tie.

At the time, teams did not resume suspended games. So, the Cubs and Giants’€”who finished the regular season deadlocked in first’€”had to play a makeup game at the end of the season. The Cubs won to claim the National League crown en route to the World Series’€”the last in franchise history, as it turned out. Merkle’€™

s Boner, as the play came to be known, assumed a place in baseball infamy.

Mathewson, incidentally, pitched all nine innings of the Merkle’s Boner game, and pitched seven innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the makeup game. In retrospect, it comes as little surprise that Mathewson was done as a productive pitcher at the age of 34. It is, in fact, mind-blowing that he squeezed 361 of his 373 wins into a 14-year span.

The centennial of the infamous play passed last month, bringing a rash of excellent retrospectives, including Keith Olbermann’s analysis and this history.

1) JULY 4, 1908 – CHICAGO CUBS VS. IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY ALL-STARS

A scheduled exhibition double-header between the Cubs and a traveling team of All-Stars instead turns into a single game that persists–with breaks for dinner–over the course of 40 days and more than 2,000 innings. The event serves as a black hole that swallows not merely most of the participants but also the historical memory of the contest, most of its participants and an epoch in American history. Or something like that.

SOME BONUS SUSPENDED CONTESTS FROM OTHER SPORTS

–May 24, 1988: Bruins/Oilers Stanley Cup Finals Game 3 suspended in the second period, while tied 3-3, due to a power outage in the Boston Garden.

–January 4, 1987: Canadian vs. USSR World Junior Hockey Championship – The Punch-Up in Piestany produced perhaps the most insane brawl in televised sports history. That designation includes professional boxing, the WWF/WWE and Ultimate Fighting.

ANY OTHERS?

Surely there are other memorable suspended games out there… Anyone? Anyone? Enter suggestions in the Comments section or email me at aspeier@weei.com.

What might the future hold for the Baby Rays?

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Obviously, the Rays have looked like a very different team thus far in the World Series against the Phillies than they did in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. Yet whether or not Tampa Bay proves capable of erasing a 3-to-1 deficit in the World Series, there is an unmistakable message in the mere fact that they are in the Fall Classic, that they beat the Yankees and the Sox to claim the A.L. East this year, that they were indisputably the better team than Boston in the ALCS.

“We belong here. Regardless of what happens with the World Series, it means we’€™ve arrived,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said immediately after his team advanced past the Sox. “I’€™m not only talking about this year but in years to come. Obviously, we’€™re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. I like that.”

It’s easy to see the logic of Maddon’s declaration. The Rays have a young and incredibly talented core, much of which remains under the team’s contractual control through the remainder of the decade:

Evan Longoria, 23, is signed to a six-year, $18 million deal through 2013, with three team options that could secure him for an additional three years at $30 million.
–“Big Game” James Shields, 26, just finished the first year of a four-year, $11.25 million deal that includes an extraordinary three team options that could push the contract to $37.25 million over seven seasons.
Scott Kazmir, 24, is signed from 2009-2011 for $31 million, with a team option for 2012 that would make the contract worth four years and $42 million.
David Price, 23, will earn no more than $3 million over the next three seasons, and will remain under Rays control through 2014.
Carlos Pena, 29, is signed to a three-year deal through 2010 for $24.125 million.
–Carl Crawford, 27, is in the final year of a four-year, $15.25 million deal, but the Rays hold affordable team options for 2009 ($8.25 million) and 2010 ($10 million).
–Though 24-year-old B.J. Upton is not signed beyond the 2008 season, he will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season.
Matt Garza, 24, won’t be eligible for arbitration for another year, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2013.

For the Rays to have such a talented nucleus of twentysomethings is indeed a rare phenomenon. Tampa Bay’s position players, according to Baseball-Reference.com, had an average age of 27.0 this year. Rays pitchers averaged 27.5 years of age. For Tampa to reach the World Series with such young pitchers and position players is nearly unprecedented in the free-agent era.

Since 1976, there have been nine teams with younger pitching staffs to reach the World Series. Of those, five have gotten back to the postseason in the next four years, while three have reached the World Series. Because the health of pitchers is so difficult to predict, the youth of a staff is promising, but does not necessarily guarantee future success.

It may be more significant that the Rays have the youngest position-playing core to reach a World Series since 1970. Since the free agent era began in earnest following the 1976 season, there have been eight teams whose non-pitchers were 28.0 or younger when they got to the Series. The track record of those teams suggests a likelihood of future success in Tampa:

1982 Cardinals (27.8): Won the World Series in ’82, then returned to the Series but lost in ’85 and ’87.
1985 Cardinals (27.6): Lost the World Series in ’85, and the same nucleus lost the Fall Classic again two years later.
1986 Mets (28.0): Won the World Series in ’86, returned to the playoffs but lost in the NLCS in ’88, and got a group discount on rehab for the rest of the first Bush administration.
1987 Twins (27.8): Won the World Series in ’87, and kept its young core together long enough to encourage more Homer Hanky waving with another championship in ’91.
1988 Athletics (28.0): Lost the World Series to a barely-standing Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers in ’88, won the earthquake-interrupted World Series in ’89, lost the World Series in 1990.
1991 Braves (28.0): Though the Braves enjoyed fairly significant turnover over the coming years, some members of this group helped Atlanta to chop lamely through four of the next five World Series (albeit with one lonely championship trophy in 1995). It would, however, be more accurate to identify this “generation” of young Braves as the group that got to (and lost in) the World Series in both 1991 and 1992, and that got bounced in the NLCS by the Phillies in 1993.
1995 Braves (27.9): The reconstructed Chipper generation of the Braves won the World Series in 1995 and got back to the Fall Classic the following year.
2003 Marlins (27.7): Despite a generous payroll that could fund a shopping spree–or at least a gift card–at CVS, the Marlins have not been back to the playoffs since Josh Beckett slapped Jorge Posada with a tag on a dribbler down the first-base line.

Six teams with position players age 28.0 or younger made it back to the World Series within the next four seasons, and all but one returned to the playoffs.

Given that the Rays have so much of their young talent locked up affordably for the long haul, it seems unlikely that 2008 will be the last time that Tampa Bay hosts baseball in October–unless, of course, the Rays manage to relocate to Disney World or something.

The healthy team wins

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Much was made of Tampa Bay’s ability to overcome adversity in order to win the American League East, and rightly so. The Rays endured injuries to every key member of their lineup, whether the broken finger Carlos Pena endured on a nasty Justin Masterson slider, Evan Longoria’s broken hand, Carl Crawford’s subluxation of a finger, B.J. Upton’s season-long shoulder woes…

But somehow, amidst suggestions of a pox upon Tampa’s house (that would be the fabled Tropicana Field), the pitching staff remained intact. Scott Kazmir missed roughly the first month of the season with an elbow injury, but otherwise, the team never had to dip into its organizational pitching depth for reinforcements. It was a luxury, rather than a necessity, to call up David Price in September. He is currently a difference-making member of the bullpen because the same five starters–James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson–kept taking the ball.

Indeed, the Rays finished tied for the American League lead in the frequency of starts by their “top five” (the number of combined starts made by the five rotation members who led the team in starts), having enjoyed 153 of 162 starts from the aforementioned group of five. The Red Sox, by contrast, received just 134 starts from Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz (it is easy to forget that he started the year as the No. 5 starter), a total that ranked seventh.

Interestingly, the three teams that got the most starts from their front five all qualified for the playoffs. Only the Sox proved capable of reaching the postseason from the A.L. despite a test of rotation depth.

Rank    Team    Starts

1    Rays    153
2    White Sox    153
3    Angels    149

4    Royals    141
5    Blue Jays    139
6    Twins    137
7    Red Sox    134
8    Tigers    131
9    Orioles    125
10    Mariners    120
11    Yankees    117
12    A’s    116
13    Indians    115
14    Rangers    110

(playoff teams in bold)

Mut Man and The Breeders Cup

Saturday, October 25th, 2008
Whether you’re headed to Suffok Downs, Mohegan Sun or playing from home, it should be a great Breeders’ Cup Day. First BC on the Pro-Ride causing headaches for some, but Friday’s races proved pretty formful. Don’t over think yourself!
 
These picks are my top three for each race. Looking for win wagers on overlays and prices and exactas. Will fool around in P3 and P4.
 
Marathon
No strong opinion. Sixies Icon looks the one to beat at a short price
 
1. Sixties Icon
2. Delightful Kiss
3. Zappa
 
Turf Sprint
Down the hill they go. Love the horses who have had the trip before. 
 
1. Get Funky 
2. Diabolical 
3. Desert Code (bomber) 
 
Dirt Mile
“Dirt Mile” being run in Pro-Ride. Well Armed is the steam horse in this race.
 
1. Well Armed
2. Lewis Michael
3. Surf Car
 
Mile
Euros always the ones to beat on the grass in the BC. 
 
1. Goldikova 
2. War Monger 
3. Shakis 
 
 
Juvenile
No Vineyard Haven in the most wide-open race on the card. 
 
1. Midshipman (my best bet) 
2. Silent Valor 
3. Street Hero 
 
Juvenile Turf
Looks pretty chalky; which means BOMBS away.
 
1. Westphalia
2. Coronet of a Baron
3. Bittel Road
 
Sprint
Married to First Defence but looks to be in deep.
 
1. First Defence
2. Street Boss
3. In Summation
 
Turf
Free square in the horizontal wagers. 
 
1. Solider of Fortune (most likely winner on the card) 
2. Dancing Forever 
3. Red Rocks 
 
Classic
Hard to root or bet against Curlin here. I won’t do either. Maybe…
 
1. Curlin
2. Taigo
3. Student Council/Colonel John.
 
Have a great day and remember – bet with your head not over it!~
 
Mike Mutnansky
mutt@weei.com

Terry Francona transcript

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

How do you feel? What do you have?

Terrible, the flu. Flu-like symptoms.

On speaking with the coaching staff:

The update is that we will visit with all the coaches by tomorrow. I needed a day yesterday to kind of get myself together. I should say, we will try to visit with every coach by tomorrow. Logistically, there are just some things that guys have to get done. But that is the hope, that we will talk to everybody by tomorrow.

Would Matsuzaka have closed Game 7?

Maybe what they’€™re referring to is that we had talked to Daisuke about pitching at the end of the game and kind of hold him behind guys so we could match-up, maybe that’€™s where that was coming from. But again, please don’€™t make me talk about somebody because a reporter ‘€“ that makes my life impossible.

On Buchholz’€™ role in 2009:

What role? Being a good starting pitcher. I think he’€™s on his road to doing that right now in the fall league. Sometimes little baby steps ‘€“ it’€™s like the stock market. You want to get everything you lost back the day you lost it, and it doesn’€™t work that way. But he’€™s out there doing what he’€™s supposed to. Just get some confidence, get the armspeed, and throw his pitches. It will be an interesting progress to watch.

Will you go to any Arizona Fall League games?

I don’€™t think so. I need to probably have some back surgery so I can stand a little straighter. I’€™ve had this since May. I’€™ll go the next couple of days to get it figured out and then we’€™ll get it done so I can feel a little bit better.

What is your specific back problem?

I’€™m not sure, to be honest with you. We’€™ll go get that figured out and get that started so you can have a little bit of an off-season, we’€™re not rehabbing, but I’€™m on my way over there in a few minutes to get some evaluations.

On future managerial career considering your own accomplishments and health problems:

Have I given it some thought? Yeah. If there comes a time where I don’€™t feel like I can do my job appropriately, I won’€™t do it. This job takes an unbelievable amount ‘€“ sometimes almost sucks the life out of you. Again, you need to be careful the day after the season’€™s over, especially when you’€™ve been sick and you don’€™t feel good. You’€™re at the bottom of the energy, and I try real hard every winter to make sure when I come to Spring Training I can do my job because I owe that to the players and to the organization because it does take it out of you, this place more than any other place I’€™ve seen. And I do have some health issues, there’€™s no getting around it. So I need to go get checked and get some of that fixed, but if there’€™s ever a day where I don’€™t feel like I can do my job, I won’€™t do it.

On the impact of opening the season in Japan:

It was a disadvantage in the true form of competativeness, sure. Anytiem you go 6,000 miles to play two games, that’€™s a tough trip. I think we said right away that we wouldn’€™t allow that to be an excuse, which I think we did a good job. I think we recognized what it is. It was good for Major League Baseball, and I hope that we were a good representative, a respectful representative. But as far as helping us win games, no it was no help. I thought it showed up in Toronto. I thought we played with cement on our feet in Toronto that trip for three games and we got swept. I’€™m not smart enough to know. I don’€™t think we ever wanted to allow it to show up. But I remember that trip we really had a tough time, but other than that I think we handled it pretty well.

On your expectations about Red Sox players participating in the World Baseball Classic:

We will deal with that when it comes. We can’€™t really deal with it until we really know who they will be. Because we are a pretty diverse group and we’€™re a pretty good team, we’€™ll probably have a lot of guys that are being considered. There’€™s going to be some, especially when you start talking about pitchers, that you certainly worry. We try so hard in spring training to bring guys along at a pace where they can fulfill their season being healthy and productive, and all the sudden you’€™re asking guys to compete a month early. That certainly raises a concern. It’€™s not just with the Red Sox, it’€™s with everybody. When you play late and start early, that certainly raises a lot of concerns. I know (Matsuzaka is) very excited about it also. I don’€™t know how to get around it. They’€™ve come up with that plan and you follow it. We’€™ll do the best we can.

On pitchers tiring at the end of the year after consecutive seasons playing deep in the post-season:

I don’€™t know about the back-to-back as far as leading to fatigue. I think that when you have a guy like a Beckett that you just lean on once you get to post-season, and then you can’€™t lean on him ‘€“ he becomes a four and two-thirds, five inning pitcher ‘€“ you still are in games that you can win. In both those games he pitched ‘€“ one goes, what, 11 or 12 innings ‘€“ so we’€™re dipping into our bullpen for Beckett’€™s days, for 12 innings of bullpen in games that aren’€™t where you’€™re just trying to finish them out where you can pitch a starter, so our bullpen got very taxed. Yeah, I thought Tampa’€™s did, too. Again, there’€™s reasons why that happens, not just because we played in the post-season last year.

On whether Youkilis has reached his ceiling:

Oh boy, I don’€™t know. I guess I hope he hasn’€™t reached his ceiling. I don’€™t know if that’€™s a fair assessment. He had a phenomenal year, and he was asked to do some things that could derail some of that in a lot of instances with a lot of players. But he never let it get in the way, he never complained. He just really tried to do his best under all circumstances. I think he’€™s a lot stronger mentally than people give him credit for. And I think he’€™s also matured in a lot of ways, too. Look at what he did. He can basically hit anywhere but first, and we’€™re not going to hit him ninth. He just doesn’€™t like to hit first, but other than that you can really hit him anywhere you want and he ended up hitting clean-up in a time where we really needed the guy. Manny’€™s gone and if there’€™s a hole there, that creates more holes than just one. And what Youk did was phenomenal. He played third, he played first, he ran the bases. He’€™s one of the elite players in the game. I said the same thing about Pedroia the other day when somebody asked me. When you get two kids that come up through your minor league system and can make an impact like that, that’€™s pretty phenomenal.

Do you feel lucky to have the kind of flexibility that Youkilis gives you?

Yeah, I do, because that’€™s not the norm. It allowed us to play guys throughout the season that we wouldn’€™t normally be able to play. If Youk can’€™t go over there, you can’€™t play Kotsay. Youk made us better in a lot of ways that go past his numbers. His numbers were phenomenal, but he still had the ability to make us better because of other things.

On Schilling this off-season:

Oh boy, you’€™d have to talk to Theo about things like that. I don’€™t think Schill has any ambitions to come back and pitch at the beginning of the year. I was going to say, I don’€™t think that that’€™s probably an option, him pitching at the beginning of the season.

On dealing with the Ramirez situation:

I don’€™t know how you think it was. It was tough at times. The one thing I won’€™t do, though, is ‘€“ I think I need to be consistent in when we have problems or when we deal with them how we deal with them, regardless of how its viewed publicly, we’€™d like to be consistent in how we view it. So when a guy leaves, for me to start saying things I didn’€™t say when they were here I think is wrong. There were portions of this year that were very difficult for me, I think that’€™s a fair assessment.

On evaluating Wakefield’€™s season:

He won, what, 17 the year before. I actually thought, well maybe it’€™s not fair, but for the majority of the year I actually thought he pitched almost better. I think wins and losses are ‘€“ Daisuke is 18-3, we’€™ll take it. I don’€™t care how you get to that. We’€™ll take it. I also think at times that can be deceiving. And I thought with Wake’€™s year, it was deceiving. He’€™s run into problems the last couple of years at the end of the year physically, which again you try to look at innings for all your starters and piece them together and he gave us a lot of innings. I think he gave us 186 innings. That’€™s a pretty significant number of innings.

On plans to keep Wakefield fresh later into the season:

We’€™d like to keep everybody fresh, but at the same time we’€™ve been playing into the middle of October or the end of October. You have to have a certain amount of innings and you have to get there. We’€™ve tried to be very careful and very cognizant of where everybody is during the year and try to space people out. At the same time, you have to finish games. You can’€™t win 85 games and make it to the playoffs. There’€™s got to be a way. It’€™s not easy. You can’€™t just plug a guy in. We tried to do it at intervals but you can’€™t do it once a week or the roster would be in shambles and it won’€™t work.

How will you handle Lester’€™s off-season considering his heavy workload in 2008?

We’€™ll see. That’€™s something that we certainly need to be aware of. I talked to him the other night and said ‘€˜go rest’€™ but he understands that he will have to work very hard, which that part is reassuring because we know he will. But we’€™ll discuss that in the coming weeks how best to recognize what he did and move forward and not have that be a hindrance.

On taking time away during the off-season:

I don’€™t know if I want to take time away. I’€™m going to go get my back fixed, but I don’€™t know if ‘€“ I don’€™t know if I want to get away. This game is kind of crazy. I laugh when people say it winds down. No, it comes to a crashing halt. You’€™re going 100 miles an hour and then its over. You either won or you lost and it’€™s hard to understand. But then when it is over, you regroup and you go about a different side of baseball, looking at your team and evaluating. During the season is really not a good time to evaluate. It’€™s too emotional. You’€™re so invested in winning that it doesn’€™t always help. If you’€™re not good enough, you’€™re trying to make yourself good enough. If you’€™re missing in some areas, that’€™s not the time to say you’€™re short. It’€™s the time to ‘€“ it’€™s almost like a used car salesman ‘€“ figure it out and sell it, and when its time to evaluate we will, which now that time is beginning.

On your upcoming back surgery:

Yeah, I’€™ve known I’€™ve needed it since May. I haven’€™t been able to feel either arm for four or five months. I need it.

On what Beckett had to go through to pitch in the postseason:

You know, I’€™m really not sure that we completely know. I think we all know he was beat up. He had the strain in his oblique. Thought he did a great job getting ready to pitch in Anaheim when he went through that period. And then to take the ball when he did was important. None of us expected him to go out and throw 98. Some of that is just again because of the inconsistencies in his pitching. But none of us downplayed his ability to go out and pitch when it was difficult and he really did. We all know what a gamer he is and we appreciate that. The time off will be huge for him. How beat up he is right now we may not know until he has a chance to rest and get better. Again, you get into that part of the year where if you’€™re not healthy enough you tell yourself you are, or if you’€™re not good enough you tell yourself you are and you try to figure out a way to be better than the other team. We came close. We just couldn’€™t quite pull it off.

On players other than Lowrie being examined at the season’€™s end:

Nobody will leave here, hopefully nobody will leave here, coaches included ‘€“ Millsy, DeMarlo ‘€“ without getting extensively the end of the year exams. And if there are things that pop up, like something like Lowrie, that he was playing with it, really didn’€™t need to be on the medical report every day, but since the season’€™s over he had it looked at. We will do that with everybody.

On Masterson’€™s role next season:

I think Theo answered that appropriately. Some of that will depend on how we’€™re situated pitching-wise. He certainly gives us some flexibility. The good news is he’€™s a good pitcher, and good pitchers can get outs. If we gets outs, everybody will be happy, the Red Sox, Masterson.

On Masterson bouncing from the rotation to the bullpen:

In the grand scheme of things, I think the way it worked out this year was very productive for him. He needed major league innings as a starter. I don’€™t think you if send him to the bullpen with Double-A experience that’€™s going to work. I think the way it was drawn up this year worked very well. Going forward, I think a lot of it will depend on how we’€™re situated with our pitching.

On any conversations with Varitek:

Not after the season, before it was over, yeah.

On Varitek’€™s offensive struggles:

I know that there were times where he was very frustrated offensively. It was hard for me. I fought it during the season because of who he is and what he means to the team. Hitting for him, and I ultimately decided during the season that I would not hit for him because I didn’€™t think it was in our best interest to win a World Series. I think we could have won a game or two, potentially, during the season, but I did not think that situated us moving forward. When we got to the playoffs I sat him down and told him that could happen and we did it a couple times. Still, in my opinion, it put us in a difficult position because you’€™ve got a switch hitter that when you start hitting for your switch-hitting catcher, you’€™re not putting yourself always in the best position. It’€™s difficult. But I still love and respect what he brings to our team. When he does that and he adds that offense, that’€™s part of the reason you win the World Series.

More on not hitting for Varitek during the regular season:

In a nutshell, I guess how you say ‘€˜lose the battle, win the war’€™ and I thought for us to get where we wanted to go, if we started hitting for him early in the season, that wasn’€™t necessarily going to help us. Maybe we win a game in June, maybe a Casey comes in and wins a game in June. I acknowledge that, but I don’€™t know that we could win more games going that route. I don’€™t think that would have helped us. You get your starting catcher, your captain, looking over his shoulder in June when he goes to hit in the 7th inning and I don’€™t think you win as many games as you think.

Were you surprised by Varitek’€™s season offensively?

Well, yeah. There’€™s such a belief in Jason, and there still is. And the one thing we hang our hat on a lot is even when he’€™s not hitting, it never got in the way of him catching, and I have seen that happen with other people. They are human. He has time for the pitchers. He could be the guy who’€™s leading off the inning and he’€™d be in an 0-for-10, 0-for-15 and he’€™s talking to the pitcher about what he needs to do. That’€™s really appreciated. There were times when it was really tough. I think physically he bears such a burden that physically sometimes it’€™s hard for him to hit. There are some things that work against him as a switch-hitter, which is good. Then you get beat up a little bit and you have him hit one way and it was tough. Left-handed was difficult for him for a significant time of the year.

On Papelbon at the end of the year:

He was tired. I think the two-inning stint took a lot more out of him that people realize. Going out for that second inning was tough. You can add up innings or you can add up pitches and you can say he should be this or he shouldn’€™t be that, but if they are, that’€™s what it is and you deal with it.

Would Papelbon have pitched in Game 7?

I don’€™t know. I really don’€™t know. I would never put somebody in a position that is unfair, even in a game like that, I would never do that. I can guarantee that. We ask a lot of guys, and we’€™ve seen some pretty miraculous feats, but we’€™d never put somebody in a position where they’€™re going to get hurt.

Was Matsuzaka prepared to come in?

He was notified. Again, that’€™s where there is some gray area. And that’€™s where if I have to answer things because of the Tokyo paper or whatever, that’€™s not fair to me. If Lester got to a certain point of the game, which he did, we’€™re not going to bypass Masterson or something like that. Again, you have to be ready for anything that can come at you, especially at Game 7. That’€™s what we were trying to do. But we’€™re not going to bypass a guy like Oki that’€™s gotten everybody out. I think that’€™s maybe a little bit of a miscommunication between the media.

On managing Crisp and Ellsbury during the season:

I think we handled it pretty well. We had two guys that I think could probably have been considered everyday players in the major leagues. One is a little bit more of a veteran guy. One is a young and up-and-coming hopefully star. One guy excels in the World Series, the other guy struggles. So we have both of them coming back. Everybody is certainly calling for Ellsbury to play at the beginning of the year. My job, if they’€™re both going to be here, is to make it work. I think we actually made it work pretty well. Nobody sat too long, they both ended up being pretty productive. Ellsbury was going to have his bumps in the road as a first-year major league player and he did. Coco was there to step in when we had injuries on the corners. We could move guys. We ended up playing them both enough where they both played pretty well or where we never lost somebody. I think it’€™s easy for the media or the fans to go ‘€˜Well just play this guy.’€™ But we tried to do it where we would never lose a player and we didn’€™t. Coco ended up being a big part of what we were trying to do.

On having outfield depth:

Having depth is huge. We found out this year. You have to have some depth. But also, you have to have the people to accept it and handle it. I thought Coco did a great job this year. It was not easy for him all the time and he handled it very well. Moving forward, those are decisions we’€™re going to have to make about what’€™s best for us, but I thought Coco did a good job.

On any moments from the season that stand out other than Game 5 of the ALCS:

Well that would be a big one for me. We were looking at kind of going with a whimper. Coming back, that’€™s a pretty special night. I thought that if we won the World Series, that would certainly be the night that we would point back to. No, nothing sticks out. I thought we battled a lot of adversity this year. and still found a way to win 95 games. It wasn’€™t good enough to win the division. We’€™d push at Tampa and they’€™d push back. We had some inconsistencies along the way. We had a lot of losing streaks early in the season that got in the way. I thought we actually played pretty good baseball and then we’€™d lose three, lose four. You know, the really good teams lose one or two. We couldn’€™t get around that at the beginning of the year. There were a lot of frustrations but we found ways to be a pretty good team, just not a great team.

Will you watch the World Series?

Oh, I don’€™t know, it depends on if Prison Break is on.

End — and beginning — of the road

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Apparently, this Game 7 stuff is habit forming for the Red Sox. Since 1985, when the American League Championship Series was changed to a best-of-seven format, this is just the sixth ALCS to go the distance. The Red Sox have been in five of those: 1986, 2003, 2004, 2007 and now 2008.

The Sox have won their last two Game 7s, and the Rays recognize that they are dealing with an experience deficit to a club that has made winner-take-all contests a rite of October.

‘€œWe talked about it a lot of times. Them being the champions, you have to take that away from them,’€ said Rays designated hitter (and designated spokesman) Cliff Floyd. ‘€œWe have to take it. They’€™re not just going to give it away. They know how to win, they know how to come back, they stay very poised in tight situations’€¦

‘€œIf we were facing a team that hadn’€™t come back from situations they had come back from, we probably wouldn’€™t be having this discussion. We’€™d probably be at home chilling after having practice (while waiting for the World Series) today. (The Sox) just know how to handle the situation totally different. (Tampa Bay) is a team that’€™s learning.’€

One possible demonstration of the Rays getting a bit tight under the collar has been on defense. The Rays, who had the best defensive team in baseball during the regular season, have suddenly looked lost in the field. They’€™ve taken bad outfield routes (B.J. Upton, Gabe Gross) to the ball in the past couple of games, and they’€™ve committed an unsightly five errors in the last three contests.

In Game 5, the Sox scored the winning run thanks to an Evan Longoria error on an infield single. Kevin Youkilis ended up on first rather than second, and was thus able to score on when J.D. Drew’€™s walkoff ‘€œground-rule single’€ bounded into the stands. In Saturday’€™s Game 6, Gold Glove candidate Jason Bartlett threw a ball away, resulting in a key unearned insurance run in the sixth.

The Sox, meanwhile, have yet to commit a single error this series. If they make it through tonight’€™s game without a gaffe, they would become the first team to remain error-free in a seven-game postseason series.

The Sox have been in a dozen winner-take-all games, going 6-5-1 in those contests. Their recent success, however, has been striking, as the team has won four of its past five decisive games dating to 1999, the early years of Jason Varitek‘€™s and Tim Wakefield‘€™s tenures in Boston.

As for the Rays? This is uncharted territory, and they acknowledge as much.

‘€œFor me,’€ said Rays manager Joe Maddon, ‘€œit’€™s a wonderful opportunity for us to grow. It’€™s a difficult moment based on the last couple days. However, it’€™s a growth moment for us as a team and as an organization. To go out there and get it done tonight would mean a whole lot to us.’€

Will the Rays continue their learning curve, or will the Sox take another step towards declaring themselves a dynasty? The answer should arrive around midnight.

ALCS Game 7

Sunday, October 19th, 2008