Smoltz walked into the House that Greed Built and got his ass handed to him last night. When you have no movement on your fastball and hang your curves in the strike zone, bad things are going to happen. Like giving up eight earned runs in less than four innings. And yes, Billy Traber did allow those three last runs to cross the plate and they were hung on Smoltz. But does anyone think that he would have done any better?
Theo and the gang are going to have to accept that the Smoltz Experiment is a failure...as a starter. I think he could do well out of the pen for an inning or two. But as a starter he is as done as a Thanksgiving turkey when the 4 PM game comes on. And don't hang this on Tito. Using Smoltz as a starter is a decision made by Theo. Tito can only control when to take him out. And hats off to him for not waiting until the fifth inning.*
The final line for Smoltz was eight runs on nine hits, four walks and three strikeouts in 3.1 innings. Yes, you may feel free to throw up in your mouth. His Game Score (the Jamesian creation I talk about from time to time) was 9. Not 19 or 29, which would suck as well. It was 9. I don't think I have ever seen a Game Score that low, which is a testament to Smoltz's ineffectiveness.
Aside from his lack of movement and hanging pitches over the plate, Smoltz's main problem is that he is a flyball pitcher. Now, that isn't so bad when you have a lot of movement on your pitches**. Smoltz has been a flyball pitcher all his life, but when he has both velocity and location working, those flyballs will be in foul territory or going straight up in the air. This year, Smoltz has his "worst" groundball/flyball ratio on record since 1994. It's .75, which isn't horrible if your get the right kind of flyball outs. Unfortunately, in the new Yankee Stadium he allowed the wrong kind of flyballs and they turned into moon shots. But he's been doing that all year and it doesn't look like it's going to get better.
The bottom line is that John Smoltz is shot as a starter. Theo needs to get a new pitcher in there pronto so Tito doesn't have to go to the pen before the fourth inning is done.***
What is even more frustrating is that this was a winnable game for Boston. They jumped to a 3-1 lead thanks to homers from Dustin Pedroia and new pickup Casey Kotchman. Joba Chamberlain (who may be a decent #3 starter but would be an elite closer) threw a mediocre game. Five innings and four runs on six hits. He walked seven batters. But Boston was in a hole by the time this came around and then they couldn't execute well enough to climb up that mountain. Plus, let's give credit where it is due; the Yankee bullpen did a good job. They won't pitch that well every night but they came up big for their team.
But when you put up six runs on the Yankees and you have the best bullpen in the AL****, that should represent a decent chance of winning. Getting buried before getting out of the fourth all but kills off any chance of that happening.
The hope now is that Beckett gives us one of his dominant outings. He thrives in these situations and I have high hopes for the Sox winning tonight. The one thing that happened last night in Boston's favor is that the Yankees used four arms out of their pen. If AJ Burnett gets chased out early tonight - which is possible - New York will likely be using a couple of guys two nights in a row. And that could have a cascading effect through the rest of the series. A thin thread of hope to be sure. But it's something.
But tonight is as "must-win" as it gets for Boston. They need this game to have a fighting chance at a split. I'm already looking at the preliminary matchup for Saturday between Buchholz and Sabathia. Anyone feel comfortable with that matchup? Neither do I.
* And let's get this straight - it's not Tito's fault that Smoltz can't pitch to save his life. These are the players he is given by management. It's Tito's job to do the best he can. No one is going to do well with a pitcher who can't get past four innings. So all you pink-hats calling for Tito's head need to calm the hell down. All Tito has done is bring two titles to Boston and be the best manager this team has had since 1916. Get a grip and shut up.
** For example, Tim Wakefield has a GB/FB ratio of .62 so far in 2009. But with a knuckler you end hitting the damn thing straight up or getting so little bat on the ball it's a weak pop-up to left.
*** And what the Hell is up with bringing Billy Traber in? The whole thing smacks of Ramiro Mendoza all over again. Signing ex-Yankees is bad business.
**** The Dodgers now have the best bullpen in the majors. Their collective ERA is about .05 better than Boston's.