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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Not With A Bang But A Whimper

Well, we know three things in the wake of Boston getting swept out of the ALDS. One, this team still needs a little work. Two, Billy Wagner can't quite get it done when the game is on the line. Three, Papelbon's security in Boston got dented a little bit.

The Boston hitters did what they needed to do. Clay Buchholz did what he needed to do. It was everything at the back end that screwed it up.

With the Sox ahead 5-2 in the top of the eighth and looking like they were going to take Game Three, Wagner came on to relieve Bard (more on that in a second). Now, Wagner came into Boston with a rep for not being able to get it done when the pressure was on. In two big games against Anaheim and New York in the regular season, Wagner wilted. But here we were in the post-season. What would happen? Well, Wagner got two outs but he also put guys on second and third. And that inability to close out the eighth set the stage for one of the worst implosions ever at Fenway Park.

Papelbon has always been reliable in the post-season, to the point where if Boston had a lead in the ninth in an October game and Paps took the mound you knew the game was over. But when he comes out in the eighth...well, all bets are off, aren't they? We all know about my issues with using your closer in the eighth inning. Short story long; I hate it. It's a view born in watching Tom Gordon implode in Game Four of the 1998 ALDS while sitting in the bleachers. And Game Three just reinforced that belief of mine.

Paps came out and promptly gave up a two-run single to make it 5-4. The Sox tacked on one in the bottom of the inning to make it 6-4. And then Papelbon got two outs before falling apart. He then went single, walk, double, intentional walk, single to give the Angels an improbable 7-6 lead. Paps came out of the game and Oki got the last out. But by then it was too late.

And this is where Bard comes in. When Bard took over in the sixth, he allowed one inherited runner to come across. But his final line was 2.0 innings, no hits, no walks and two strikeouts. And this will feed a little fire to murmurs about Papelbon's and Bard's future.

Someone in sports media (I think it was Jon Heyman but not 100% sure) floated the idea a couple of months ago about the Sox considering moving Papelbon to get a lot of needed talent back, because Bard could take his place. The idea was dismissed, even by Heyman, because of Papelbon's talent, the rarity of solid closers and his post-season excellence.

But now, could Sunday's performance jack up the rumor mill a degree or two? Will we hear Papelbon's name mentioned more than once over the off-season?

I personally cannot see it happening. Papelbon had some excellent numbers this year, even as his WHIP and walk numbers exploded. As in career highs for each (1.15 and 24 walks). The result was his K/BB ratio plummeted to 3.17 from 9.63 last year. Nevertheless, he was one of the elite closers in the majors and will continue to be unless this marks his descent into Billy Wagner territory. But it will make for some interesting discussion.

Right now, though, the result is that the season is over for Red Sox fans. Well, except for hoping that Anaheim whips New York's ass (a definite possibility). It wasn't a "failure" except by the impossible standard of expecting your team to win the title every year. Once again the Sox made the post-season, the fifth time in six years under Terry Francona. In that time Boston has won two World Series. Boston is competitive every single year, and that is what you want from your team. So much has to go right for a team to hoist that team can win it every year. For Boston to have grabbed two in six years...that's pretty damn good.

So the Sox have to look at 2010 now. There are a lot of things to think about. What to do with Mike Lowell and David Ortiz? Who is coming back to the bullpen? What will they do about Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek? Does Boston need another top-flight pitcher or will Buchholz continue to improve and is Daisuke back for real? And what about shortstop? Ah, the eternal question at shortstop...

So while my game commenting is over I'll still be on here writing...something. Probably stuff slagging the Yankees. Because there is never an off-season for that.


Unknown said...

All I can say about Wagner is, "see, I told you."

HeartyLarry said...

Well if you think it's always open season on the Yankees, this Yankee fan will have a comment or two on the Sox at this point. Pabelbon got his comeuppance on Sunday for his hubris and, by extension, so did the Sox and their fans. The Sox this year looked to me like the Yankees did last year. A team good enough to win 95 is very good indeed, but they won it ugly. Those of us on one side or the other of the Sox vs Stripes chasm understand the term schadenfrude very, very well and I am more than happy to see the Halos sweep the Sox after the past few encounters with them, I fully expect the Yanks to beat the Angels and turn the table there. So we'll see, the Angels were truly the other best team in the AL this year, the Sox were the also-rans in the top three. True in the season and the play-offs. This ALCS is about who is best in the AL. This Yankee fan is feeling more confident in the talent and attitude of his team than he has in 7 or 8 years.

Unknown said...

I had to do some research on this, but bringing in a closer during the eighth does increase the chances of failure, even for a great closer such as Mariano Rivera.

Of Mariano's 35 postseason saves, 28 have been 1+ inning. That's impressive.

But he's also blown five postseaon save opportunities, four of which the Yankees went on to lose. In each of those five cases, Mariano was brought into the game in the eighth.

That said, if the Yankees need a big out to escape the eighth, I'd still want to see Mariano in there. He's the Yankees' best and in the postseason you go with your best.

Dave said...

Okay, so I wasn't completely off-base there. It just seems that once you extend your closer past three outs, the odds things go haywire increase.

And yes Aviv, you were right about Wagner. And now the SOB may retire and we won't even get the draft pick.

Larry, all I know is that I am an Angels fan for the next round.

Misty Mays said...

Has to be one of the biggest upsets in baseball history, I was shocked!

Craigga said...

I actually blame ZERO of this on Wagner. In fact, I'd like to see him stay, I won't say where in the 'pen, it riles up the legions.

So much up in the air, so many options to dispute. Should be an interesting and entertaining offseason for the Sox.