The Last Thing The Red Sox Expected To Be Worried About Was Their Starting Pitching
- Ray 13-Red Sox 4:
Entering the playoffs, the Red Sox concerns had to be, in order: the health of Josh Beckett, J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell; how Jason Bay would respond to meaningful games in the spotlight as he replaced Manny Ramriez; how young players Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson and Jacoby Ellsbury would respond to playing major roles; then the starting pitching. As they face elimination, their last concern is their biggest and they have to rely on the one pitcher in whom few had faith—-Daisuke Matsuzaka—-but the one who has performed far beyond limited expectations and outpitched his more respected rotation-mates. Now, it’s up to Matsuzaka to save the season.
Even with the injury-plagued questions surrounding Beckett, no one could’ve expected him to be this bad, which is leading to the widespread belief that he’s hurt and the Red Sox aren’t admitting it. Jon Lester was brilliant in his first two starts against the Angels, but the Rays attacked him as if he’d stolen their meal money. I won’t even try to understand everything inherent with throwing the knuckleball—-how rest affects control; whether Wakefield was bothered by the long layoff (he hadn’t pitched in a game since September 28th—-but any knuckleballer is a coin flip as to whether the pitch is working or not. (I used to try and throw the pitch—-never got it.) It comes down to Matsuzaka.
I was a member of the large chorus outside of Boston shaking their heads and questioning Matsuzaka’s shiny 18-3 record. His massive pitch counts by the middle innings, strong bullpen and lineup supporting him contributed to the record more than anything else; but he’s come through brilliantly in the playoffs, which has augmented the gutty reputation he brought with him from Japan as a guy who comes up big when it counts.
The Red Sox are not out of this series. They have a hill to climb without question, but if they can get the series back to Tampa with Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza scheduled to pitch for the Rays, Lester’s not going to have another bad start in game seven, leaving the series in the hands of Beckett in game six. What are they going to get out of Beckett? Does anyone know? Is he healthy enough to recapture that pitcher he’s been in post-seasons past? That’s the key. The Red Sox weren’t overly concerned about their starting pitching going in, but that’s exactly what’s going to have to save them as they try and dig their way out of this hole; it won’t be easy, but they have the experience and they can do it.
- Yankees fire third base coach Bobby Meacham and special pitching instructor Rich Monteleone:
Even though from everything I’ve heard, Rich Monteleone was highly respected, his firing is negligible in the cosmic scheme of things. The firing that was a shot across the bow of manager Joe Girardi was that of third base coach Bobby Meacham. Meacham was one of the two hand-picked coaches on Girardi’s staff and his dismissal isn’t just the act of replacing a third base coach who’d garnered some criticism for his handling of baserunners, but a message to Girardi that he could be next if things don’t turn around quickly next year.
There was talk (mentioned in the comments here) that Meacham was not only reckless with his baserunning decisions, but that he and Mike Harkey (the other Girardi-selected coach) were the only members of the coaching staff that Girardi had anything to do with. This is not a good way to handle one’s staff and delegate authority and lends credence to the implications that Girardi is a notorious micro-manager who can’t see reality with his relentless (and occasionally annoying) optimism. Denying a problem exists by being Pollyanna doesn’t make them disappear especially with a veteran team; now the only thing that’s disappearing appears to be Meacham.
If anyone doesn’t think that this was a message for Girardi, ask yourself a question: Why was Meacham fired outright? He could’ve been kept on the staff and moved “lower down on the trough” as it were; why not move him to first base? Or make him a bench coach? Since he was dumped completely, this was the equivalent of telling Girardi that he had to have more interaction with all of his coaches and not just his buddies. Meacham got caught in the crossfire here; it reminded me of 1984 when he was a rookie shortstop for the Yankees, made an error costing them a game, and George Steinbrenner was so disgusted that he not only sent him to the minors, but he skipped Triple-A entirely and sent him to Double-A.
There are nonsensical schools of thought (notably around here from the likes of Mike Francesa) that “da manajuh should bick and hiyuh his goaches” (translation for those unschooled in the New York accent, “the manager should pick and hire his coaches”), which is crap. The proper way to do it is to have the GM and manager get together and select the coaching staff with each having full veto power over the other’s selections. If the GM wants to hire a coach and the manager says no because they engaged in a beanball war in the minors in 1987, then that should be enough; but the GM has the right to tell his manager he doesn’t want to hire a bunch of guys who are there specifically because they’re loyal to that manager and aren’t adding anything to the club.
Art Fowler was the perfect example of this as Billy Martin’s deputy; Fowler was there essentially to be Martin’s drinking buddy and even though such names as Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti swore by him as pitching coach, that
may have been because he left them alone over anything he taught them. A Fowler mound visit generally went something like this: “I dunno what you’re doing wrong, but it sure is pissing Billy off”. That’s a far cry from Rick Peterson’s hands-on approach in which he looked like he would’ve been happy to tote a chalkboard out to the mound with him.
There are plenty of qualified and respected coaches out there that would help Girardi without being a threat to him. Rene Lachemann; Jim Riggleman (who strangely hasn’t yet been fired by the Mariners as interim manager); Don Baylor; or John McLaren have the experience to be solid choices without a reputation for undermining. If anyone mentions Willie Randolph, they can forget it for now since Willie will be collecting a large paycheck from the Mets to sit on his behind next year; if he does anything for the Yankees, it will likely be in an unofficial capacity.
Will Girardi continue to take his hard-line approach as if he’s got the resume of Joe Torre? Or will he learn to be a bit more conciliatory, organization-minded and flexible? He’s somewhat lucky that he still has his job after everything that happened this year and if he does get fired, it would be the second time in which outside distractions and personality-driven problems caused it more than his in-game managerial skills; then he’d probably have to wait a looong time and perform a serious amount of penance before getting another opportunity. Girardi had better take the message seriously, because it’s one of the few he’s going to get before it’s his head that rolls.