Red Sox Nation and Terry Francona were treated to a baseball clinic last night. The price of admission? One game in the standings. If there is anybody out there who still doesn’t understand why the Yankees win and the Red Sox lose, please raise your hand. Terry, put your hand down. It is superior management. Joe Torre was masterful last night – creating opportunities, taking advantage of miscues, and most important, not taking his foot off of our throat until he was sure we were dead.
The plan was obvious from the start – get inside Derek Lowe’s head. And they did it by aggressive baserunning (4 SB’s) and a lot of help from Millar and Nomar. Lowe was able to pitch around a first-inning throwing error on Nomar (which could just as easily been charged to Millar) but couldn’t escape the third-inning boot by Millar. Lowe lost any semblance of focus as he let Jeter steal second, then third (double-steal, A-Rod to second), without ever checking the runners. It got worse in the fourth. After striking out Clark (Lowe’s only K of the night) he walked Cairo on 5 pitches. Cairo promptly stole second. Lofton lined out but Jeter then reached on a Nomar fielding error bringing up Sheffield. Lowe was visibly upset by the error. If there’s anybody besides Francona who didn’t know what was going to happen next, shame on you. Three-run homer on the second pitch of the at-bat.
Inexplicably, Lowe would come back in the fifth to pour more gas on the fire in the form of a two-run blast to Clark. Lowe is a head case, plain and simple, and Torre knew it. The guy cannot pitch out of jams, especially when he is in them by way of an error. He can’t finish anyone off when he gets two strikes on them, and he can’t hold runners on base – 9 out of 10 attempted steals were successful this year. Torre took advantage of every one of these weaknesses.
On the other side of the chessboard is Tito. He knows he has Lowe going tonight, a ground-ball-out pitcher, so what does he do? He puts Bellhorn at third, his first start there. Brilliant. On the other corner, Kevin Millar. Why? Has he ever scooped a ball out of the dirt? Can anyone remember that happening, even once? Isn’t McCarty their best defensive first-baseman? Is he in there for his offense? Millar needs to go away. Back to Japan, back to Texas, back to KFC, I don’t really care. My kingdom for Dauber.
The pressure is now on for the next two nights. The Sox need these two wins. Wakefield and Pedro need to pitch like major-leaguers. The hitting needs to continue and the defense must be flawless. That means no Millar. Ortiz or McCarty at first, Youk at third. Is that so hard to remember, Tito? Your job is to put the players on the field that gives the team the best chance to win. You didn’t do that last night, Torre did. Lesson learned? We’ll see tonight when the chess pieces are lined up on the board for round two.