Following the lead of teammate Kevin Millar from the previous night, Jason Varitek launched a two-run, game-winning homerun into the seats at sunny Fenway. If not for the white-hot start of Johnny Damon (he of the 17-game hit streak and flirting with the elusive .400), there would be a lot more Captain Tek talk going on in these parts. 7 homeruns, 15 RBI and a lofty .343 batting average for the quiet leader of the band. And with back-to-back ninth-inning wins, the feeling of “never being out a game” is stronger than ever.
Yes, the walk-off homerun is a slice of baseball magic. The drama of the last at-bat win is great and the homeplate celebrations when the Red Sox do it are like no other. Yesterday, however, the win loses a little shine when you see how they got into the situation of even having to bat in the ninth. Keith “win-stealer” Foulke. Given the easiest of save situations, the three run lead in the ninth, Foulke self-destructed. Four runs later the stage was set for Tek’s heroics.
And to the spoiler goes the victory. In one of baseball’s quirks, Foulke is credited with the “W” for coming in and sucking. At the pace he’s on, Foulke could be the Sox first 20-game winner this season. Not good for a closer to have a 2-3 record. I guess it could be a lot worse considering his ERA is pushing eight. The bottom line, like it or not, something is wrong. Foulke has given up six dingers in 17 innings after giving up just eight in 83 innings last year (his first home run allowed came on May 30th last season). In 2004, Foulke made 72 regular season appearances. In 33 of those, he did not allow a hit. This year he has made 16 appearances and given up at least one hit in all but four of those. Also, only 15 walks in his 83 innings last year, 7 already this year.
Foulke was clearly not happy after the game, getting a little testy with the line of questioning the reporters used. But according to Francona, “he is not in a funk”. Having a shaky closer may be the biggest problem for a manager to deal with. Do you sit him down, or does that shatter his confidence? Do you let him “work through it” at the expense of possibly losing games? Tough road ahead, I think, for Francona. I wouldn’t wish an injury on anyone, especially one of the Red Sox, but this is one of those situations where I’d feel better if there was an injury that they’d been keeping quiet. The alternative is so much worse.