Thursday, October 18, 2007
The Red Sox face elimination tonight in their first must win game of the season. If victorious, they will face elimination again on Saturday. They need to win three straight games against Cleveland in order to continue the season.
In 2004, the Red Sox were down 3-0 against the Yankees. In Game 4, the Red Sox staged a 9th inning rally and eventually won the game in 12 innings. Game 5 required an 8th inning rally and a 14 inning effort. Games 6 and 7 were slightly easier, and the rest is history.
Listening to Boston sports radio, the 2004 team was alluded to at a rate of about once every 100 seconds. “In ‘04, we came back against New York.” “We were down 3-0 to the Yankees and still won.” “Tell Cleveland to ask Torre and the Yanks about what happened in 2004.” And so on.
There are two major problems with comparing the peril of the 2007 Sox with the near doom of the ‘04 club. These Red Sox are not the same as those Red Sox. And these Indians are not the same as those Yankees.
The four consecutive games won by the Sox in ‘04 were started by Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Derek Lowe again. The three games the Red Sox need to win this year will be started by Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling (3 years older than in ‘04, of course), and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The ‘04 Sox had two Aces in the hole, the ‘07 Sox have an Ace, an aging Jack, and a wild card.
The bullpen work in ‘04 was handled by Mike Timlin (4.1 IP in those last 4 games), Keith Foulke (5 IP), Allan Embree (3 IP), Bronson Arroyo (2 IP), Pedro Martinez (1 IP), and Tim Wakefield (3 IP). That bullpen was very deep. Mike Myers got the tough lefties, and Curtis Leskanic had 1.1 innings of work in Game 4 to get the win.
The bullpen for the ‘07 Sox is strong up front with Jonathan Papelbon (37 Saves, 1.85 ERA), Hideki Okajima (2.22 ERA), and a suddenly resurgent Mike Timlin (3.1 IP this series with 1 hit and no walks allowed). But after that, things get messy. Manny Delcarmen has allowed 3 runs in 1.2 innings. Jon Lester has yielded 2 in 3.2 innings. Javier Lopez gave up 4 in a single inning. Eric Gagne shall never again pitch in a Red Sox uniform. Papelbon, Okajima, and Timlin have combined for 8.1 scoreless innings in this series, but unlike in ‘04, there is a steep drop in performance as one goes down the list of bullpen pitchers.
The 2004 Red Sox had a complete lineup from 1 to 9. Johnny Damon led off, followed by Orlando Cabrera. Then came the big bats of David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez. Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn rounded out the lineup, a lineup which scored 949 runs in the regular season (5.9 per game) and 90 runs in the post-season (an astonishing 6.4 runs per game).
The 2007 Red Sox lineup is nowhere near as complete as the ‘04 club’s. The leadoff spot has been passed from Coco Crisp to Julio Lugo to Kevin Youkilis to JD Drew to Jacoby Ellsbury finally to Dustin Pedroia (and perhaps back to Ellsbury). Whereas the 2004 Sox had some hitters at the bottom of the order to continue big innings, make pitchers work harder, put up a few extra runs, and turn over the lineup; the 2007 team has four holes in Drew, Jason Varitek, Crisp, and Lugo, all of whom hit .270 or below this year. The Four Horsemen of the Pop Out have combined to go 12 for 60 (.200) this series. The Red Sox scored 867 runs this season (5.4 per game), and have scored 40 runs in the post-season (5.7 per game). However, 19 of those 40 runs came in two games. In the other 5 games, they’ve averaged 4.2 runs per game.
In the 2004 ALCS, the bottom of the order made major contributions. In the 9th inning rally of Game 4, Kevin Millar (hitting 7th that night) led off the inning by drawing a walk from Rivera. After pinch runner Dave Roberts stole 2nd, Bill Mueller (the 8 hitter) drove him in with a single. In Game 5, Jason Varitek (hitting 7th) knocked in the tying run in the 8th inning with a Sac-Fly. In Game 6, the big hit was by 9th hitting Mark Bellhorn, whose 3 run shot provided the Red Sox with what turned out to be the game winning runs. In Game 7, Damon knocked in 6 runs with 2 homeruns. Four of the men he knocked in were from the bottom of the lineup.
The 2004 Red Sox had Derek Lowe, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Allan Embree, Tim Wakefield (in the pen), Bronson Arroyo, Mike Myers, and a strong bottom half of the lineup to fall back on. The 2007 Red Sox have Josh Beckett, a 40 year old Curt Schilling, and a very lost Daisuke Matsuzaka. When and if these guys fail to go enough innings, the likes of Manny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez come into pivotal situations with the game on the line. And the bottom of the order is an easy 1.1 innings for any pitcher to navigate through.
The 2007 Indians are not the 2004 Yankees. In Game 5, the Indians will have CC Sabathia on the mound. If there is a Game 6, it will be Fausto Carmona. Neither one looked sharp in Games 1 and 2, but both had amazing years. Combined they are one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball.
In Game 4 of the ‘04 LCS, the Yankees started the ancient Orlando Hernandez. In Game 5, it was Mister Mediocrity: Mike Mussina. The Game 6 starter was Jon Lieber. Kevin Brown started Game 7. I’ll take Sabathia-Carmona-Wetbrook-Byrd over the Yankees’ foursome any day of the week.
The ‘04 Yankees also lacked a strong middle-relief. Tom Gordon and Tanyan Sturtze set-up Rivera, but then there was the likes of Paul Quantrill (4.72 ERA in ’04) in the middle. Quantrill got the loss in Game 4. Esteban Loaiza (5.70 ERA in ’04) was the loser of Game 5. Javier Vasquez (4.91 ERA as a starter in ‘04) allowed 3 inherited runners to score in Game 7. He also allowed 3 more runs of his own, which let the Red Sox pull further away from the Yankees.
The Indians’ bullpen has Borowski at the end. Borowski has the highest ERA in the pen. But apart from him and Tom Mastny, every other bullpen pitcher had an ERA below 3.00 this year. Aaron Fultz was at 2.92, Jensen Lewis was at 2.15, Rafael Perez was at 1.78, and Rafael Betancourt had a 1.47 ERA and a WHIP of 0.76. Betancourt, Perez, Lewis, and Fultz, along with Borowski; spell much more trouble for the Red Sox than Paul Quantrill or Esteban Loaiza did.
What the 2004 Red Sox did was impressive. Maybe I’m just being pessimistic, but I don’t think the 2007 Sox can semi-repeat what that team did in ‘04. That team was very special. They were also very good from top to bottom. Moreover, the 2007 Indians are much harder to beat than the 2004 Yankees. I will be much more impressed with this year’s team than the 2004 team if they come from behind and win this series.
Even if the Sox pull it out, the Rockies aren’t going to lose a single game until 2012.