The Numbers That Matterby Ben Jacobs
October 28, 2004
When the final out was recorded Wednesday night, 1918 and 86 were rendered meaningless and 25 numbers gained a whole lot of importance. Let's take a look at them:
Pokey Reese only had two at-bats in these playoffs, but he appeared in 10 games as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. Pokey had an interesting season in Boston. He did not hit well at all, but he was a fan preference most of the season because his batting average wasn't bad compared to Mark Bellhorn's, he didn't strike out a lot and he looked excellent on defense.
I don't know how long it will stay in my memory, but what I like about Reese's season is that two of the three home runs he hit came in the same game, when he knocked one out of the park and knocked one into the right field corner and raced around the bases while Juan Gonzalez tried to field the ball. Whether Reese had a huge impact on the Red Sox or not, he will be a pretty big part of Red Sox lore. Whenever they show clips of the 2004 ALCS and get to the end of Game 7, there will be Reese scooping up a ground ball and retiring the final Yankee to send Boston to the World Series.
Trot Nixon has always been a big fan favorite in Boston and most Boston fans were relieved when his potential free agency was taken care of early with a three-year contract in February. A month later, Nixon began suffering from a back injury. That injury kept Nixon sidelined until mid-June, and then he got hurt again in late July and missed all of August. So, even though Nixon followed up last year's career season with pretty good numbers (he hit .315/.377/.510), he only played 48 games and nobody really knew how much they could count on him.
Nixon struggled in the first two rounds of the playoffs, picking up just eight hits in 37 at-bats, but he came through in a big way in the final game of the season. Nixon's green-light swing with two outs and the bases loaded in the third innings -- his second of three doubles in the game -- was the last significant play of the baseball season except for the final out of the game.
Bill Mueller gave Boston one of the most unexpected batting titles of all-time when he hit .326 last year, and it was unreasonable to expect him to match that this year. However, he did do pretty much what Theo Epstein expected when he acquired Mueller, even though he missed 52 games this year. Mueller used Fenway Park (.344 average at home) to hit for a decent average (.283), he used his patience to get on base more than your average player (.365 OBP) and he showed a little pop for a decent slugging percentage (.446).
And even if he had stunk the rest of the year, Red Sox fans would love him for providing two of the defining moments of this season -- his two-run homer off Mariano Rivera on July 24 and his single up the middle off Rivera in Game 4 of the ALCS. If Rivera's aura of invincibility has been shattered, Mueller gets credit for the kill.
Perhaps no player better exemplifies the struggle between traditional baseball thought and sabermetric baseball thought than Mark Bellhorn did this year for the Red Sox. He was one of the keys to the Boston offense this year with a .373 OBP and .444 SLG, basically giving the Red Sox what they hoped Todd Walker would give them last year. But because he struck out a lot (177 times) and didn't have a high batting average (.264) and wasn't as flashy with the glove as Reese, he was booed on occasion by the Boston faithful.
As the ALCS went along, Bellhorn got skewered. He couldn't get a hit and almost all of his outs were strikeouts and just about every Red Sox fan on the planet was clamoring for Terry Francona to start Reese at second base instead of Bellhorn. So what does he do? He hits the decisive home run in Game 6 against the Yankees, he hits an "insurance" home run in Game 7 against the Yankees and he hits the decisive home run in Game 1 against the Cardinals.
Considering he's the only player on this roster who was born in Boston (or in all of New England, for that matter), he should become a hometown hero for the Red Sox if he sticks around for a bit.
After struggling at the plate with the Twins, Doug Mientkiewicz found himself switching dugouts on the first day of August as the Twins traded him to the Red Sox. After the trade, he hit even worse but he still had a role on the team as the late-inning defense at first base. Then the playoffs started, and I don't know if anybody has pointed this out or not, but Mientkiewicz (wearing my lucky number) may have been Boston's good luck charm.
He entered all three games against the Angels, getting four at-bats and two hits. The Red Sox didn't use him in the three games against the Yankees, primarily because they didn't have any leads to protect at the end of the game. They didn't have any leads to protect in the next two games either, but Mientkiewicz got into both, picking up a double in three at-bats and providing some solid defense at first. He came in for defense in the final two games of the ALCS as well, and he caught that ground ball that Reese fielded for the final out. Then, with the Red Sox never trailing in the World Series, he entered all four games and caught Keith Foulke's careful, underhand lob for the final out of the season.
In case you didn't pick it up while reading that last paragraph, the Red Sox won all 11 games in which Mientkiewicz played, and lost all three games in which he stayed on the bench. Mostly that's a function of his role, but it's still pretty neat.
I don't necessarily put a ton of stock in chemistry and things like that, but where would this Red Sox team have ended up without Kevin Millar? After struggling early in this season (and causing many people to think he was about washed up because he had also slumped mightily in the second half of last season), Millar rebounded in a big way and finished with solid numbers (.297/.383/.474).
Millar has been one of the big clowns of this team the past two years and whether it helps them win or not, it's certainly kept them amused. He also kind of got The Comeback started by working a walk from Rivera to lead off the ninth inning in Game 4 of the ALCS. Last off-season, I said I was worried that he'd vest his option for 2005 and be a waste of money, but now I'm glad he'll be coming back.
After his disappointing 2003 season, I was hoping the Red Sox would find some way to trade Johnny Damon last off-season. Then, he showed up in Spring Training looking like (insert your favorite -- a caveman, Jesus, Chewbacca, Charles Manson) and suddenly he was rejuvenated enough to have his best season (.304/.380/.477) since 2000 while simultaneously seeming to become the official spokesman for the clubhouse somewhere along the way.
In the playoffs, he helped the Red Sox run roughshod over the Angels by collecting seven hits in 15 at-bats and three steals in three attempts. He struggled, to put it mildly, in the first six games of the ALCS before his incredible personal batting practice session with Javier Vazquez in Game 7. Then, of course, he hit the leadoff homer in Game 4 of the World Series to put the Cardinals behind in the first inning for the fourth game in a row.
Gabe Kapler, quite frankly, didn't do much. I don't think I have a single real memory of Kapler from this season. I suppose that's understandable, though, because it's hard for every player on a roster to be worth remembering. That's not to say Kapler isn't worth remembering, just that if I'm trying to remember who was on the 2004 Red Sox 25 years from now and I'm having trouble coming up with that 25th guy, it'll probably be Kapler.
As little impact as Kapler had on the postseason, Kevin Youkilis had even less. His playoff experience was limited to two at-bats against Anaheim, and he was left off the ALCS roster in favor of Ramiro Mendoza. However, I'll probably always remember Youkilis being on this team and not just because people chanted "Youk" when he came up or because I knew a lot about him before he reached the majors thanks to Moneyball.
The reason I'll remember Youkilis being on this team is that I was sitting in SkyDome with my parents and my girlfriend when Youkilis came up to the plate for his second major-league at-bat and hit a home run into the left field stands. I couldn't see into the Boston dugout, but I did see on TV later that the Red Sox gave the rookie the silent treatment when he returned from his special trot around the bases for his first career hit.
I'm sure I will, but I don't ever want to hear anything else about how immature Manny Ramirez is or how he doesn't really even know what's going on around him. The Red Sox tried to waive Manny, and nobody took him. They tried to trade Manny, and they ended up stuck with him. Instead of brooding or sulking or pouting or whatever, he just went out and had another MVP-caliber season. Not only that, but he decided to loosen up, start talking to the media again and completely win over the city of Boston.
Imagine if you went in to work one day and your boss came up to you and said, "So, we told all the other locations in the company that they can have you if they want you, but nobody wanted you. Then, we called Texas and told them we'd take the guy who smells off their hands if they'd take you, but there were some paperwork problems and that didn't work out. It looks like we're stuck with you. Anyway, keep up the good work you've been doing the last three years."
Would you decide that not only would you try to turn in your best performance yet, but that you'd make everybody around you love you so much that they wouldn't care that you're not perfect? Because that's what Manny did. He probably didn't deserve the World Series MVP award, but that's just because this World Series was about total team domination and not just one player. The guy overcame a lot this year, he hit .412 in the Series, and I'm happy he's got an extra piece of hardware to show for it.
He only played in two games in the playoffs, but Doug Mirabelli had one of the great backup catcher seasons you could hope to see, hitting nine home runs in just 160 at-bats. Of course, we knew he could do stuff like that because when the Red Sox acquired him in 2001, he hit nine homers in 141 at-bats after coming over from Texas. And watching Jason Varitek struggle through three passed balls in one inning in the ALCS gives you some appreciation for Mirabelli only having 15 passed balls while catching most of Tim Wakefield's 188 1/3 innings this year.
Keith Foulke was worth every penny the Red Sox gave him and more, that's all you can say. After pitching 83 mostly excellent innings in the regular season, he simply turned it up a couple notches in the playoffs. He struck out Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of Game 3 against the Angels to give David Ortiz a chance to win it in the 10th. He threw 100 pitches in three days to help the Red Sox find a way to force Game 7 against the Yankees. And he pitched in all four games against the Cardinals, giving up his only postseason run in 14 innings on a meaningless homer from Larry Walker in Game 3.
For everybody who was wondering whether a soft-tosser who relies on his changeup can thrive in the playoffs, he struck out 19 batters in 14 innings. Every time he needed to get a big out in this postseason, he did.
Curtis Leskanic picked up some amusing nicknames (Gaskanic and Let's Panic) after joining the Red Sox, and he was certainly shakier than his 3.58 ERA in 27 2/3 innings with Boston. However, he picked up Boston's first win in the ALCS this year after getting four outs to allow Ortiz to do his thing. He'll be another player that a lot of people are going to forget about, but he did his job at an important time for the Red Sox.
His postseason consisted of just three games and zero at-bats, but Dave Roberts probably just had the most memorable at-bat-less postseason in baseball history. That was, quite simply, the most important steal I have ever seen. Whether a good throw would have gotten him or not, he was safe and scored the tying run and then scored the tying run again the next night. It's a shame they couldn't get him a cameo in the World Series, but Roberts certainly found his way into the Red Sox history books.
If it's over, Derek Lowe certainly had a rollercoaster ride of a career in Boston. But you know when you go on a rollercoaster and you think about what you want to do when you get to the part where they take the picture and then you screw it up and look like an idiot? Lowe didn't screw it up. He nailed it.
It started off innocently enough, with a scoreless inning that most people didn't really want him in the game for that ended up earning him the clinching win against the Angels. Then he had a decent start against the Yankees in Game 4, but he was out of the game long before it was decided in Boston's favor. Then, he somehow came up with six beautiful, one-hit, one-run innings on two days' rest in Game 7 against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium to win the ALCS clincher and send the Red Sox to the World Series.
As if that wasn't enough of a high note to go out on, he comes back and allows three hits in seven scoreless innings to win the Game 4 clincher against the Cardinals. Three series, four appearances, three wins in the clinching game, 19 1/3 innings, a 1.86 ERA. Thank you, Derek. That's about all I can say. No matter what happens from here on out, nobody will ever forget what you did.
I don't really know what to say about Jason Varitek, actually. I kind of get annoyed when people call him the MVP of the team because I don't he's particularly close to being that. However, there are lots of times when it does seem like he's the heart of the team. He had the best offensive season of his career this year, but he wasn't a huge factor in the postseason.
Varitek hit .321/.355/.571 in the ALCS, but a lot of that damage came while the Red Sox were losing the first three games. Still, he showed a lot by catching 26 innings in about 27 hours and of all the free agents the Red Sox have, he's the one I want back the most. I don't always trust him at the plate in important spots, but there's something soothing about having him behind the plate. He just fits in Boston and I hope he continues to fit.
David Ortiz had already become a fan favorite long before this postseason. His first two regular seasons in a Boston uniform and his performance in last year's playoffs -- the game-winning hit in Game 4 against Oakland and an excellent ALCS -- earned him about a dozen different nicknames. When the Red Sox put out this year's team calendar, they decided to put the Ortiz photo in October. Good choice.
A .545 average and a walkoff, series-clinching Game 3 home run against the Angels. A .387 average with three homers and two walkoff hits against the Yankees. And while the Red Sox didn't need him to carry them in the World Series, he still hit .308 and got the ball rolling with that homer in the first inning of Game 1. In all, he hit .400/.515/.764 in 14 games on the way to becoming Senor Octubre. I'm just glad the Red Sox have him under their control for the next three years
I think the only reason most people even knew Mike Myers was on the roster was because of the possibility that he'd end up pitching in Game 7 of the World Series as the Red Sox tried to win their first title in 86 years on Halloween. As for his actual pitching, aside from his mop up duty in Game 3 of the ALCS, he was called on to get one batter out four times. Twice he struck the batter out, twice he walked the batter and one of those times the batter ended up scoring.
I don't think I've ever been as impressed with an athlete as I was with Curt Schilling in those last two starts. I know a lot of people don't like him for a variety of reasons, but I hope they all at least respect what he did on those two nights. Hearing about the procedure they used to allow him pitch just made me queasy. Watching him pitch, you could just tell he wasn't really right. But he gutted out 13 impressive innings in crucial spots.
We'll never know how much discomfort or pain he was in for those starts and we'll never know how much he was risking the rest of his career in those starts, but we do know what they did to him and we know what he did to the Yankees and the Cardinals. And it was a thing of beauty.
For the second year in a row, Alan Embree just went nuts in the postseason. Last year, he pitched 6 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. This year, he had one bad outing where he allowed two runs in 1/3 of an inning in Game 3, but somehow I don't think he's the reason the Red Sox lost. In his other seven innings, he allowed just one unearned run. He was a big factor in the Red Sox getting through Games 4 and 5 against the Yankees.
When last season ended, the Red Sox had Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop. Then, they had a chance to get Alex Rodriguez to play shortstop. At the time, Red Sox fans seemed pretty divided on which one we wanted. A lot of them jumped at the chance to get one of the most talented players in baseball. Others loved Nomar too much. My friend's mom asked what would happen if the Red Sox traded for A-Rod and I told her they'd get rid of Nomar. "Uh-uh," she said, "I don't like that."
Ultimately, it cost the Red Sox both of them. In retrospect, I'm obviously glad the Red Sox didn't get A-Rod. He quickly became my least favorite Yankee and, while I'm sure I would have rooted for him had he come to Boston, something about him just rubs me the wrong way. At the same time, I'm sad that Nomar couldn't be a part of this amazing run. He deserved a better fate than this in Boston.
When the smoke cleared after it became clear that both A-Rod and Nomar had slipped through our fingers, we ended up with this scrappy, little, defensive wizard named Orlando Cabrera. He wowed us with his glove and he somehow came up with big at-bats after looking completely lost at the plate earlier in the game (sometimes even earlier in the at-bat). He was perfect. Not as talented as A-Rod or Nomar, but he could play every day, he didn't say much and he was thrilled to be in Boston. Maybe (probably?) he was just here for three months, but for those three months, he was the right guy in the right place at the right time.
I hope it's not over yet, but I would have remembered the Pedro Martinez era in Boston forever anyway. Unlike other sports, in baseball offense and defense are completely separate. You can't score points on defense like you can in football. You can't use a great defensive play to set up an easy offensive play like you can in basketball and hockey. For that reason, as a baseball fan, you're always waiting for your team to be up, because nothing good can happen while the other team's up.
Well, in 1999 and 2000, when Pedro was pitching, we wanted the other team to be up, just to see what he'd do. That's the best way I can describe what those two years were like. We wanted to see the part of the game where nothing good could happen for our team, just because Pedro was so amazing to watch. That's something I'll never forget.
That he was able to summon up one last great start in his World Series debut is just gravy. He gave us all plenty of memories a long time ago. I hope he's back to add more memories next year, but I'm satisfied if he's not.
Of all the guys on the team, the guy I'm probably happiest for is Tim Wakefield. Not only has he been in Boston the longest, but he's had to endure the most. He was constantly jerked in and out of the rotation over the years. He was left off the 1999 ALCS roster and just when it looked like he might be named the 2003 ALCS MVP to make up for it, he gave up the home run to Aaron Boone. So of all the players on this year's roster, Wakefield deserved this the most and I'm truly happy for him.
Unlike Embree, Mike Timlin didn't repeat his great 2003 postseason when he allowed just one hit and no runs in 9 2/3 innings. This postseason, he allowed eight runs in 11 2/3 innings on 15 hits and seven walks. However, he did have great moments. In the first game of the playoffs, he pitched two perfect innings and struck out the top of the Anaheim lineup in order in the ninth. In the next game, he came in with the Red Sox up 4-3 and gave up a hit to bring Vlad Guerrero to the plate, and promptly struck him out. In Game 5 of the ALCS, he came in after Pedro was done and kept the Red Sox within two runs for 1 2/3 innings to give them a chance to come back. In Game 7, he came in after Pedro's inning and got through the scary eighth inning unscathed and delivered the ball to Embree with just one out to go. In Game 3 of the World Series, he took over for Pedro again and pitched a perfect inning before giving the ball to Foulke.
So, Timlin may have had a 6.17 ERA this postseason, but he had some important moments that helped the Red Sox win their championship.
Bronson Arroyo is another pitcher who didn't have a good postseason, but did have good moments. He had an impressive start in Game 3 against the Angels that went for nothing when Timlin served up a grand slam to Guerrero. Then he stunk up the join against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS. He rebounded to pitch a perfect inning two days later, striking out both Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield with filthy looking stuff. The next day, he was obviously involved in the focal point of the game. And then he was ineffective in relief in Game 1 of the World Series and got one out in Game 4.
All in all, my thoughts on Arroyo are that I'm glad he's going to be a part of the rotation next year, and I'll be expecting bigger (and more consistent) things from him.
This truly felt like a complete team, with all 25 guys working together to get through every inning and every game and finish what they set out to do eight months ago, even though they weren't all together yet at the time. For me at least, that made it just a little bit more special. Hopefully, Theo can put together another special group of 25 next year.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.