Running on Empty

Wow. I mean … just … WOW.

How great is baseball in October? There’s a guy with nine career starts tossing a no-hitter against the best offense in the National League, but no one is watching because the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox aren’t done yet, playing their 26th inning in two days. David Ortiz finally drives home the game-winning run with a broken-bat blooper into short center field, and then just a few minutes later, when the fifth game of the National League Championship Series can finally get a national audience, Jeff Kent breaks a nothing-nothing tie with a three-run homer off of Jason Isringhausen in the bottom of the ninth.

For a while it looked like the New York-Boston series was going to be a huge disappointment after the unbelievable amount of hype leading up to the first game. But while the series hasn’t gone quite as most people imagined, it has been incredibly entertaining and figures to get a whole lot more interesting tonight, with both pitching staffs running on fumes. Boston had tonight’s starter, Curt Schilling, head down to the bullpen during last night’s game and Tim Wakefield put that age-old question of “just how often can a knuckleballer pitch?” to the test. Meanwhile, Esteban Loaiza started four consecutive innings for the Yankees when allowing one run would have ended the game, which is about all you need to know about the status of New York’s bullpen.

To get a feel for just how worn out these staffs are, here’s a look at how much Boston’s pitchers have worked over the last three days:

                           PITCHES THROWN
BOSTON               SAT     SUN     MON     TOT
Pedro Martinez                       111     111
Tim Wakefield         64              38     102
Derek Lowe                    88              88
Bronson Arroyo        60              17      77
Keith Foulke                  50      22      72
Mike Timlin                   37      20      57
Alan Embree           14      30       9      53
Mike Myers            42       4       4      50
Curtis Leskanic       15      13              28
Ramiro Mendoza        20                      20
================================================
TOTAL                215     222     221     658

The Red Sox have thrown a total of 658 pitches in the last three days, using 10 of their 11 pitchers, with only Schilling not working at all. Alan Embree and Mike Myers each threw in all three games, with Embree going 14, 30 and nine pitches, and Myers going 42 on Saturday, followed by four pitches in each of the next two games. Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Timlin and Curtis Leskanic each pitched in two of the three games, with Arroyo starting Game 3 and relieving in Game 5.

Pedro Martinez is probably the only Boston pitcher who is totally unavailable for tonight’s game, after throwing 111 pitches last night. If Wakefield were a normal pitcher, he’d be out of action too, throwing 64 pitches on Saturday and 38 pitches last night, after throwing 25 pitches in relief in Game 1. However, I would not only bet that Wakefield is available tonight, I think there’s a good chance he’ll be one of the first options for Terry Francona, assuming Schilling isn’t just asked to stay in until his arm falls off or his ankle bursts into flames.

The only really fresh guy on the whole staff, aside from Schilling, is Ramiro Mendoza, who didn’t pitch in either Game 4 or Game 5. Leskanic also got last night off and should be at full strength — whatever “full strength” is for him — tonight. Really, the Red Sox aren’t in horrible shape for Game 6, because they should have 4-5 guys capable of giving them an inning, with Wakefield around as the always-available last resort.

New York, on the other hand …

                           PITCHES THROWN
NEW YORK             SAT     SUN     MON     TOT
Mike Mussina                         105     105
Javier Vazquez        96                      96
Orlando Hernandez             95              95
Tom Gordon            17      26      19      62
Mariano Rivera                40      22      62
Esteban Loaiza                        59      59
Kevin Brown           57                      57
Paul Quantrill        27       8      13      48
Tanyon Sturtze                25      13      38
Felix Heredia                         14      14
================================================
TOTAL                197     194     245     636

The Yankees threw “only” 636 pitches over the last three days, compared to Boston’s 658, but I think their pitching staff might be more worn out. Mike Mussina is a definite no-go for Game 6 after starting last night and throwing 105 pitches, and I’d guess there’s no way Orlando Hernandez, with his arm problems, would be able to go after throwing 95 pitches on Sunday. I’m not even sure if Javier Vazquez would be available, having thrown 96 pitches in relief on Saturday, and obviously New York will hold Kevin Brown back as long as possible for a potential Game 7 start.

That would leave Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, Felix Heredia and Loaiza as possibilities in relief of tonight’s starter, Jon Lieber. Quantrill has thrown in three straight games and left last night’s game with what looked like a knee injury, so he might not be available at all. Gordon has also thrown in three straight games, something he’s rarely done in recent years. He has looked tired at times, but didn’t have any huge pitch counts, going 17, 26 and 19 pitches, so perhaps he’d be okay for an inning. Rivera is probably pretty gassed after throwing 40 pitches on Sunday and 22 more last night, but he’s sort of like Wakefield in that what goes for a “normal” pitcher doesn’t always apply to him. I guarantee he’ll be out there if the Yankees have a late lead tonight.

That leaves Loaiza, who threw 59 pitches last night, as a potential last man in the pen again, coming in when everyone else is spent to pitch until the game is over. Sturtze is fairly fresh, throwing 25 pitches on Sunday and 13 more last night, and Heredia is very fresh and completely available tonight, in the same sense that Derek Jeter, Ron Guidry and Mel Stottlemyre are “available” to pitch.

Of course, just as rain washed away Friday’s Game 3 to get us into this mess, there’s a decent chance the clouds could open up again and give everyone a much needed day of rest. Personally, I’m rooting for nothing but clear skies, because the way these two pitching staffs have been worked lately, things could get very interesting tonight.

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