Panic Now, Beat the Rush
4.7.03: As I was chewing my nails down to the quick in the top of the ninth inning of Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Orioles, my phone rang.
To my surprise, the plaintive voice on the other end was not a fellow Red Sox fan, but rather that of a Mets fan who had confidently included Pedro Martinez on a three-team parlay.
"What the hell is he doing?" my bewildered buddy asked, echoing the question I myself was screaming at the screen.
With nobody out and runners on first and third courtesy of the spectacularly wild Jorge Julio, Grady Little had Bill Mueller attempt a straight sacrifice to move the runner on first into scoring position. Here was a pitcher who was struggling mightily to register a single strike and Grady was offering him an entire out. I couldn't believe it. Julio was throwing almost 100 miles an hour with movement and was all over the place and our idiot skipper puts on the bunt. I know Grady Little didn't play in The Show, but he did play baseball at some point in his life, right? Yet clearly, in that moment, ninth inning of a one-run game - that familiar setting where he does his worst work - Grady clearly couldn't grasp that Julio was far more likely to advance the runner on first via another walk than he was to throw a pitch that could be easily bunted. Mueller predictably - to me and my friend - popped a bunt attempt foul before striking out.
Lost in the tortured welter of lament about our terrible bullpen - and it is terrible - is that the manager is still awful. I mean, if you saw a guy in a pickup softball game slap a groundball to shortstop and then run directly to third base, you'd say, "Wow, this guy doesn't know how to play." Well, guess what, when a manager watches Ramiro Mendoza yield a line drive single, a line drive double, a line drive sac fly, a line drive out, a line drive single, a line drive single and a line drive single and opts to leave him in with the tying run on first, he doesn't know how to manage. And then when Mendoza gives up a booming double and is saved only by a great relay and a generous call all Gomer Grady can offer is some asinine bromide about winning the game or how bravely John Burkett battled.
Can you imagine a more combustible combination? This bullpen being handled by this jackass. Oy. We teach children not to play with matches but part of that deal, of course, is to provide them with other toys. The front office has left a child-like huckleberry with nothing to play with but matches, kindling and lighter fluid. It's almost cruel.
But wait, the Sox are 5-2. They've opened the season with consecutive road series wins for only the fifth time in franchise history. Why the panic across New England?
Because Red Sox fans are smart. And they know this team cannot win the World Series. They know Chad Fox cannot close out a playoff series with a one-run lead. They know Pedro Martinez cannot pitch in a three-man playoff rotation and that Casey Fossum and John Burkett cannot win a playoff game. They know that a team with good infield defense doesn't yield seven infield hits in one game. They know that Derek Lowe's numbers will decline because that infield defense is so poor. They know this team will almost never successfully turn a 3-6-3 double play. They know this team will pound the soft underbelly of the American League but scuffle against the top tier teams. They know that this slow, potent offense is built for July and will post diminishing returns as the weather gets colder and the games get more important. Red Sox fans are not fooled by 12-2 drubbings of lousy teams. They think only of the big picture, of trying to win a road playoff game in Oakland on a chilly October night with the score tied 2-2 in the ninth and Pedro past his pitch count.
And they know this team can't do it.
It's so obvious, heck, even Grady Little might know it.