Friday, October 26, 2007

Dirty Water: Sox Talk With the Thunderstick: On To Colorado Edition

Well, it was another damned good night to be a Boston sports fan, especially if you root for BC, as I do (and many in Boston do not, though the bandwagon is filling up fast). The Boston College comeback was beyond improbable and keeps them in the hunt for a BCS bowl and maybe, just maybe a national title. But as great as the win over Virginia Tech was in Blacksburg, it pales next to the Sox taking a 2-0 lead in the World Series over the Rockies. So let's hear what the Thunderstick has to say.

Thunderstick: Great win last night. Really they are all great at this time of year because they get you one victory closer to winning the whole thing, but everyone in the world was predicting a high scoring affair and the Sox were able to win a pitcher's duel. Schil did what he had to and Tito once again showed that he's a master at managing the pitching in the playoffs by knowing exactly when Schill had had enough and exactly how long he could go with Okie and Pap. Hell of a performance by those guys. Jimenez was better than I expected. He walked too many guys and that ultimately led to him not getting out of the 5th, but his stuff was either in the strike zone and nasty or out of the strike zone (and still nasty), so the Sox couldn't get a lot of good hits on him to drive in those walked batters. But they got it done and go up 2-0 heading to Colorado.

Two things after this game--one looking back, one looking forward. We've spent many emails and text messages the last 4 years discussing Schilling, talking about how we wished he'd shut up from time to time and discussing a lot of non-baseball-related items about him. But I hope that was his last start at Fenway because it was the perfect way to go out. Despite the extra stuff that comes along with Schilling, he's had a huge effect on this organization and region. When he came in 2004, it was his presence that kept Sox fans up after the Yanks got ARod in an offseason that came off of that brutal game 7 loss to the Yanks in the 2003 ALCS. And his attitude was huge as one of the personalities to drive that 2004 team. His heroics led to him never being quite right again, with two years where he really wasn't very good at all. But this year, he hasn't been overpowering and he hasn't been dominant, but he's gotten it done when he needed to--in game 3 against Anaheim and game 6 against Cleveland and again last night and his approach has typified this Sox team where he's just doing what he can, doing it intelligently and doing it effectively and he just keeps at it. You heard them talk about him and Ortiz leading that players-only meeting during the series with the Tribe and you see his thoughts echoed in the post-game interviews that are conducted with other players. I won't miss some of the stuff that goes along with Schill if this was his last start, but I will very much miss watching him pitch, particularly in October, even if it is this version of him that rarely goes over 90 and can only throw 80+ pitches a game and while it becomes fashionable to bash on Schilling for some of the stuff he says, it'll be nice to see the full appreciation of Red Sox Nation for him after he passes out of town when people tend to forget the non-game related nonsense and remember his performances.

Lastly, looking ahead--I mean, we can't get too overconfident, but I said after game 1 that game 2 was pretty damned important to the Rox if only because they had to figure that they aren't going to beat Beckett so if they lost game 2, it basically meant they had no margin of error in the 4 upcoming games that Beckett wasn't pitching because even though you might not know what you are going to get from Schill, Dice and Lester in these other four possible games, you have to think the Sox would win at least one of them, so by losing game 2, they might have doomed themselves. But we'll see. I'm interested to see how much the lineups are evened out with the loss of the DH. I'm also interested to see how Dice, who relies on a lot of ball movement, pitches in the thin air. The Rox will have a chance to get back in this, tomorrow night and Sunday night before seeing Beckett again, but I think if the Rox don't win both of these, the Sox will be popping champagne on Monday night. I have a feeling the Rox win one, if only because they are good enough, a young, upstart team that will get carried through one game by the emotion of being at home in the World Series, but I also think they win one because the stars of the 2007 playoffs have clearly been Beckett (for his masterful performance) and Pap (for his pitching, but also for his personality) and it seems like it's only fitting that it end with Beckett getting a win and Pap closing it down for him.

dcat: I wrote the following before Game One:

One factor in this series, I think, is that there will be at least two games when the winner will simply have to outscore the other team, and I don't mean that in the obvious way that teams to win always have to outscore the other. But given that we are talking about a World Series being played in Fenway Park and Coors Field, there are going to be times when the winner is going to have to put up 8-9-10 runs. I am not certain that the Rockies can beat us in a lot of those games. There will also be at least a couple of games when the winner is simply going to have to out-pitch the other team. I am confident that the Sox can win those games.

We know how these sorts of predictions usually work, but I think I had that one right. We've had two very different games, one a laugher, one a nail biter, and in both cases the Sox played better baseball and emerged on top. In the first game Beckett was spectacular, but he did not even have to be, as the lineup pounded the Rockies. In Game Two, runs were going to be scarce. We got what we needed and let Schill do his work, and then he handed the ball to Oki and Paps, who were simply astounding. In the NBA postseason, the ideal approach is to shorten the rotation. In the NHL playoffs coaches change the way they manage shifts. Well, in baseball, you do everything you can to maximize the time the ball is in the hands of the guys at the end of the bullpen rotation. In a game seven that might go out the window, but it is clear that in this series Tito is going to let Oki and Pap go multiple innings. These are the highest leverage situations, so we are going to maximize how we utilize those guys. They came through last night. Thankfully, we have the off day today. Still, we need some innings from Dice tomorrow.

I agree wholeheartedly with you about Schill, though there is a part of me that would love to see him close out his career with the Sox if the price is right. I don't care what Curt Schilling, or any of these guys, thinks about politics. But at this time of year I want a wily Curt Schilling both on the mound and in the clubhouse. If he wants to get bank for one last contract, I think we wish him well and cheer like mad when he returns to Fenway. But if he simply wants another year or two, is interested in being a mentor, and is not worried about being a number one guy, I'd be happy to have him back. There is, as we have seen year after year after year, no such thing as too much starting pitching.

Game Three will be the Rocks' last best chance to get back into this thing. And while Dice had been sporadic, I still maintain that he has not been bad, and the last game he was quite good. So far the Rockies have not been as patient as the Indians, have not seen as many pitches, have not shown the ability to wear our guys down. If we assume that Dice is going to have that one tough inning, and if it is likely to be the fourth, we have to hope that Dice can get to the 4th having thrown as few pitches as possible. We are going to get our runs. The question is if they can get to Dice and ride what will likely be a crazy home crowd thrilled to see their team in a World Series game.

I'm going to enjoy the off day. We have everything to be happy about. Two games down, two wins, and in very different fashion. Let's enjoy a Friday night without being glued to the television, and get back at it tomorrow.

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