What should Tito have done?

The setting was perfect. Eric Gagne was striding into the mound, part of the last vestiges of the Boston bullpen. With a clean inning, he could start erasing doubts about his abilities and add a few million to his incentive-laden contract he will sign with another team this spring.
Instead, Gagne cost himself a few million by setting up what would be an embarrassing seven-run 11th inning to send the Cleveland Indians home to Jacobs Field knowing the series was now best of five, with three consecutive games in their home.
To be fair to Gagne, his curveball was absolutely filthy against Casey Blake, and Grady Sizemore walked to the plate with the crowd abuzz on how Gagne had disposed of Blake. Was he back?
Okay, it’s Grady Sizemore who got the single. Really, no big deal. Right?
Gagne then committed a cardinal sin: he walked Asdrubal Cabrera. You cannot walk Cabrera in that situation, even with Travis Hafner out; Victor Martinez was in the hole and was now in line to bat, with the dangerous Ryan Garko behind him.
Cabrera possesses a good eye and okay pop, but this was his rookie year, and the 22-year old possessed a .176/.222/.353 line so far in October.
So, he walks Cabrera. In comes Javier Lopez, tabbed by Terry Francona to dispose of old friend Trot Nixon.
Lopez had a striking reverse split this year, checking in at a 1.05 WHIP and .176 BAA against righties and 1.63 and .293 against lefties. However, his career shows a normal split that a situational lefty should have: he gets lefties out.
Trot Nixon can’t hit lefties.
He did, and the floodgates opened.
In hindsight, the moves weren’t very smart. However, at the time, I was 100 percent behind the moves made, and I’m not going to crucify Tito because they didn’t work out.
What I do, question, however is this:
At what point do you throw out Lopez’s career and focus on this year: he can’t get lefties out, so have Gagne pitch against Nixon and then bring in Lopez to face switch-hitting Victor Martinez? Nixon has no power, the outfield could have been pulled in and Gagne could have been instructed to go after Nixon; don’t nibble like he did with Cabrera. Maybe Gagne gets a double-play. Maybe he walks Nixon. Maybe he serves up a homer. Maybe he gets an out, and then Lopez comes in and shuts down the rest of the lineup, or he lets the floodgates open, just like last night.
There’s no telling what would have happened, so I can’t say definitively what he should have and shouldn’t have done. I’m not going to sit here and tell Tito he should have done what I outlined last night — again, I agreed with the moves — but at what point do you start using Lopez in the situations that dictate it based on the 2007 season, not on his career? Heck, maybe Lester should have come in to face Nixon.
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Gagne needs to stop nibbling. That’s how it started.
One more thing: I really hate the fact that Tito is saying Tim Wakefield is starting Game 4 no matter what. This is ridiculous. Beckett threw 80 pitches. Let him pitch Game 4 on short rest and then Game 7 on normal rest. You pitch your ace as much as possible, and pitching him three times is the key to success.
This would have also enabled the Sox to put Wakefield in the bullpen last night, and maybe he comes in instead of Gagne, or he comes in in place of Lopez (I feel Tito held off on pulling Lopez as long as possible — he might have yanked him earlier if he didn’t have just Lester in the pen).
I really hope Tito changes his mind about starting Beckett in Game 4, or the World Series won’t have a team from Boston in it.
Horrible pictures from the game:

Fenway when things we going good (Mike Lowell’s homer):

(Yes, I stayed until the bitter end.)

Categories: 2007 ALCS Asdrubal Cabrera Cleveland Indians Eric Gagne Javier Lopez Terry Francona Tim Wakefield Trot Nixon

Born on the 37th anniversary of the the day Babe Ruth died (1985) which later became the day Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 (a monumental event at the time), Evan was too young to experience the pain 1986 brought, but a deep wound was sowed in 2003. Since then, Fire Brand has become a blog that Red Sox “club officials read,” as per Peter Gammons. Evan enjoys working out, writing, reading, quality television, science fiction and history and being newly married. He is a professional baseball journalist as well as president of a state non-profit and member of the Board of Directors for a national profit. (Twitter.)

21 Responses to “What should Tito have done?” Subscribe

  1. Joe October 14, 2007 at 2:23 PM #

    It's not just this year, it's been a career long thing with Lopez. He's just not a LOOGY.

  2. Frank October 14, 2007 at 3:06 PM #

    is it just me or every time Lopez comes in a pressure situation, he fails most of the time.

  3. Brian October 14, 2007 at 4:04 PM #

    Total overreaction saying we won't win the series because Wakefield pitches Game 4.

  4. Dan Order October 14, 2007 at 5:03 PM #

    I agree Brian. Although Wake has had some bad starts this year, he has shown, especially at the begining of the season, that he can baffle hitters with that dancing knuckler. It's possible that we see that Wakefield in game 4. However, it's also possible that we see the other Wake.

  5. jvwalt October 14, 2007 at 5:24 PM #

    Actually, Lopez had a decent season — for a 10th or 11th pitcher. I've seen him come through plenty of times. Not that I trust him in a tight spot; but when a team gets into extra innings, it's always a crapshoot because you're dipping into the bottom of the bullpen. Wedge had to turn to Tom F'n Mastny, for God's sakes. He just got lucky, while Tito rolled snake eyes.
    Given Gagne's track record with Boston, I don't see how leaving him in to face Nixon was any better than turning to Lopez.
    And I agree that Evan's guilty of extreme overstatement when he says that pitching Wakefield will doom the Sox. Really, now. I can't say I blame you, if you stayed until the bitter end Saturday night… disappointment and sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on fine judgment… but no manager's decision is that important. He could sit Manny and bat Hinske cleanup, and the Sox could still win. I assume that Tito will approach Wake's start differently than usual, and yank him early if his knuckler isn't dancing.

  6. Daniel Rathman October 14, 2007 at 7:26 PM #

    We shellacked Westbrook when we faced him in July at the Jake, so I'm optimistic. And Dice-K was lethal against the Indians during that series also. Then again, the regular season just seems meaningless in October.
    The odd thing is, I would've kept Gagne in the game to face Nixon. Yes, a righty staying in to face a lefty. It was a strikeout situation, and Lopez just isn't a strikeout pitcher. Gagne is — or has been, at least.
    I don't have any qualms with the way Tito managed this game. It was a game that I thought we would lose before the start. And we got a huge positive out of it: seeing Carmona, and knowing that we can wear him down.
    Game 3: Sox win.
    Game 4: Indians win.
    Game 5: Sox win.
    Game 6: Indians win.
    Game 7: Make it happen, Dice-K.
    I'm worried. But strangely, I'm a lot less worried than I thought I'd be.

  7. Evan Brunell October 14, 2007 at 7:39 PM #

    First of all, Lopez is a decent reliever. Not great, decent. His career splits show he CAN shut lefties down.
    Second of all, I didn't intend to mean we can't win the series with Wake starting Game 4. I just like our chances 1,000 times better with Beckett.
    And FWIW, my favorite pitcher on the Sox is Wakefield, so… this isn't me hating on him randomly.
    Beckett gives us a better chance at winning. Period. If Wake gave us a better chance, he would have started G1 of the ALDS and ALCS.

  8. Evan Brunell October 14, 2007 at 7:40 PM #

    "And Dice-K was lethal against the Indians during that series also."
    Cherry picking. He wasn't that lethal later in the year. And he was supposed to dominate the Angels.
    Bottom line: Dice-K better man up.

  9. Evan Brunell October 14, 2007 at 7:41 PM #

    Lethal later in the year against the Indians*
    Daniel: Can you change it to Sox win in 6 so I can witness it? Thanks.

  10. Michael Edelman October 14, 2007 at 8:02 PM #

    I don't like the Wakefield move either. In my opinion it's just pure stubbornness.

  11. Michael Edelman October 14, 2007 at 8:16 PM #

    Foulke's coming out of retirement and would like to come back to the Red Sox. Looks like Burger King hasn't worked out too well for him.

  12. Daniel Rathman October 14, 2007 at 8:28 PM #

    I'd love to. But … Schilling just doesn't inspire much confidence right now.
    Dice-K is a better pitcher on the road than he is at Fenway. And the Indians are a fastball-hitting team. They don't hit breaking pitches well, and they should see plenty against Matsuzaka.
    Just for the record, I agree on Beckett. He should start Game 4. If we lose this series, Tito will have that on his shoulders.
    Can we get Foulke on the roster for Gagne on account of the latter needing a whopper?

  13. Patrick MacKenzie October 15, 2007 at 1:25 AM #

    It's very easy to second guess Tito's handling of the bullpen, but he had to pull Gagne because he was melting down on the mound and the Sox were going to lose that game if he stayed in. What to do? Lester?!?! He has no experience in those situations. Lopez was the only option. Of course, a better option would have been if they put Julian Tavarez on the roster instead of Gagne, but there's nothing they can do about that unless they get to the World Series.

  14. Anthony Amobi October 15, 2007 at 7:47 AM #

    Evan, I was there too. If only I knew you there, I could have met up. I was there with my friend from Marblehead, Mass., and I flew up for the game thanks to winning the ALCS lottery from Redsox.com
    Man, what a game, but a great time up there.
    Gagne, ugh — If I were Francona, he does not go in again, you cannot frust him at all.
    Some pics, btw: http://oriolepost.blogspot.com/2007/10/photo-gall
    There's some more stuff on my blog about, but I had a fun time regardless of getting out of there almost after 2am.

  15. Dave B. October 15, 2007 at 7:48 AM #

    Lopez has NOT a LOOGY. Over the past 3 years:
    Righties – .252/.363/.420
    Lefties – .282/.370/.409
    His splits this year is much worse (RH OPS=.593 to LH OPS= .774). I'm not saying he is a bad reliever at all but he isn't a lefty that can be counted on to get lefties out.

  16. jvwalt October 15, 2007 at 9:20 AM #

    Does Beckett have any track record pitching on short rest? That't the key question for me. There are a lot of pitchers — including some really big names — who just can't be effective that way. If Beckett has proven himself on 3 days rest, I'd be inclined to pitch him in Game 4. If he hasn't been able to, or if he's never been called upon, then I'm disinclined. Too risky. Even more so than pitching Wakefield, because if it doesn't work, then you've potentially blown TWO games.

  17. Michael Edelman October 15, 2007 at 9:38 AM #

    jvwalt, I'm guessing you missed the 2003 World Series. He threw a complete game shut out against the Yankees on short rest.

  18. jvwalt October 15, 2007 at 11:21 AM #

    One game, no matter how impressive, does not constitute a track record. What I'd like to know is Beckett's career numbers on short rest. If 2003 was the only time he's done it, that's strongly suggestive, but it doesn't prove he can do it again. If he's pitched, say, five games or more on short rest with numbers that are comparable to (or better than) his full-career numbers, then you've got some good evidence.

  19. Dan Order October 15, 2007 at 11:36 AM #

    Can anyone clear up how this will work when the sox don't pick up gagne this winter? I've heard things about class a player with a first round componsation pick? Does gagne's recent performance make him no longer a class a player?

  20. Michael Edelman October 15, 2007 at 12:14 PM #

    Dan, Class A, Class B and Class C classifications are based on the past two years of performance. I'm pretty sure Gagne will be a Class A FA. This year's performance won't really hurt him because while he's struggled with the Red Sox, his overall ERA was still below 4. It's not very hard to be a Class A FA as a reliever.

  21. Dan Order October 15, 2007 at 3:17 PM #

    Thanks Michael. So losing him this offseason would result in a first round draft pick?