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.)