LONGSHOTS: A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
by Dave Long
How good is it to be a New England sports fan these days? The Patriots are undefeated and headed to what I hope is still a clash of unbeaten teams in Indianapolis in 10 days. BC football could be number one in the country after Michigan takes out Ohio State as they usually do on rivalry weekend. Thereís a high degree of anticipation for the Celticsí season. And the Red Sox are inspiring dynasty talk from the yahoos after being in their second World Series in four years.
Iíll talk about those other teams in the coming weeks. Today, I offer a bunch of things that are nice to know but you donít need to know about the baseball series just concluded and the one that lies ahead.
The single-elimination format is credited with making the NFL Playoffs and NCAA Basketball Tournament so great. But a really great seven-game series is even more interesting ó the twists, turns, ups and downs create more drama than a Hitchcock thriller. It intensifies personal and team bitterness and rivalries in way a one-and-done format canít and eventually provides the same sudden- death ending when it gets to a game seven.
No argument here over Josh Beckett being MVP, but has anyone with a series like Kevin Youkilis had in going 14 for 28 with three homers and seven RBI ever not been MVP? The only one I can think of was when the Yanks swept the Cardinals in the 1928. Lou Gehrig hit .545 with four homers and lost out to the Babe, who hit .625 with three home runs. Still, even though I was just a kid when it happened, I demand a recount since Gehrig drove in nine of their 27 runs in those four games to the Babeís four.
I know I am tilting at windmills here, because people just donít get what seems so common-sense clear to me. But what does a manager see that I donít, when he lifts Jake Westbrook after only 94 pitches when he has retired eight straight, five on strikes, and is in total command, as Eric Wedge did after six innings on Sunday? I know Rafael Betancourt had been lights out, but itís removing a certain thing (or as close as you can get) for an uncertain one.
Those clamoring for Jacoby Ellsbury looked pretty good when he got a big hit Saturday, then was in the middle of two rallies while making two very good catches in Game Seven. Of course many of those same folks were calling for Alex Cora over Dustin Pedrioa and all he did was get five hits and five RBI over the weekend. So since they were right about one thing and Tito the other, letís call it even.
Incidentally the two cases were different. Even though he didnít hit early in the series, the better player was playing at second base. The opposite was true in center. After watching Ellsbury hit .350 when he got the chance to play, is there anyone out there, Tito included, who doesnít think the kid is just better than Coco Crisp?
Speaking of which, hereís what Theoís farm system provided in Game Seven: the save, two important run-down outfield catches in crunch time, two home runs, six scored runs and seven knocked in.
And speaking of his two-inning save, did anyone notice that 15 of Jonathan Papelbonís 16 pitches went for strikes?
OK, if youíre so smart, name six Colorado Rockies. Todd Helton, Matt (Roman) Holiday, ahh, Kaz Matsui, err .... Jeff Frances, uhm Troy Tulowitzki ... ah, uhm, ah ... I saw manager Clint Hurdle play for the Royals way back when, does that count?
Now look at the roster and tell if there are five guys you actually heard of before they won 21 of 22. For me itís Helton, Holliday, Matzui, Latroy Hawkins and then there are John Mabry and Steve Finley, who I thought retired five years ago. Of course thatís pretty much what people said about the Patriots before they beat the Rams, at what historians 30 years from now will say was the start of the, er, Patriots dynasty.
Hereís the skinny on Frances, whoíll open the series on Wednesday. In going 17-9, he gave up 234 hits in 215 innings with an ERA of 4.22. Thatís a lot of hits, especially without facing designated hitters. But remember half his games were in the thin air at Coors Field. So being 2-0 in the postseason when he gave up 12 hits in 11 innings and had an ERA of 2.13 in two road games is more apples and apples.
The offensive statistics are remarkably close between the teams: both hit dramatically better at home than on the road. At home the Rockies scored 478 runs and hit 164 doubles, 103 homers and .298 overall. For the Sox it was 472 runs, 191 doubles, 79 homers and .297 overall. On the road Colorado scored 382, with 149 doubles, 63 homers and hit .261. For Boston it was a .262 average, 161 doubles, 87 homers and 352 runs scored.
But while the Rockies scored three more runs at 860 they scored just 102 more than their opponents. For the Red Sox it was an 857-to-657 advantage.
Hereís a question for Bill James and the work the always count crowd. For the season the Rockies hit .391 on the first pitch. In 110 at-bats Tulowitzki hit eight homers, knocked in 24 and hit .400. For Holiday it was .470, 13 and 36 in 116 first-pitch at bats. So should they still take the first pitch as a matter of course as stat geeks everywhere believe?
In case you are wondering: the Red Sox hit 80 points above their season average on the first pitch. And amazingly the same .357 is what the bad guys hit against them too! Thatís why I say unless youíre facing a top gun like Beckett or Pedro (whoíll wear down) youíll probably need a pitch count to get him out of the game ó swing away.
Prediction: The most important thing in the postseason is whoís playing well now. So if this series had started nine days ago I might go against my homer instincts and side with the mystical run like the one inspired by Roy Hobbs in The Natural the Rockies were on. But since I think the 21-of-22 karma will be gone after their huge lay-off, the run differential is the big stat. It says Red Sox pitchers held teams using a DH to 100 fewer runs than the Rockies did in a league without one. So I like the Red Sox pitching better ó plus I think theyíll be hitting homers in Denver too. So itís the Sox in six.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM-Nashua.