LONGSHOTS: On the shrink’s couch in a near francoma
by Dave Long
I’m having a problem with what can only be described as a building obsession with the way Terry Francona handles the pitching. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Tito. I do. And even though I call him Mother Francona at times, all things considered, he’s the best manager the Sox have had since at least Dick Williams. But I’m now having dreams about it. Like the one from the other night when I flew to Vienna for a session with Sigmund Freud that went something like this:
Dr. Freud: Gooten mourning — please come in and go lay on the couch over there.
Me: Thanks, Doc.
Dr. Freud: Vhaaat seems to be da problem?
Me: Terry Francona is making me crazy. Every time the TV flashes to him from the sixth inning on, my eye starts to twitch the way it did for Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies whenever Inspector Clouseau came into the room. He makes me CRAZY!!!!
Dr. Freud: Fvay does that make you, uhm, insane?
Me: Because he keeps removing totally in-command pitchers because they’ve passed 100 on the ALMIGHTY PITCH COUNT for the uncertainty of a new guy from the bullpen.
Dr. Freud: And why does that bother you?
Me: Because you know the guy on the mound has it and you don’t have that guarantee from a new guy. And if it’s a one- or two-run game you don’t have a lot of time to discover that. Plus if he’s leaving ’cause he’s tired, it’s because he’s not conditioned to go longer as these days going 110 is looked at like surviving the Bataan Death March.
Dr. Freud: Is it like that in all cases?
Me: No. I don’t mind with a big lead as he did with Paul Byrd on Sunday. A 7-0 lead means there’s a margin of error to work with in case the pen isn’t real sharp. So if you want to give a guy a little extra rest then it doesn’t bother me.
Dr. Freud: Den vhat does bother you?
Me: Almost anytime Jon Lester pitches — who the Sox have scored two runs or less TEN freak’n times in 23 starts. The last time the Sox were in Tampa he’s in control having given up just a run in a pretty important game considering they have a tough time winning in Tampa and are off to Yankee Stadium for four really big games against the red hot Yanks after that. But he’s out after six stinking innings when the almighty pitch count hits 100, in part because he’s struck out 11 guys — which is a good thing, right? Daniel Bard, who has pitched well, comes in and BOOM — Longoria homers to tie it and they lose in 13.
Flash forward to Sunday in the Bronx. He leaves after seven and 107 in a REALLY big game since they’ve lost five in a row. Bard comes in again and BOOM — Johnny Damon hits a homer to tie it at 2-2. Next, Mark Teixeira — BOOM — into the bullpen to make it 3-2 and they lose their six straight. Then Tuesday he’s leading Chicago 3-1 in the seventh. He’s got two guys on and two outs. He STRIKES OUT Alexei Ramirez for what should be the third out — but the ball hits the plate and gets away from Jason Varitek and a run scores. Not V’s fault, just bad luck — but Tito’s pacing that familiar pace. Next batter hits a liner that goes in and out of Mike Lowell’s glove to let the other runner score to tie it. Out comes Tito and — I go Grrrrrr!!!!!!! This time the bullpen does the job and they win. Then Saturday Clay Buchholz takes a two-hitter into the ninth,.where a seeing eye grounder gets through for a single to start the inning. He gets the next guy — but Tito brings in Hideki Okajima for the coveted lefty-vs.-lefty match-up with the next two hitters. Adam (gone with the) Lind is first and BOOM — he hits a double to score the first run and Lyle Overbay — goes semi-BOOM. Not a homer, but a sharp single to drive in the second run before Jonathan Papelbon comes in to get the final two outs.
Dr. Freud: And vhat bothers you about that — they von, didn’t they?
Me: YES — but he over-managed a 3-0 win into a barely-got-out alive 3-2 win. DON’T YOU GET IT EITHER?
Dr. Freud: Calm yourself. Don’t get excited.
Me: I can’t help it. Every time it happens my blood pressure spikes. It’s almost as bad flicking by the fair and balanced network and hearing the dumbest guy on TV blathering about eastern establishment, left wing, media elite, liberal bias on stories ranging from bulldog Sarah Palin’s play during Wasilla’s run to Alaska’s state basketball crown to the Lindberg kidnapping.
Dr. Freud: Is that all that’s bothering you?
Me: NO! I haven’t even gotten to what REALLY bugs me. I mean who came up with 100 as the number for the all mighty pitch count anyway???? A pitching coach, doctor, trainer, a pitcher or a math teacher who liked the symmetry of the 100?
Dr. Freud: But it does prevent injuries — right?
Me: Who says so? I have to see the data before I’ll believe it. In fact, I think it leads to more time on the DL and all this situational pitching HURTS a team — because 13-man pitching staffs mean you have three stiffs on a staff that never would have been there in the 1970s when the pitching was better.
Dr. Freud: How can you prove that?
Me: The good pitchers then went more innings. I mean who would you rather face, a tiring Luis Tiant in the eighth or Casey Janssen and his 5.81 ERA? I’’ll take my chances with the latter — which managers do all the time these days. And that’s why the lowest league-wide ERA this decade in the AL was 4.36 and in the ’70s it was 3.47 and the highest in the 2000s was 5.28 and the highest in the ’70s 4.23. It ain’t rocket science. It’s there for all to see but they don’t and it makes me nuts. So as I said, you’ve got to help me — please!
Dr. Freud: OK — it’s simple. You have a condition called know-it-all-itis. It agitates you because you don’t like it when people just accept things — just because experts say so.
Me: What do you know — I thought it was just that I didn’t like seeing winnable games blown by micro-managing from the dugout.
Dr. Freud: No — you want people to question the experts who may have the trend on their side, when you have ALL the historical evidence on your side. You are fine. It’s everyone else who is, er, crazy.
Me: Now we’re getting somewhere — ’cause that’s what I thought all along.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.