If you watched last night's ALDS game 4 between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels, you got a lesson in the art of seizing momentum, then failing to use it to your advantage and, ultimately, ending your season prematurely. In perspective, game 4 was a microcosm of the entire series. Mike Scioscia should be getting a lot more heat than he is right now, and I hope over the next couple days that will come to fruition. In particular, Scioscia made a couple questionable decisions, or lack thereof, in the final inning and a half of game 4.
First was the botched suicide squeeze play in the top of the 9th. With Reggie Willits on 3rd with one out, the Angels had momentum on their side. Two opportunities to get that run in, Erick Aybar at the plate and Chone Figgins on deck at 2 for 4 on the night and 7 for 16 over the span of games 2, 3 and 4. So he decides to pull a suicide squeeze and it failed, miserably. Not only did Aybar whiff on the bunt attempt, but Willits got caught halfway down the line and eventually tagged out by a diving Jason Varitek.
And for the record, that play wasn't even close. The ball popped out well after Varitek tagged Willits, and it was the force of his glove hitting the ground after he tagged out Willits that caused the loose ball. So I'm not sure why people are considering this a controversy, or asking me for my take on the "controversy." Put it to rest. Willits was out and Varitek had the ball pop out of his mitt after rolling around like an idiot.
But I digress. Here's my problem with the bunt attempt. You haven't bunted all series, which was a headscratcher. Lowell was standing at third with a wooden cane looking as vulnerable as ever and you didn't test the waters. Then last night you've got Kevin Youkilis at 3rd and the entire infield is in. And while it's a 2-0 pitch and odds are a fastball is on the way, not only are the Sox in position to field the bunt, but it's just as good a situation to swing away as it is to bunt there anyway. You're getting a FASTBALL! Look at it this way, if Aybar can lift that ball into the outfield, Willits has a shot at tagging and scoring. If he stings the ball on the ground, he'll need to hit it right at a guy in order for it to NOT get through. The Angels had Boston up against the proverbial wall. It reminded me of Heath Herring against Big Nog at UFC 73 when he landed that earth shattering head kick, then told Nog to stand back up. You don't knock down a seasoned veteran, former champion and guy known for taking abuse and utilizing late heroics to pull out a win. That's what the Red Sox are. And by going for a high risk play and getting burned, the Angels basically knocked down the Red Sox, and instead of delivering a knock out kick to the head, told the defending champions to stand back up and have at it.
I'm not buying the logic that this is how the Angels have played all season, so it's not like Scioscia went and changed their approach and philosophy. He had already done that by not playing this way the entire series. Then he decided to go back to it. As my buddy Jalbert said, there's a difference between aggression and stupidity. This was stupidity.
If the Angels were at home, I wouldn't be criticizing Scioscia as much. You're the home team, and if you take a shot and miss, that's okay because if you go out and give up the lead in the top half of the following inning, you still have a chance to come back up and make something happen. But here, you're on the road, not sure if you'll get another at-bat or not and you've just breathed new life into a team that plays as good as anyone in the game at home. It was poor timing by the Angels, because it was their shot to send the series back to LA for game 5, but instead cleared the bases, gave the Sox 2 outs in the inning and sent the game to the bottom of the inning still tied. All the Sox had to do was play for one run to win. And if they didn't get it, they could have simply gone back out in the 10th knowing they'd have another at-bat in the bottom half.
The situation brought me back to our final game at St. Paul's. We were up a run on Thayer Academy in the top of the 7th, but they had a runner on 3rd with 1 out. Keefe and I were in the outfield screaming at the infielders to play in and cut down the run while Parker Chase, our immortal coach, was instructing to play back and get the out. We were irate. His argument was that we were the home team and his contention was to play back and prevent the big inning because if that run scored and tied the game, we'd still have a chance in the bottom half to win it. Which is right. He was absolutely right. But Keefe and I were taking the situation into account, which is just as important as making the standard "correct play." We were probably 6-8 at the time, no chance of winning the league title and there was no playoff format, so this was it. Thayer was at the top of the league standings and a better team than us. The only thing we had to play for was pulling off a great upset to end our careers and have something special to talk about at dinner that night and, potentially, years later over a beer or twenty. So why would we play back and concede the run there? If we lose (which we eventually did in extra innings), so be it. That's what was expected. But we were two outs away from a great upset and instead of going for it, Parker Chase made a decision without taking the situation into account. That's exactly what Scioscia did last night. He made a managerial decision without considering all of the ramifications based on the situation.
But that's not where it ends for the Angels. Let's not forget, they went into the bottom of the 9th tied and managed to lose it right then and there. And it all started with a Jason Bay blooper to right. Did you see how far Willits had to come for that ball? Where was he playing? And where'd he get his route from, Magellan? I joked with Keefe that Scioscia must have had him warming up to pitch the 10th when Rich mused that Willits was running in all the way from the bullpen. Not only that, but people are applauding him for deflecting that ball into the stands and preventing a triple or even inside the park homerun. He never should have even dove for that ball. In a tie ball game, bottom of the last inning, you need to prevent the opposition from getting extra bases. Had he a) not been so far away he could have caught the ball in the air and b) not dove and instead knocked it down and in front of him he could have kept Bay out of scoring position. Take this into consideration. If Bay is still on first, Teixeira would have been straddling the bag and probably doubled up Bay on Kotsay's double play.
Nonetheless, no one saw Willits was sharing a hot chocolate with K-Rod in the bullpen and thus had to run a half mile to the spot. And he didn't exactly learn his lesson either. On Lowrie's groundball, the play at the plate wasn't even close. Bay was rounding third and a few steps down the line before Willits had even corraled the ball. He had so far to run just to get to it, that it would have required Bay stumbling and falling before home plate in order to get him out. I understand there are two outs, but when your season is 120ft away from ending, you need to treat it as a do or die play and assume the bases might as well be loaded with no outs. Willits needed to be more shallow than he was, in a position where he could easily get to a ball quickly have a chance to throw out the runner trying to score. If Lowrie smokes one over his head, I say you tip your cap. But you've already been beat once in the inning by a blooper of a hit, you can't allow yourself to be beaten like that again. That's exactly what happened.
In the end, the Angels played like a team that is 1-10 in its last 11 playoff games. The pitching was fantastic for LA. Lackey, Saunders and Santana all threw great, and I give Santana a lot of credit for posting a 4 spot in the first and bearing down to give his team a chance to come back. You can't ask a guy to do much more that what he did after that first inning. But it was the lack of productive hitting, generating runs and dominating the basepaths. It was the mental lapses in the field, like the 3-run bloop single by Ellsbury in game 3. The Angels luckily found a way to win despite that, but lack of focus and execution will always come back to haunt you. And that's exactly what it did.
Anybody watch this game at all last night? I was checking in frequently because about 3 of my fantasy teams were hinging on the play of guys like Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Lance Moore. A couple thoughts on all that took place:
- The Saints got screwed by poor officiating. Not only did Bush fumble on a blatant facemask that wasn't called, but I thought the ball was out of Peterson's hand before his knee hit the ground late in the fourth.
- Grammatica sucks.
- Drew Brees misses Marques Colston and David Patten, but not Jeremy Shockey. Moore, Henderson and Meachem dropped a plethora of passes last night, most of which were easily catchable. While Brees has still managed to put up good numbers, it's because he's that good. Shockey, meanwhile, isn't as immediate a concern. Billy Miller is a very capable tight end and one tough son of a bitch. Did you see the hit he took late in the 4th, only to come back in two plays later?
- You can't predict the NFL. That game has easy pickings with the Saints only giving up 3.5 at home, coming off a terrific team effort against San Francisco and facing a fledgling Minnesota team that looked uninspired last week against the Titans. Instead, the Saints gave the Vikings every opportunity to steal that game from them and they did. If it wasn't for Reggie Bush, that could have been a lot worse, and we'd be talking more about how badly that offense underachieved last night.
Dancing with the Stars
Can someone explain to me how Kim Kardashian and Jefferson Darcy got voted off, yet Warren Sapp is still on there? I'm sorry but that's just poor. Sapp shouldn't even be on the show, nevermind still a contestant after a couple weeks. I watched briefly last night and couldn't tell you who half the "celebrities" are on there. It looks like it's slowly turning into a D-list celebrity suaree.
That's all I got for now. Sox and Rays for the ALCS, Dodgers and Phillies for the NLCS. I have a bet with Chris in my office for a lunch at JA Stats across the street. I took the Rays. He's a Sox season ticket holder so naturally he's banking on a Sox win. I figure this is a win-win for me. If the Rays win, I'm eating a chef's salad with strips of smoked salmon for lunch on his dollar. If the Sox win, I buy him lunch and hopefully get to watch a Sox-Dodgers World Series. I'm still a Manny fan, and there's nothing I'd love more than watching him pimp a bomb onto the Pike off of Beckett.