Going to the best when it counts


There’s a reason why Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell aren’t starting pitchers, and there are reasons why the three of them aren’t top-notch closers. Sometimes, it pays to remember that.

For the last few days, sportswriters and baseball analysts have been tossing out the same old excuses. The Rays, they say, were thrilled to win two out of three in Boston. They were happy to return to the cozy confines of the Trop with a three games to two lead over the defending World Series Champion Red Sox. I wonder if they’re still so pleased.

On Friday, I discussed my belief that Joe Maddon should have turned to James Shields to close out Boston on Thursday. Had the move backfired, Shields would have gotten some work on a throw day. Had it succeeded, we wouldn’t be whiling the hours away until game seven. It is in this decision that good managers show their mettle and bad managers emerge.

I know people will long argue that Balfour had stellar numbers against lefties, that Dan Wheeler didn’t throw enough strikes. I know people will say that the series isn’t over yet, and it’s not. But it shouldn’t be here.

In the playoffs, managers have to take chances, and they have to recognize that sometimes what works during the regular season isn’t the best option. They have to realize that, when facing the opportunity to put away a resilient opponent, the best choice isn’t your bullpen but your number one starter for two innings.

Maybe Tampa will score four runs early against Jon Lester tonight and coast to a victory. Maybe Boston explodes against Matt Garza and a shell-shocked Rays team that had a World Series berth in its grasp. But the truth is that Tampa just shouldn’t be here. They had the Sox down and out and made a few strategic mistakes that could haunt them for a long time.

Categories : Playoffs
  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but, I hear that the Rays have a left-handed pitcher by the name of David Price, or something like that, who is pretty good.
    Note to Joe Maddon, give him a shot.
    Could you imagine if the media in Tampa was like it is in New York? Maddon would have been fired after game 5 in their eyes.
    Price not pitching is like not pitching Joba.
    I could care less who actually wins this, but damn, I hate to see teams who deserve to win, give games away like that.

    • AndrewYF

      Teflon Torre wasn’t fired in 2003, or 2004. Of course, that may have something to do with his FOUR RINGZ.

    • mark

      Deserve to win? You could argue boston deserved game 2 but mismanaged it.

      The team that wins deserves it. Blown call? Your logic works. Otherwise, nonsense.

      • Chris C.

        Yeah, that’s the funny part.

        With all the roasting of Maddon, I haven’t seen one thing about Francona sticking with Wakefield in game 4, and game the Red Sox HAD TO WIN, instead of bringing Dice-K or their long man in immidiately.

        He’s managed Wakefield now for his entire time in Boston, and should know by now that when Wakefield starts off a game poorly, he never recovers. That was not a game Boston could decide to throw away, yet they did it anyway.

        I’ve read nothing about that poor decision……and it cost the Red Sox the series. And I don’t care how many championships Francona’s won. A bad move is a bad move.

    • Chris C.

      “Note to Joe Maddon, give him a shot.”

      When you take over a team that has been a doormat for 10 years, then pull a 31 game turnaround within two seasons en route to a trip to the World Series, then Joe Maddon may consider taking your notes.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

        Except that Maddon did finally go to Price and it paid off. Perhaps we’re not as clueless as you think after all.

        • Chris C.

          I have a bigger problem with your thinking that they should have gone to Shields. I’ll give you the Price one, even though Balfour had a tremendous season.

          But not Shields.

    • Chris C.

      “Could you imagine if the media in Tampa was like it is in New York? Maddon would have been fired after game 5 in their eyes.”

      That’s because the NY media is comprised of a bunch of idiots. The NY media is a very big reason why NY sports teams haven’t won nearly as many championships as they could have over the past 30 or so years!
      There are great players out there, championship winning players, who have “no trade” clauses to New York in their contract, just because they don’t want to deal with these jerks. And there are a TON of them…….you just don’t know who they are until the Yankees come calling.

      It used to be different, because the NY teams were the only ones who would dole out the big loot. But those days are over now. Any sports team can set you up for life now!

      So Maddon would have been roasted here? Congratulations. And that’s exactly why managers lose their teams here. The players are constantly reading their managers getting second guessed.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    Balfour, Wheeler and Howell all had unbelievable years, and there was every reason to think they could preserve a seven run lead over a three inning span. It didn’t work out, so move on.

    Trust me, when it gets down to crunch time tonight, those will be the three guys marching out of the pen for Maddon, as they should be.

    • Mike Pop

      I would like to see Price tonight if Papi is up in a big moment

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        I personally think that they should surprise everyone and start him tonight. He seems to have the kind of make-up that he would actually thrive under the spotlight.
        This series is so eerily similar to 2004. Schilling got shelled in game 2, comes back in game 6, Yankees bats go cold, he doesn’t, by any means, dominate, and they win. This year, Beckett gets shelled in game 2 comes back in game 6, doesn’t dominate, Tampa’s bats go cold, Sox win.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

          Price hasn’t started a game in a month, I don’t think he could give them more than 3 or 4 innings.

          • Andy In Sunny Daytona

            I would like to see what Price registers on TBS’ radar gun.

        • Chris C.

          “I personally think that they should surprise everyone and start him tonight.”

          SURPRISE, MR. Francona!!!! We’re starting David Price, instead of the guy who shut you down in Game 3 in front of a full house of your screaming fans!

    • http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=594331910&ref=name Jamal G.

      However, Dan Wheeler’s season was quite lucky. The guy posted an 1.36-HR/9 rate, that’s fucking horrid for a reliever. That’s like Kyle Farnsworth – circa 2007 – bad.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

        Two words: proven veteran. Cures all ills. Just ask Mike Timlin.

        • http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=594331910&ref=name Jamal G.

          Who was it that said talent over inexperience? Bobby Cox or Tony LaRussa?

      • Chris C.

        Was he any luckier than Frankie Rodriquez????

        I mean, If ever there was a guy who was set up perfectly to be overpaid, he’s your guy!

  • JimT

    Just because Tampa didn’t win doesn’t validate your argument either Ben. The Rays needed Shields for thier next game vs the Red Sox or Phillies. Also, it doesn’t follow that all starting pitchers, even good ones are necessarily effective in relief.

    I prefer a manager that works with what got him there rather than one who puts people in unfamiliar situations. Balfour, Wheeler and Howell have been a strength for the Rays all season.

    • Chris C.

      Ben has never considered, although I brought it to his attention last week, that bringing in James Shields for relief in a series that you lead 3-1 in totally undermines a bullpen that has been absolutely terrific for you this entire season. If your back is to the wall, that’s different. But why would you risk alienating a young bullpen that needs all the confidence they can get to win a WS???

      And I don’t want to hear this crap about how in the playoffs, managers should do things different, and recognize their best options are their starters in the bullpen, and blah, blah, blah.

      Recognizing it is one thing. Actually demonstrating this this belief in a series you are way up in is quite another. There is a human element to managing, whether people want to believe it or not. And when it s a team full of young kids, this comes into play even moreso.
      The point is, unless your back is to the wall, it is not worth the risk.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

        Oh I’ve considered it, but I think you’re reading too much into the feelings of the bullpen pitchers. If they make the World Series, who cares if you’re “undermining” the bullpen? And are you saying that using a 23-year-old with five innings of big league experience isn’t undermining the established bullpen as well? I’d have a tough time buying that based on your premise.

        • Chris C.

          “Oh I’ve considered it, but I think you’re reading too much into the feelings of the bullpen pitchers. If they make the World Series, who cares if you’re “undermining” the bullpen?”

          They do. I’m a big believer that Maddon has gotten the Rays to where they are today because of how he’s handled them psychologically.

          “And are you saying that using a 23-year-old with five innings of big league experience isn’t undermining the established bullpen as well?”

          Two things here……….Price is a lefty, who had been added to the roster to come out of the pen anyway. Like I said before, I’ll give you Price, although I don’t have a big problem with Maddon staying with a guy who lefties hit .120 off this season, instead of going to Price in Game 5.
          Secondly, unlike Game 5, there was no wiggle room here. Backs were to the wall. Price was a case of bringing in a lefty to face a lefty.

  • JimT

    Go easy on Mike Timlin, he has had a pretty decent career. Besides, he was all set to call it a career at the end of 2007 until the Red Sox asked him for one more season. This isn’t an example of a player hanging on too long because he is unable to give it up. With so many younger pitchers, the Red Sox wanted him around.

    He may have come to the end of his MLB road, but Mike Timlin is a solid, no bullshit, give you all he’s got kind of guy.