If you're like me, you ended Saturday night saying to yourself "That was the worst fucking game I have watched since the talentless Aaron Boone ended the 2003 season". But then along comes Game 3, and it just blows Game 2 out of the water. In the future when mankind's brains and technology are developed enough that you can compress several hours of information into a single impression, this game will be in the dictionary next to "Murphy's Law".
Let's start with the basic, unassailable premise, which is this: in an Indians-Red Sox game where the starters are Jake Westbrook and DiceK, the Red Sox should win 9 of 10 matchups. This is unarguable, because while DiceK is a little shaky at times, Jake Westbrook absolutely sucks. No, really - he sucks.
So what went wrong?
Well, pretty much everything went wrong, but let's start with the approach at the plate. As an organization the Red Sox stress taking a lot of pitches and getting starters pitch counts up. This has the dual benefits of tiring the starter so they can get to him, get him out, and feast on the generally weaker middle relief. It worked well against CC and Carmona because they are both guys who throw hard with excellent stuff but shitty command. As we all know, the end result was disastrous on Saturday but the approach was correct.
Against a guy like Westbrook who has good command but crappy stuff, it's not the best idea to take a ton of pitches, because he NEEDS to pitch ahead in the count to be successful. If you give him strike one every at-bat, you're playing right into his hands. But that's exactly what the Sox did. Moreover, against Cleveland whose bullpen is fantastic, there is no advantage to getting to them early because Lewis and Betancourt will just shut down your weak-ass bats. The Sox should have been pounding a few first pitch strikes to make Westbrook nibble a bit and get behind in a few counts, but they didn't.
Adding the this mess was the execution. Westbrook, Lewis and Betancourt all threw quite a few mistakes that guys missed, although given the stuff the latter two have it's more forgivable. No matter what you're approach is, when you get your pitch, you need to hit it. And when you load the bases with nobody out against a guy as bad as Westbrook, that should be it - game over.
Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman
And....speaking of bases loaded situations...the Sox would have had another bases loaded situation but for the simply unbelievable incompetence (or is it Tim Donaghy Redux?) of home plate umpire Brian Gorman, who called strike one on a ball four pitch to Manny that was so far off the plate that the Fox strike zone imaging software could barely register it in the graphic. He later screwed Coco Crisp on ball four on a pitch that was very nearly as bad. Both incidents resulted in rally-killing at-bats that can be laid squarely at the feet of an umpire who called one of the worst and most one-sided ball/strike games in recorded history. On the flip side, DiceK struck out Casey Blake in the fifth but Gorman called it ball three, and Blake went on to single on the next pitch, and then score what proved to be the winning run. With the exception of a terrible first strike call on Pronk, every bad call went against the Sox. Conspiracy theorists, get our your pens.
Let's go to the visual aid!
Here is the strike one pitch to Manny, which if called correctly, puts Manny on first to load the bases with one out and Mike Lowell, the team's best RBI man, stepping to the plate. As I call it, "Gorman's Coup de Grace":
Here is strike two (see #5) to Coco in the seventh, which if called correctly would have put him on first with one out (in front of a Lugo single although that can't be assumed once the Coco play has changed). Having the fastest player on the team on base with one out and the second fastest player at the plate might have changed the context of that inning, you think?
And, here is ball three to Blake (see #5 and note it's vertical match to strike one), which, had Gorman correctly rung him up, probably keeps the score tied at two. I'm thinking that's a significant missed call, especially in light of it being ball three, meaning Blake got to look strike-zone-only on the next pitch.
And, for those of you who might be wondering if the knees was too low to be considered within Gorman's strike zone, here is a strike call from two batters later:
Obviously, I am pissed that Gorman fucked over my team. That said, the Sox should have beaten the crap out of Jake Westbrook. Last night's loss is firmly on the offense. But how is it possible that in one of the most important games of the year, we have to put up with this shit? I mean, these are not tough calls, in most cases they are painfully obvious. The pitch to Manny was so far inside you'd think that Gorman would have to have an astigmatism or be on crack to call it a strike. It makes no sense that MLB can't remedy this situation because it detracts from the game and leaves everyone feeling cheated.
God, Karma, Elementary Particles - Whatever
Lastly, in our Perfect Storm of Suck, we have the current that runs through baseball like water, and the reason we have the term "small sample size" in discussing the game. Luck. A lot of people will be bitching about DiceK's inability to get out of the 5th again, and it is certainly true that he should never, ever, give up a dinger to the scrawny girlish corpse of Kenny Lofton, but as per usual DiceK died by the seeing-eye groundball.
The hit by Cabrera (which scored the should-have-been-sitting-in-the-dugout Casey Blake), by rights, should have been a routine out, but Pedroia wasn't positioned up the middle, which he should have been with Cabrera hitting with two strikes and Tek set up outside. That is on the first base coach Luis Alicea who as a former middle infielder should know better. The hit by Garko that put him on base for Lofton was a weak piece of shit that barely made it to the outfield. These are the breaks, and DiceK, for whatever reason, rarely gets them.
On the other hand, when Papi hits a screamer right on the screws, it goes directly into the face of the Indians' right fielder. That's baseball. At this level, you need some luck, and the Sox aren't getting it.
Final Analysis: DiceK
All things being said, and this is an ongoing source of frustration to everyone in Red Sox Nation, DiceK remains a mystery. He has never dominated like he should have this season. To some degree this is caused by the incredible hazing he has received from the umps all year. Nobody on the staff gets squeezed as harshly as DiceK does. To a greater extent, this is caused by the fact that the Sox have forced him to pitch off his fastball all year - his weakest pitch. It was good to see some at-bats last night where DiceK led off with a secondary pitch for a strike. When he does this it puts hitters at a real disadvantage. Overall, I didn't consider it a bad start at all. He made one mistake to Lofton, who correctly noted that Tek had started every hitter in the game off with a fastball, and he gave up a couple bleeders that put the game out of reach after Gorman squeezed him. If he gets one break we are not discussing him at all today.
Overall though, DiceK hasn't shown the ability to dominate hitters when he needs to. The expectations, which were unreasonably high, granted, were that when DiceK got in trouble he would simply confound batters so much that they would screw themselves into the ground striking out. That hasn't happened, clearly. I am in the camp that DiceK and Tek will reach a unified plan of attack for next season and we will see some great pitching by the young ace, but it would have been nice to see that last night.
Final Analysis: Sox Offense
What to say here? Everything is wrong. The biggest issue of course is this: all the runs come from 2-5. While Pedro is slumping pitchers are looking at 6 consecutive weak bats. That is just devastating. In games where Manny, Papi and Lowell are contained this team has literally zero shot of winning.
The double-plays of course are killing us too. The Sox just broke a record for most DPs in the first three games of a playoff series. That's not one teams have been chasing, people. That's like breaking the record for most times having explosive diarrhea during a sales presentation. No bueno. Some of this is Tito's ultra-conservative approach, some of this is the umps being awful, but mostly it's just sucking.
Last night came down to this: when Sox batters got their pitch they missed it. When you're behind in the count, as they were often enough, it gets tougher to be aggressive, but especially with Westbrook on the mound, there isn't much excuse.
One of the problems with the Saturday game was that it was so long and physically exhausting, after a travel day. On average the Indians are a younger team than the Sox and probably bounced back quicker. But now the Sox are up against it. It's time to grind out a win.
I am in the minority that is OK with Wake starting tonight. Can he suck? Sure, we all know Bad Timmeh's dastardly resume. But Byrd's home ERA at the Jake is 5.68. If Wake sucks worse than that, if the offense doesn't come to life and score a bunch off a pretty bad starting pitcher, then this team doesn't deserve to advance. It's that simple people. Even if they threw Tavarez out there we should expect a win tonight. If they don't win, they are not good enough to win. End of story. And if they do win, it's pretty unlikely that Schill and DiceK would beat CC and Carmona. We'll need Beckett to take one of those games.
The bottom line is that the Sox are behind the eight-ball here. Cleveland is a well-constructed team who have taken advantage of a few breaks and a little help from the boys in blue. The Sox need to run uphill from here, but there will be no excuses if they don't get it done. There isn't a human being on earth that will feel badly to see a team paying J.D. Drew $14M a year go down to a spunky if less-heralded ballclub. That's the American dream. Time was, the Sox represented that, but now, love them though I might, they aren't any kind of underdogs any more.
Still, romance be damned: I expect these boys to go to work and get the job done.