Francona's Bullpen Blunders Doomed the Sox.
Merely a half-inning after watching Joe Girardi make the mistake of keeping left-handed Phil Coke in the game; to pitch to the Yankees right-handed bats and switch-hitters; Sox Manager Terry Francona made the exact same mistake with rookie Daniel Bard.
Let’s look at both of these situations.
With the Red Sox trailing 1-0 in the eighth inning and left-handed Jacoby Ellsbury leading off, it made all kinds of sense for Girardi to go to the southpaw Coke with starter Andy Pettitte well over 100 pitches.
At this point, with both Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera well rested (Hughes threw only one-third of an inning in the previous two games, and Rivera hadn’t pitched on Saturday), why they weren't warming up was puzzling to many in such an important game.
After retiring Ellsbury, Coke proceeded to allow a single to Dustin Pedroia and the go-ahead two run home run to Victor Martinez; before getting Jason Bay to ground into an inning-ending double play.
While it’s extremely difficult to question Girardi, whos been great in bullpen management, if there was ever a time to use Rivera for a four or five out save, this was it.
This is Yankees v Red Sox; the best rivalry in pro sports. With this in mind, and the chance to lengthen their division lead, Hughes should've atleast been warming up.
But numbers made the decision in this case. Pedroia and Martinez both hit better against righties than lefties. Plus, Coke's numbers against both sides have been stellar; .206 OBA against lefties and .243 against righties.
In the opposing dugout, stood Terry Francona, who hasn't been as heady with his bullpen as Giradi has been. One example was his blunder in the bottom of the eight last night.
With Derek Jeter leading off, Francona turned to hard-throwing rookie right-hander Daniel Bard, presumably to get the first out, since both lefty Hideki Okajima and closer Jonathan Papelbon were already warming up.
Bard got Jeter out, but instead of turning to Okajima to face Johnny Damon in a classic left-on-left battle, Francona stuck with Bard.
Okajima has stifled lefties all season, as they have only hit .165 against him, and Damon, for his part, has hit a modest .261 against southpaws (not bad, but below his season clip of .281, not to mention only five of his 21 home runs have come against southpaws).
The decision cost Francona the game as Damon connected on a 98 mile per hour Bard fastball to tie the game.
Francona again neglected to make a pitching change, choosing to leave the rookie Bard in to face Yankees MVP Mark Teixeira with the game, and possibly the season, on the line.
Looking at Tex’s stats, while he hits for a higher average from the right side, 23 of his league-leading 29 home runs have come from the left side.
In a post-game interview, Teixeira himself said that especially in Yankee Stadium, with the way the ball carries out to right field, as a left-handed hitter he pulls the ball more, and is thus more powerful from that side as opposed to his gap-hitting tendencies from the right-side.
Much like the top of the eighth was a prime time to use Rivera for a multiple-out save, wasn’t it the perfect time for Boston to use Papelbon in the same manner?
Rather than entrusting such a pivotal game to a rookie with just 33 career innings pitched, wouldn’t it make sense to turn to your best reliever, who has an ERA under two?
To Francona, apparently not.
The Red Sox manager again stuck with Bard, and much to his and the rest of Red Sox Nation’s collective chagrin, he watched as Teixeira launched a majestic moon shot high giving the Yankees a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
In less than two months, we will know which teams are in and out of the playoffs. But with the AL Wild Card race tightening, if the Sox miss out by one game, will their fans look back upon this game? A game they seemingly had won?
The familiar question of “What if?” will be heard, and for the first time in his long tenure as manager, whispers of Francona's job security may begin to be heard as well.
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