After 161 games, 18 of them against the Yankees (most of those games longer than The Return of the King), the Red Sox needed the Yankees to hang on to their 7-0 lead over Tampa. The Yankees plan all along was to save their main pitchers and not use them on Wednesday night. The plan for Joe Girardi was simple, get everyone else some work and save one pitcher in case of emergency, that pitcher being Scott Proctor.
Scott Proctor and emergency fit very well together for Yankees fans, since in 2006 and 2007 Proctor was a heart attack for fans whenever he walked out to the mound. It's not like he pitched badly during that time, it just was so frustrating to see Joe Torre pitch him all the time. He pitched in 166 games in those two seasons and his arm was viewed as being so shot the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers, either that or Brian Cashman was so sick of Torre using him as a crutch he wanted him out.
When I went to a sports bar last Thursday and looked up, I was wondering who was the Yankee who threw like Scott Proctor. For some reason, the Yankees resigned him in August, my guess is that he was an extra arm to wind down the regular season. Proctor only pitched in eight games in this stint with the Yankees, yet his impact on the postseason was amazing.
The Red Sox may not have even been tied with the Rays going into the last day if it weren't for Proctor. In the second game of the doubleheader on Sunday against the Yankees, the game went into extra innings, all the way to the 14th. Proctor was basically the main arm Girardi had left that could go a few innings, although that wasn't an issue.
Proctor gave up the three run homer to Jacoby Ellsbury in the 14th that helped propel the Red Sox to a 7-4 victory, keeping them (for the time) in the wild card lead. After the game, Ellsbury was being hailed as the MVP, while Proctor was looked at by Yankees fans as the guy who gave life to Boston.
There was a funny shot from ESPN during the Yankees vs. Rays game on Wednesday. They showed the Yankees bullpen and Mariano Rivera was out there sitting on a chair. The camera shot was one of wondering why he wasn't warming up. Yankees fans and any other honest fan knew only one pitcher was coming in, and that would be Scott Proctor. The amazing thing was that he wasn't in the game in the ninth.
Once the game was tied, it was Proctor time. It's not like the Yankees strongly desired to win at that point, knowing the worst thing that could happen would be a play-in game and one of the four playoff teams playing an extra game.
While Boston was clinging onto their lead in Baltimore, a strange thing was happening in St. Pete (quick note, people wonder why Tampa fans don't go the Rays games, maybe it's because the stadium is nowhere near them). Scott Proctor was pitching decently. No runs allowed in the 10th, none allowed in the 11th, the Yankees may actually score before the Rays.
Then the Boston collapse happened, right around the same time the Yankees school of base running failed. A few minutes later, Proctor threw a bad but not horrible pitch. Evan Longoria hit a ball that looked like it was headed to Planet Maris. Scott Proctor gave the Red Sox Nation hope, and threw the pitch that took it all away.
The Red Sox collapse ending on Wednesday really overshadowed an almost equal collapse in Atlanta. The differences in coverage was due mostly because the Red Sox were expected to be great this year, Boston is more of a baseball town and the sports media is obsessed with the Red Sox.
What happened in Atlanta was a total breakdown of their most reliable asset throughout most of the season—their bullpen. Fredi Gonzalez pitched Eric O'Flaherty, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Ventors at least 78 times each. The innings may not look horrendous, but factoring in all of the warming up these pitchers did and the relative inexperience of Kimbrel and Ventors, and the bullpen looked gassed by the end of the year.
Gonzalez treated these three guys like Torre treated Proctor in 2006 and 2007, which is fitting, since for four months of the season, they were coming into the game after Scott Proctor pitched.
Proctor was actually decent in his first 15 appearances with the Braves, with a 1-0 record and an ERA of 2.19 while mostly pitching an inning here and an inning there. He was a good supplement for those other three arms and 13 of his first 15 appearances were in the seventh inning or later. Proctor struggled a bit through the rest of June, but his July was when his game fell apart. Gonzalez quickly lost confidence in Proctor after two losses in three games in early July. Proctor went from being spot reliever to junk duty, pitching in blowouts and garbage time, or desperation.
He pitched the same role with the Yankees. From looking at his game log from May and June, it looks like Proctor was the fourth arm to save some energy. When Gonzalez stopped using Proctor, he didn't replace him, he just used more of his go-to guys, who got gassed in September. Obviously losing Jair Jurrjens was a huge blow to the pitching staff. The bullpen was still overused before then. Proctor and his fading in July seems like it played a part in September, even if his part was as a Yankee.
The Red Sox collapse and the Braves collapse totally overshadow one of the worst baseball collapses in history. On July 26th, a little over two months ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in first place in the National League Central, tied with St. Louis. Their record on that day was 53-47. Including and after July 26th, the Pirates went 19-43. No team in Major League Baseball history has had a worse record than the Pirates after leading a division at the 100-game mark. The Pirates collapse was monumental in nature.
The catastrophic moment is a concept I first heard on the Ticket in Dallas presented by Mike Rhyner. The idea is that a team can look back at one moment or game in a season where the season went from promising to failure. For a team like the Pirates with their collapse, the catastrophic moment had to be a whopper. Boy was it.
On July 26th, the Pirates and Braves played a very intense game that lead them all the way into the 19th inning. For those who say that one bad call is just part of the game and doesn't really affect a 162-game season, look at this game as a case example.
In the bottom of the 19th, with one out, a ball was hit to third base and fielded by Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates. Alvarez threw home as Julio Lugo was trying to score. The throw beat Lugo and Michael McKenry applied the tag. McKenry in reality should have tagged Lugo and thrown to first as he probably had enough time to get the double play. Umpire Jerry Meals, for some unknown reason, called Lugo safe and the Braves won the game 4-3. In reality, the Pirates success was hanging by a string and anything was ready to sway them back to their normal direction. I don't think anyone expected one of the worst calls in a long time to be that play.
I certainly don't think the winning pitcher for the Braves that night thought he would be a key player in the catastrophic moment that lead to the downfall of the Pirates. That pitcher was Scott Proctor and the win took his record to 2-3. Wait, it gets better. The ground ball hit to the third baseman was hit by Scott Proctor. McKenry could have made the double play so easily was because Proctor fell while running down the first base line. The bad call allowed Scott Proctor to get his only career RBI. The win in a game that the Braves were given (they still may have won had it continued) may have been the reason the Braves were tied going into the last game of the season.
Thinking about last night, the amazing night of baseball it was, and how the fates of the seasons for the Cardinals, Braves, Rays and Red Sox were in some way affected by a Yankees middle relief pitcher who won't be on the postseason roster shows what a wonder of mystery the sport can be at its best. In some strange way, Scott Proctor became a Yankees hero on Wednesday night by giving up a game winning home run to eliminate the Red Sox. The 2011 season was looking for a face for Major League Baseball. I don't think anyone knows what that face looks like. Thank you for the craziness Scott Proctor, and Joe Torre owes you a job at the MLB offices.