Monday, November 12, 2007


This is the second in a three or four part retrospective about the 2007 World Series Champion Red Sox. In case you missed it, part one is here.


The End of Spring

Before the starting gun sounded, we had a bit of controversy. Or, maybe not controversy, but… intrigue? Or maybe debate…?… Whatever. Jonathan Papelbon, who the Red Sox were planning on using as a starting pitcher following a season of successful relief pitching (that is, until he hurt his arm in early September), started having nightmares. Hows that for controversy/intrigue/aw whatever? These nightmares culminated in Pap switching back to the bullpen. But more on the nightmares in a minute.

Of course, the switch wasn’t made simply because Paps couldn’t sleep at night. The Red Sox had brought in a number of different candidates to close, but the problem was that none of them could pitch effectively. And this was still in Spring Training. Of the pretenders to the throne, the chief culprit was Joel Piniero who, despite being a good guy, couldn’t pitch very well. He proved this over and over until he was banished to the National League (where he later signed a pretty healthy contract, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

The other issue in play was Pap’s shoulder. After throwing a good number of innings as closer, in September of ‘06 Paps shoulder popped out of joint (a “subluxation”). This lead to a number of medical diagnosis wherein the Red Sox were told that Papelbon would be healthier if he was in the starting rotation. So, the Red Sox obliged, and moved Papelbon into the starting rotation.

Though he said differently at the time, Paps didn’t like it one bit. He wanted to be a closer. Now we get back to the nightmares, which Paps was apparently having because he was doing something (starting) that he didn’t want to do (or so the story goes). One day Paps walked into Francona’s office after some prompting from a teammate and told the manager that he wanted to close. Francona took it to Theo Epstein, and all of a sudden Paps was healthy enough to pitch out of the pen. To read the papers, one would have thought that a tsunami had hit the city of Boston. But, no. It was only the return of Papelbon to the bullpen.

Moving Paps out of the rotation closed up the only major hole on the roster, but it also opened up a new hole in the rotation. This necessitated finding another starting pitcher. The Sox had had some success (minor though it was) in having His Craziness, Julian Tavarez start some games as the 2006 season was spinning in smaller and smaller circles down the commode. As there weren’t many other options and Tavarez had been at least somewhat effective, the Sox moved him into the fifth starter spot in the rotation. The move was widely thought to be a placeholder until Jon Lester proved himself recovered and ready to return to the rotation.

The 2007 Red Sox went into the year with the rotation as follows:

1. Josh Beckett
2. Curt Schilling
3. Daisuke Matsuzaka
4. Tim Wakefield
5. His Craziness, Julian Tavarez

The Beginning

The Red Sox got off to a great start. By the end of April they were 16-8, and had a 4.0 game lead in the AL East. Conversely, the Yankees were 9-14 and obituaries were being written up and down the east coast. The Red Sox were getting good pitching and good enough hitting, which would become a reoccurring theme during the ’07 season. Mike Lowell got off to his typical blistering start, hitting .314/.371/.547 in April. .297/.402/.615 with seven homers.

Part of the reason the Sox fast start was so impressive was that they did it without many contributions from a good portion of their lineup. Dustin Pedroia was horrible, hitting .182/.308/.236, leading many fans to call for his benching in favor of future Hall of Famer Alex Cora. Manny Ramirez wasn’t much better, hitting .202/.314/.315. Bleah.

Still, the Red Sox kept winning. May saw them go 20-8, improving to 36-16. This brought their AL East lead to an unfathomable 11.5 games. The Sox were cruising. Meanwhile the Yankees were struggling. They followed up their losing April with a losing May, bringing their record to an unsightly 22-29, 13.5 games behind the Red Sox.

It looked like an easy, stress-free summer was on the horizon. Uh, right.


Part 3 soon to come...

No comments: