We hauled our sleepy carcass into work late today, still shaking out the cobwebs and piecing back together the most exciting single day of baseball that we can remember. We're not sure if much of what we think we gleaned from the evening makes sense, but join us as we attempt to make sense of this Game 162 madness.
Love the Narrative. Ignore the Narrative: It's a bit odd as a guy who spends an inordinate amount of time punching out words about baseball to tell people not to follow the storyline of the season. We love the long and deliberate narrative to a franchise, with each season as a volume and each game a single page. At the same time, there are some standard lines that start to emerge that tell a much less interesting story about how this season reached the end of this chapter.
"Choke". "Collapse". "Destiny". Words that make it sound as though the postseason berths were lost or won based on a lack of moral fibre or the good graces of some benevolent overseer of the fates. But in the case of Boston and Atlanta, it was a dearth of decent starting pitching (or a lack of judgment on how best to use the pitching at their disposal) that really led to the teams' decline over the final month. Injuries to Clay Buchholz, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens left both the Red Sox and Braves scrambling to find starters down the stretch, while the Cardinals pitched okay enough and the Rays ran out a seemingly endless supply of strong starters night in, night out.
The Red Sox really seem to have a bare cupboard when it comes to starting pitchers, in part due to trades but also because they haven't seemed to really develop a top flight starter through the draft or their system since Buchholz. They also seemed unwilling to move Alfredo Aceves out of his long-relief role, even though he may have served them better starting some of the games they were doling out to Tim Wakefield (and his historic pursuit of a round number), Andrew Miller or Kyle Weiland. How many games did Aceves enter in the early innings to attempt to patch up the mess that those unworthy starters left ahead of him?
Meanwhile, Fredi Gonzalez had plenty of young starters who could have stepped in down the stretch, but chose to shunt them to the back of his pile while giving more innings to Derek Lowe, because of his "proven veteran" status. Julio Tehran, in particular, started the second half of a double-header on September 8th, then got just two subsequent relief appearances, while Lowe was rocked over his final five starts to the tune of a .985 OPS against and an 8.75 ERA. Would the youngster have been any worse than that?
You Don't Have to Be Rich...to Rule My World: Staying on the topic of pitching, it's worth noting (especially for Jays fans) that the Red Sox entered this season with expensive free agency acquisitions John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka as part of their starting rotation. Both are locked up for next season at contracts worth about $16 million and $10 million respectively...and Lackey's deal stretches on to 2014. (With an option for 2015, which is just the unnecessary clown horn squeak at the end of the farce.)
And the man who couldn't make the sliding catch in left field to save the game for the Red Sox? Carl Crawford's taking home more than $20 million per year over the next six years as his reward for posting a sub-.700 OPS, which are marginally better numbers than Juan Rivera and Corey Patterson managed for the Jays.
Perception is a funny thing, and in those moments through the winter and spring, people couldn't conceive of a scenario where these Boston Red Sox weren't one of the all-time powerhouse teams, because of the investments they made. We were pounded all season long by fans who called us a shill or a sheep for refusing to wail at the Jays' ownership to spend at the same or a "competitive" level with Boston. In the end, the Jays managed nine fewer wins than the "greatest team of all time" in a transitional season.
It would be nice to think that the manner in which the Red Sox finished the season could tamp down a bit of the disdainful conventional wisdom, and the condescending "you gottas" when it comes to what the Jays do next. We're not banking on it.
Sharing the Impossible: Okay, we apologize for turning the visceral thrill of last night's games into another opportunity for us to be pedantic. Sorry. Because really, after a night like that, we should still be in a mood to bask in the incredible moment for a little while longer.
We listened to the Rays radio broadcast as we watched the game last night, and we're not sure that we'll ever forget the call by Andy Freed and Dave Wills. To hear them caught up in the incomprehensible moments, and to hear the fun that they had from the Longoria three-run shot to Dan Johnson's improbably two-strike, two-out, pinch-hit, game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth, right through to Longo's game-winner in the 12th was a head-spinning experience, especially as they remarked about how different it was to observe all of the simultaneous online commentary from around the world. It was quite possibly the greatest game in the team's history, and we were happy to share with their fans, and with our many friends and followers on Twitter. It really magnified the moment.
The Rays are a rival, and we kinda hate those guys. But just for last night, it was pretty cool to root along with them. And while their success should give us pause for the Jays' chances over the next few years, we actually ended the night feeling a bit hopeful for what can happen when you build your team the right way.