Keith Foulke: Heading back home to patch his bones

February 19th, 2007 → 11:58 am @

In a recent Dirt Dogs online poll, El Guapo and D-Lowe tied as the favorite Sox relievers of the past thirty years, beating out Paps, UUU, and, of course, the Stanley Steamer.

Oh, and also, Keith Foulke, who’s retirement last week didn’t get much attention in RSN. (As far as I can tell, the only Globe article on Foulke calling it quits was one that outlined locker-mate Josh Beckett’s reaction to the news. This in a paper that documents everytime Dice-K takes fielding practice.) After one great year and two painful years in Boston, Foulke opted for free agency instead of picking up his player option for a fourth year with the Sox; he signed earlier this year with the Indians for $5 mil and was supposed to be competing for the closer spot. Had he showed up for spring training and then hit the DL, he would have collected that not-insignificant check; instead, he decided his body couldn’t perform the way he wanted it to and hung up his spikes.

Foulke’s surly attitude in ’05 and ’06 will keep him from ever getting the acclaim he deserves, and he’ll be remembered as much for his infamous Johnny Burger King comments as he will for anything he did on the field. He’s been accused of not liking baseball, of being a mercenary, of only talking to outlets that paid him money, and of running over litters of stray kittens in his truck. He’s certainly not warm and cuddly: during the ’05 season, the most animated I saw him was when he was talking about the attractive lady fans at this or that country music concert.

But Foulke will always be one of my favorite members of the ’04 squad, and anyone who thinks he doesn’t care about baseball should go back and watch their DVD’s of the Yankees ALCS. (When Foulke signed with the Indians a couple of weeks back, I posted a Feeding the Monster (signed bookplates still available, folks!) excerpt about Foulke’s Game 6 heroics. It’s worth reading…not because I’m such a brilliant writer, but because that was such a brilliant moment in the history of Red Sox baseball.) It was Foulke, along with Papi, that truly saved the season during Games 4, 5, and 6, three games jammed into just over 48 hours in which Keith threw more than 90 pitches. (The always worth reading Art Martone has a nice appreciation of those days in Sunday’s Providence Journal.) I’m not going to go over all the game logs since ’04, but I’m willing to bet no reliever has topped that. I’m of the opinion that the punishment his body took was one of the main reasons he never regained his elite form.

Foulke could be a prick, to be sure. When he wasn’t on the mound, he didn’t do a lot to endear himself to the public or the press. But he was a helluva competitor, and, in his own weird way, a classy guy. God’s speed, Keith. Enjoy the hockey.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & Keith Foulke & Oblique references to Grateful Dead lyrics

I know I’m in the minority here…

January 3rd, 2007 → 12:09 am @

…but I’m gonna miss Keith Foulke, who looks to be taking his hockey-loving self to Ohio. (Someone should warn the ladies of Cleveland just what they’re in for.) The history of the 2004 World Series will be replete with tales of Christ-like Curt and Papi “David” Ortiz, but Burger-King Keith was as much of a hero as anyone, and should have gotten some kind of postseason award for his trouble. For whatever weird reason, two of my enduring images of those playoffs are: 1. Foulke on the mound in the bottom of the ninth in Yankee Stadium, blowing snot out of his nose (trust me, it was kind of amazing), and 2. Foulke with his arms out in the air after the final out of the Series in the ultimate “Can You Believe It? pose.”

Anyway, here’s my description of Keith at the end of that Yankees game as described in Feeding the Monster:

In the ninth, Keith Foulke was called upon for the third straight game. Out of everyone in Boston’s bullpen, Foulke was likely the most spent. He’d thrown 50 pitches two nights earlier in Boston’s Game 4 victory, and followed that up with 22 more pitches in Game 5. Before that, the most pitches Foulke had thrown in a game that year was 41, and the most he’d thrown in any three-day stretch was 62. When he came to the mound in Game 6, he’d thrown 72 pitches in the previous 48 hours.

Foulke’s best pitch is his changeup. Changeups are thrown with the same pitching motion as a fastball, but come in with less velocity; because the hitter can’t tell what’s coming, the reduced speed leaves him off-balance. In order for a changeup to be effective, a pitcher needs to have a decent enough fastball to keep the hitter honest. Foulke’s fastball had never been overpowering, but at 92 miles-per-hour was respectable enough to adequately set up his change.

On the 19th, it was clear from the first batter that Foulke wouldn’t be throwing in the low nineties. His fastball was topping out at 88 or 89 miles-per-hour, which didn’t provide enough deception to make his 82 or 83 mile-per-hour change its normal, knee-buckling self. What’s more, home plate umpire Joe West had a tight strike zone: anything the slightest bit off the plate was going to be called a ball. Hideki Matsui, the first man up in the inning, walked, bringing the tying run to the plate. After striking out Bernie Williams and getting Jorge Posada to pop up, Ruben Sierra came to bat. Like Matsui, Sierra—who’d been 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against Schilling—battled his way on base via a seven-pitch walk. He was followed by former Red Sox first baseman Tony Clark, and as Clark prepared to hit, the angry and frustrated fans in Yankee Stadium came to life. This was how it was supposed to work in New York. A walk-off home run by one of the Yankees role players would make up for the anguish of the last several days.

“That at bat, for me, was the most nerve-wracking moment of the series,” says Epstein. “Foulke has nothing, he’s getting squeezed, and a Clark home run ends it all.” At home, at least the Red Sox would get a chance to bat last—in Yankee Stadium, there would be no more chances. As Clark settled into the batter’s box, the Boston outfielders moved back about ten feet. They’d gladly sacrifice a single in order to save a game-tying double from getting over their heads.

When Foulke pitches, he looks a bit like a cobra striking: he has a compact delivery and jerks the ball out of his glove before exploding toward to the plate. He wound up and threw in to Clark. Ball one. Seconds later, he tried it again. Ball two. In the Red Sox’s dugout, Terry Francona bowed his head and began rocking back and forth. Foulke’s third pitch was eminently hittable, but Clark held off, bringing the count to 2-1, and a fourth pitch foul evened it up. The fifth pitch of the at bat was in the dirt. With a full count, the Yankee runners would be off with the pitch, meaning they’d be even more likely to score on a single. Foulke took a deep breath, walked around the mound, and started his windup. He threw an 88-mile-per-hour fastball, which Clark swung through to end the game. As Foulke ran off the field, his voice hoarse, he pounded Bronson Arroyo on the back. “Gotta make it interesting,” he shouted before heading to the showers.

In the twenty-five previous best-of-seven series in Major League Baseball in which one team had gone up three games to none, not a single series had been forced to a seventh game. “We just did something that has never been done,” Schilling said afterwards. “It’s not over yet by any stretch.” The Red Sox had already made history. Now the pressure would really be on New York.

Yeah…good times. Happy trails, Keith. I really will miss you.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & Keith Foulke

“For Boras, when does this start being about his clients’ doing what they love in their work and playing baseball?”

December 12th, 2006 → 3:08 pm @

Insider of my trying to comment on/summarize this, you really should just read Buster Olney’s column on; it’s great. Here are some pertinent sections:

“‘If I represent you,’ [Boras] has told some players in so many words, ‘only I do the negotiating.’ Their impression is that he wants 100 percent control. ‘Why would I do that?’ one player mused, looking back on the day that Boras tried to sign him as a high school senior. ‘It’s my life.’ When Boras negotiates, club executives sometimes wonder whether all the facts — whether every piece of every offer — gets through to the player. They never know, and it scares the hell out of them; Boras is the funnel through which all the information is channeled. This is why Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino flew to California late, why they rode on John Henry’s private plane, why they’ve become so open and outspoken about their negotiations.” …

“And you’d have to wonder: For Scott Boras, when does this stop becoming a chase of dollars and start being about his clients’ doing what they love in their work and playing baseball?” …

“Matsuzaka has never pitched a day in the major leagues, and it could be that when Boras is finished haggling, the pitcher could make $10 million in his first year in the majors, and more after that. Much more.

But with every passing day, with every delay, with every insistence upon more dollars, Boras is effectively placing more pressure on the shoulders of his client, who already is facing an enormous adjustment if he signs to play in Boston. And if Boras/Matsuzaka don’t sign, if the agent’s filibuster continues and they try to make the pitcher the Curt Flood of the Japanese posting system, you have to wonder whether it really will be worth it, in the end, for Matsuzaka.”

Post Categories: Keith Foulke & NESN & Nomar Garciaparra & Roger Clemens

Clearly, it was a bad weekend to go out of town.

November 11th, 2006 → 4:58 pm @

As expected, plenty of folks — including Buster Olney, the man who broke the story — are doing a bit of backpedaling on the whole “the Sox won the bidding rights to Matsuzaka” story. Yesterday, Olney said the Sox had won the right to bid for the Japanese phenom. (Today’s version of the story — which had been edited this morning at 11:44 — read that the Sox “may” have won the bidding; that’s not my recollection of how the piece read yesterday, but I stupidly didn’t save it.)

Today, Olney is making the whole thing sound as imprecise as exit polls (which, *cough cough* is a quip I made yesterday). “Nothing has been confirmed,” Olney writes. “No announcement has been made,” which, at the very least, is a far cry from the “according to Major League Baseball sources” we were hearing about yesterday.

Indeed. It wouldn’t be much fun to discuss if it wasn’t true (for Olney or anyone else); unfortunately (for me), some people who’ve made comments on my last post and Olney himself have already delved into some of the aspects of this supposed bid I wanted to make. The most relevant ones:

* The $40 mil the Sox may or may not have bid is a one-time cost; it’s not added payroll, which would result in: a) raising the Sox’s payroll to a new high, and with this fan base (and this media coverage) it’s hard to ever reduce payroll, b) putting the Sox well above the luxury tax threshold, which would mean every dollar they shelled out would cost much more than that at the end of the day.

* The notion that this is a worthwhile investment solely because of the prospect of increased revenues from the Far East is a load of crap: every dollar the Sox earn is only worth about 50 cents; the other 50 cents goes into the revenue sharing pot, which essentially means the Sox are paying teams like the Orioles and the Blue Jays to continue to run their clubs in a determinedly bone-headed way…the better to bleed the Sox and the Yankees. (Revenue sharing — and baseball economics in general — is a weird and confusing thing. There’s a bunch about it sprinkled in between shocking behind the scenes revelations and hilarious anecdotes in the book. Which, by the way, makes a great gift, and signed copies are available here.)

Without getting into all the ins and outs of Olney’s piece, he comes down on the Sox front office pretty hard, criticizing them for both not paying for players like Johnny Damon (or for trading players like Bronson Arroyo) while (maybe) dedicating a boatload of money to Matsuzaka. He also raises the possibility that the Sox are working without a plan. There are a lot of good possibilities; that’s not one of them…


In other news, Tony Massarotti has this take on Foulke’s departure. I need to confess, I’m a bit confused by Foulke’s not taking the $5 mil-plus he would have gotten by exercising his player option, because he ain’t getting anything like that kind of money from anyone else. One thing I disagree with in Tony’s column is this: “Now Foulke is gone and here is the truly amazing thing: No one is shedding a tear.” Fine: I’m not crying. But I think Foulke — along with David Ortiz — is the single most important reason why the Red Sox won the ’04 World Series. Without Papi’s superhuman heroics, he would have been a shoo-in for ALCS MVP; as it was, he sure as hell should have beat Manny for the WS award.

And finally, Sheffield is off to the Tigers in exchange for three pitchers. This whole thing was shrewdly done by the Yankees, and the fact that they’re re-stocking their minor league system — and really without losing anything in this case — has to be upsetting for the folks on Yawkey Way.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Buster Olney & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Gary Sheffield & Keith Foulke & Red Sox front office

Cats and dogs, living together

September 23rd, 2006 → 6:00 am @

Be honest: if, at the beginning of the year, someone held a gun to your head and asked you who the two pitchers would be to post complete games, you’d most likely have said Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. You would most definitely not have said Julian Tavarez and Tim Wakefield. (This was likely what came to mind when thinking about Tavarez on March 30.)

And yet, those are the guys who’ve thrown the only two complete games of the season: Wakefield, more than six months ago, on April 15, and Tavarez, who worked his sinker to devastating effect while throwing a complete game, 99-pitch, 1-run gem in Toronto last night. (Tavarez was so excited about the second complete game of his career he wouldn’t shut up in the post-game, on-field interview.) Tavarez is signed for next year (for around $3 million), and his end-of-season tenure as a starter (he’s now 2-0 since moving to the rotation) makes him more valuable in a world where Chris Benson commands ten of millions of dollars; it also makes him more attractive as a trading chip, yet one more reason this offseason should be interesting.

Lots of other news out of the Sox last night:

* This column by Gordon Edes is gonna cause lots of talk show chatter. The essence of it is that Manny’s a quitter and a punk and has let his teammates down by refusing the play hurt. (Things like this will get more attention than the remaining games; as of 5:30 AM, it’s leading the Red Sox page on the Globe‘s site. The game story is only alluded to in a caption.) I did another reading last night in Burlington (MA, not VT), and was asked — as I almost am — why the media hates Manny; Edes’ piece isn’t going to help my contention that they don’t. The nut graf: “Do you suppose that 20 years from now, Ramírez will feel even the slightest bit of remorse for the way he quit on his Red Sox teammates in 2006, refusing to honor the code that is an article of faith for Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell, Curt Schilling and Coco Crisp, Trot Nixon and Alex Gonzalez, and Mark Loretta — even the now-departed fat man, David Wells — that you do all within your power to play hurt.” The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, no. But if you look at the playing-in-pain performances of the above list, it’s unclear these warriors were doing the Sox any favors by suiting up while dinged up. Manny’s always had a low pain threshold; he’s also always been a bit flakey. But he also loves to play; you don’t rack up season after season of 155 games because you’re looking for time off. He is in some pain; other players would likely play through that pain; Manny won’t. The Sox’s baseball operations staff isn’t particularly upset by this: Manny played hard for most of the season. What’s of much more concern is the recent appearance of Manny’s agent in Boston. If you guessed that he was here to, once again, relay Manny’s late-season request for an off-season trade, you’d be right. (I think Edes is one of the best reporters, and one of the best writers, working the beat today. His column — which didn’t contain a single quote — gets to one of my pet peeves: the fact that sports writers are, uniquely given the latitude to regularly elide from the role of reporter to that of columnist. But enough of my media musings for now.)

* Speaking of dinged up, it turns out there was a good reason Coco looked like a shell of himself at the plate: on Monday, he’ll have surgery in which a pin or a screw will likely be inserted in his left index finger. This is for an injury Crisp suffered on April 8.

* Notice how devastating Keith Foulke’s split fingered fastball was on Thursday? That was as well as he’s ever thrown that pitch, and Foulke knew it, too. His change still isn’t as sharp as it was in ’04 — or any of the years before — but he has his confidence and his swagger back, and last night he was up and throwing in the eighth; if Francona hadn’t let Tavarez go for the complete game, Foulke would have appeared for the third night in a row. I think we’re seeing an audition for the role of the Red Sox’s 2007 closer… (One thing I guarantee is that Matt Clement — a guy with control issues and self-confidence issues who takes a long time to warm up — will absolutely not, under any circumstances, be closing games next year.)

Post Categories: Coco Crisp & Gordon Edes & Julian Tavarez & Keith Foulke & Manny Ramirez

Josh Beckett and the importance of learning how to pitch

July 15th, 2006 → 12:49 pm @

Before the season began, Peter Gammons predicted that, should be remain healthy, Josh Beckett would be the American League Cy Young Award winner. Well, so far, Beckett has remained healthy, and it appears as if 2006 could be the first time in his career that he tops 200 innings. But the Cy Young? Not so much. Beckett’s 11-5 record shows nothing so much as how deceptive a pitcher’s won-loss record can be; his 5.12 ERA is more indicative of how he’s pitched this season. Indeed, last night’s 7-run, 8-hit, 4 1/3 inning effort is beginning to feel disturbingly familiar.

So what’s the problem? It doesn’t seem to be his stuff: he began last night’s game by getting Jason Kendall to whiff on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball—and he’s reached 95 in almost every start this year. Here’s one theory, and it’s one that’s at least been discussed within Yawkey Way: Beckett has never learned how to pitch.

At first blush, that probably seems like a ridiculous statement. Beckett shutout the Yankees on short rest to clinch the 2003 World Series for the Marlins, and has been cited as one of baseball’s marquee pitchers for as long as he’s been in the game. But that could be the problem. For as long as Beckett’s pitched, he’s been someone blessed with preternatural ability and lauded for his skills. In 1999, he was the first high school righthander to be selected second overall in the draft in more than two decades. Baseball America named him the top high school prospect in the country, and he was USA Today‘s High School Pitcher of the Year. He spent only one full season in the minors (2000), and has been a full-time major league starter since he was 22. Compare his development to that of Jonathan Papelbon, a college closer whom the Red Sox converted to a starter in the minors, asking him to develop a fuller repertoire of pitches. In the NL—or, as us American League snobs like to call it, AAAA—Beckett could, more often than not, rely on his natural ability to overpower and overwhelm the opposition. In the AL, he’ll get his share of strike-outs, but he’ll also find that there are plenty of hitters who can use the power he generates to smash a ball into the stands. (It’s no accident that Beckett leads the league with 27 home runs allowed.) When he’s not blowing pitchers away, he’s often getting lit up.

So what does that mean going forward? When it’s working for him, Beckett has a jaw-droppingly nasty curve, and there’s no reason he can’t learn to mix in a little Greg Maddux with his Nolan Ryan. (This is what’s allowed Pedro Martinez to be one of the all-time greats. Witness Game 5 of the ALDS in 1999, when Martinez—essentially pitching on guile and guts—shut down the Indians without any of the power he used to whiff five of the first six batters in that year’s All-Star Game.) But that transition is going to take a bit of time…

An aside: I’m convinced the reaction to Beckett as compared to Matt Clement should serve as case study A in how a player’s demeanor, and perhaps even his physical appearance, can have as much to do with fan reaction as his on-field performance does. Last year, Clement finished at 13-6 with a 4.57 ERA. He helped anchor an exceedingly shaky rotation’s first-half. And he was hit in the head by a screaming line drive. But Clement–asthmatic, hunched over, in need of glasses–appears kind of shlubby, and, even though he never tries to make excuses, he’s often looks as if he’s sporting the Derek Lowe Face. Beckett, on the other hand, looks and talks like a warrior. Last year’s reaction to Schilling as compared to Keith Foulke is another example. The Sox wouldn’t have won the World Series without either one, and Foulke’s performance in the ALCS was as gutsy and brave as anything I’ve seen. But Schilling is well spoken; Foulke is defensive and has a tendency to lash out. Schilling was consistently applauded just for making it out to the mound; Foulke took as much abuse as anyone on the team.

Post Categories: Baseball & Curt Schilling & Jonathan Papelbon & Josh Beckett & Keith Foulke & Matt Clement & The Derek Lowe Face