Opening Day, 2003: An FTM excerpt explaining one more reason why it makes sense to put Papelbon in the pen…

March 27th, 2007 → 5:22 pm @

Last Friday, I posted some quick thoughts about the Pap to the pen move; I also promised to post a historical lesson that would provide some insight as to why installing the Baby Faced Killer as the closer was a good idea simply because of the distraction it would cause if the Sox blew so much as a single game in the first weeks of the season because Tavarez (or the corpse of Mike Timlin) was closing.

And yes, at the time I promised that second post would come “in a few hours.” So here I am, sticking to my word…so long as you’re willing to consider 100 or so “a few.” Anyway, without further ado, here’s an excerpt from Feeding the Monster^ that takes us all the way back to Opening Day, 2003…a quaint and innocent time that feels like it was several lifetimes ago. Theo was the newly appointed GM, Jeremy Giambi was ahead of Ortiz on the depth chart, and the Sox’s “closer by committee” experiment was being derided even before the season started. It only took one game — one blown Opening Day game against the Devil Rays, to be precise — to fire up the populace’s bloodlust. But did that game actually say anything about the possibilities of a closer by committee? Nope. It did show a lot about the stupidity of Grady Little. Read and learn…

^I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to point out that FTM is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!) and that free signed and personalized bookplates are here for the asking. It’s a perfect gift for Opening Day. For yourself, even.


The Red Sox began the 2003 season hundreds of miles away from their Fenway home, in Tampa’s Tropicana Field, a domed stadium that housed the moribund Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The first inning of Opening Day seemed like it could serve as a microcosm for the two teams. In the top of the first, the Sox scored three runs off of two Tampa Bay errors, a pair of singles by Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Millar, and a two-run double by Shea Hillenbrand. In the bottom of the inning, Pedro Martinez retired the Devil Rays in order, with a strikeout sandwiched between a pair of groundouts. For most of the game, that was as exciting as it got. The Red Sox scored again in the fifth, and Tampa scratched out an unearned run off of Martinez in the seventh. After finishing that inning, Martinez’s night was complete, and he seemed to be in prime form. He’d thrown 91 pitches, striking out six while allowing only three hits. Ramiro Mendoza came in on relief to retire the Devil Rays in order in the eighth, and Boston was three outs away from its first victory of the season. With a three-run lead against a team that had finished in last place every year of its existence, it was the perfect opportunity to test out the Red Sox’s closer-by-committee approach in a low-stress situation.

With three left-handed batters coming up to the plate, lefty Alan Embree was the first pitcher summoned out of the Boston bullpen in the ninth. Embree, a former member of the Padres, had been picked up by the Red Sox on June 26, 2002, four days after he struck out seven of ten Yankees—including the last six in a row—in a game in San Diego. For the remainder of the 2002 season, he had thrown well, pitching in 32 games for Boston with a 2.97 ERA. Epstein was hoping that, in 2003, he’d become one of the linchpins of the Red Sox’s bullpen.

Embree gave up a single to Travis Lee, the first batter he faced, prompting Tampa manager Lou Pinella to send up the right-handed Terry Shumpert to pinch-hit for the Devil Ray’s lefty designated hitter, Al Martin. Shumpert, in his 13-year Major League career, had only 47 home runs and had batted only .235 in 2002. Before the game, the Red Sox advance scouting team had prepared a report on Tampa Bay and left it for Grady Little. With regards to Shumpert, the instructions were clear: Shumpert was all but useless at the plate so long as you don’t, under any circumstances, throw him an inside fastball. Embree soon demonstrated that Little had either never read the report, or never shared the information with his pitching staff, and Shumpert hit one of Embree’s inside fastballs for his 48th home run (and the second to last of his career).* After Embree gave up another single, this one to right-fielder Ben Grieve, Little summoned Chad Fox to the mound.

Fox struck out the first batter he faced, and then, with one out and a man on first base, induced a bouncer up the middle that looked like it would result in a routine, game-ending double play. But after stepping on second base for the force out, Nomar Garciaparra fumbled the ball as he prepared to throw to first, leaving a man on with two out and the Red Sox clinging to a 4-3 lead. After a seemingly rattled Fox walked pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson, Carl Crawford, the Devil Rays’ leadoff batter, came to the plate.

Crawford fouled off four straight pitches, putting him in an 0-2 hole. Fox’s fifth pitch was high, bringing the count to 1-2. His next pitch was low and inside, exactly where he wanted it, but Crawford got his bat around on the ball, golfing it in to the right-field stands for a game-winning, three-run homer.

It was a tough loss, but it didn’t predict anything one way or another about the Sox’s bullpen plan. Save for Garciaparra’s bobble, Chad Fox would have been out of the inning, and the pitch Crawford hit to end the game was an excellent one. Still, the reaction in Boston was swift and harsh. After a grand total of one game, the Herald’s Jeff Horrigan dubbed the Red Sox’s bullpen experiment “loser[s] by committee.” The Globe said the opening night loss had given “rise to the darkest fears of the scheme’s architects” and reported that a 73-year-old woman had been prompted to call the paper for the first time in her life. She relayed this message: “I’m so disgusted. What’s with this closer by committee?” Dan Shaughnessy wanted to “start with a memo to Bill James: Perhaps the seventh inning is not the most important inning to hold a lead.” After an offseason “spent reinventing baseball,” Shaughnessy wrote, “young Theo saw it all implode in the hideous confines of Tropicana Field.”

The bullpen brouhaha was just one of the distractions that would occupy the team during the first half of the season. In April, soon after his $17.5 million contract extension for the 2004 season was picked, Martinez seemed to falter, sparking a round of hand wringing and second-guessing. When the team’s relievers continued to struggle, the closer-by-committee experiment was more or less discarded, as Grady Little announced that Brandon Lyon and Chad Fox would, until further notice, both serve as the Red Sox’s closers. And in late May, after Martinez landed on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his back, Epstein succeeded in swapping an increasingly bitter Hillenbrand for some pitching help, trading him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for their 24-year-old Korean pitcher, Byung-Hyun Kim.

* One member of the team’s baseball operations staff said of that night, “That’s when I had a feeling Grady wasn’t going to work out.”

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Grady Little & Jonathan Papelbon

Truckin…up to Brattleboro

October 6th, 2006 → 10:51 am @

I’m about to take off for Brattleboro, Vermont, where I’ll be reading as part of their annual literary festival. As a result, I won’t have any trenchant comments on:

* The Yankees loss to the Tigers.
* The continuation of A-Rod’s playoff disappearing act. Yesterday, A-Rod struck out with the bases loaded in the first. Since Game 4 of the ’04 ALCS, he’s 4-35 with 0 RBIs in October.

* The Dodgers loss to the Mets. Grady Little started the rookie Hong-Chih Kuo (who-o?) (sorry – – couldn’t resist) instead of Greg Maddux. Seriously. (Let’s hope nobody takes Keith Law’s and Bill Simmons’s columns and reads them to Grady.)
* Nomar’s injury.

More, and more of those year-end wrap-ups, over the weekend…

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & A-Rod & Feeding the Monster Readings & Grady Little & Oblique references to Grateful Dead lyrics

Guitar solos and tour riders, oh my! (All praise Iggy and the Dragonforces)

October 6th, 2006 → 10:36 am @

Two must-views:

1. The dual guitar solo on Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.” (The whole clip is only about a minute long. I was tipped off to this by Kelefa Sanneh’s Times piece from earlier this week. As K. says: “A one-minute video of Mr. Li and Mr. Totman trading impossibly fast solos — from a song called “Through the Fire and Flames” — has been viewed nearly half a million times. (The fretwork is astonishing, but what’s even better is watching Mr. Totman swig a beer while Mr. Li plays.)” It’s truly mind-blowing…and actually better than Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Tangentiallly, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Kelefa is the best music writer in the country. I can’t think of a bad piece he’s written, and at least twice a week he comes out with something that examines some aspect of the music world in a whole new way.

2. Rock ‘n roll tour riders have been the subject of much fascination and awe ever since Van Halen demanded that their dressing rooms have bowls of M&M’s…with all the brown ones taken out.

Without further ado, I present to you the Iggy and the Stooges rider, dug up by the Smoking Gun. It is the best tour rider ever.

Some selected examples:

* “By the way, if there are any Reality TV executives reading this — hardly likely, I know, but — here is my idea for a Reality TV show. It’s called ‘Dead Dog Island’, where a group of contestants/dog lovers is asked what is their favourite breed of dog, then whatever they reply…they are then presented with a dead dog of that particular breed, which they have to cook in a number of different ways…”
* Sandwiches: “Hopefully not one of those sandwiches from Subway with beef and alfalfa sprouts sticking out like a Florida retiree’s bikini bottoms. Yuk.”
* Backstage entertainment: “Someebody dressed as Bob Hope Doing fantastic Bob Hope impersonations and telling all those hilarious Bob Hope jokes about golf and Hollywood and Bing Crosby.”
* For the Stooges dressing room: “6 cans of red bull or similar. Something with testicles in it. Or testicles lite.”

Read all 18 pages. It’s worth it.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & A-Rod & Feeding the Monster Readings & Grady Little & Oblique references to Grateful Dead lyrics

Here’s a headline that should surprise exactly no one

October 5th, 2006 → 6:24 pm @

Little Decides to Use Penny, and Dodgers Pay the Price

That succinct head ran on top of Bill Paschke column in today’s LA Times after the Dodgers pretty much handed the Mets Game 1 of the NLDS.

And the money quote: “This game was lost. … when [Grady] Little, with the score tied in the top of the seventh inning, decided his best possible reliever would be his most struggling starter.”

It hasn’t been an easy couple of days for ol’ Grady. Yesterday’s Times featured a story in which Little was read sections of Feeding the Monster that describe Red Sox management’s take on the man who refused to call on Alan Embree in Game 7 of the ’03 ALCS. “A hunch manager” who exhibited a “total lack of preperation” and “was not capable of dealing with…flexibility and creativity.”

Grady’s response: “I’m not going to lower myself to make any comments on what you’re talking about right there. And I accent the words ‘lower myself.’ Because they run a big business around there, they’ve got to justify everything they do, just like I do as a manager. So, you’ve got to respect them for that. Whatever they’ve got to do to justify their decisions and their moves, so be it. But I’m not lowering myself to comment on it.”

How long before Grady won’t lower himself to comments about his tenure with the Dodgers?

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Grady Little

Sneak Peeks: October 16, 2003

June 28th, 2006 → 11:54 pm @

This is the third in an occasional series of Sneak Peeks from Feeding the Monster. The section below takes place on Thursday, October 16, 2003, in the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series.

When Pedro Martinez returned to the mound in the eighth inning of Game 7, John Henry felt as if he were watching a horror movie. He knew Martinez was spent; hell, Henry thought, any sentient being watching the game knew the pitcher was cooked. He looked over at [Theo] Epstein, sitting a couple of sections away, and the two men caught each other’s eye. Epstein gave a little shrug, as if to say, “I don’t know what he’s doing out there, either.” Martinez got the first batter to pop up to shortstop, putting Boston five outs away from victory, and a trip to the World Series. Then, in an instant, the Yankees bats began lashing at Martinez’s pitches. Derek Jeter sized up a shoulder-high 0-2 fastball and smacked it into right field, where Trot Nixon misplayed a catchable ball into a double. With Bernie Williams at the plate, even the TV announcers were saying that, regardless of what happened here, Alan Embree would likely come in to face the left-handed Hideki Matsui, who was on deck. Williams hit a sharp single to center, scoring Jeter. 5-3.

Now, finally, Grady Little shuffled out of the dugout and over to the mound, where he conferred with Martinez. In his seat, Henry was beside himself. At least, he reassured himself, there’s still a two-run lead and Martinez was finally coming out of the game. The, inexplicably, Little walked back to the dugout alone, leaving Martinez on the mound to face the dangerous Matsui. Henry turned to Larry Lucchino. “Can we fire [Little] right now?” Henry asked.

What was John Henry’s reaction when the Red Sox lost the game? How did the collapse in Game 7 effect the team’s offseason? Find out the answers to these questions, along with details about Pedro Martinez’s contract negotiations and the fallout after his departure, in Feeding the Monster, out July 11 from Simon & Schuster.

Post Categories: 2003 Playoffs & Baseball & Feeding the Monster Sneak Peeks & Grady Little & John Henry & Larry Lucchino & Pedro Martinez & Red Sox & Theo Epstein

At least Derek Lowe learned something about Grady Little in 2003…

June 23rd, 2006 → 12:15 pm @

…namely that this is a man completely undeserving of respect. (It’s a good thing they don’t care about baseball in LA.) From today’s LA Times:

“Lowe (6-3) was pitching one day earlier than expected because Brett Tomko fouled a ball off his left foot during batting practice Wednesday. After the eighth inning, Manager Grady Little shook Lowe’s hand in the dugout as if to say his outing was over.

Lowe’s reaction? ‘I told him, ‘I’m not coming out,’ ‘ he said.

With one out in the ninth, Little tried again, visiting the mound after Richie Sexson singled. According to catcher Russell Martin, Little said to Lowe, ‘I’m giving you one more chance,’ and Lowe answered, ‘All right.'”

Post Categories: 2003 Playoffs & Baseball & Derek Lowe & Grady Little & Los Angeles Dodgers & Red Sox