Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Is Broxton haunted by ghost?
Boy, talk about your competing views about Jonathan Broxton's meltdown in Game 4. First, here's Los Angeles' Bill Plaschke:
The crack of Jimmy Rollins' line drive, the roar of a stunned crowd, the shaking of a chilled stadium will live forever in the minds of those who witnessed an incomparable Dodgers' heartbreak.But it is the soft shuffle of Matt Stairs jogging toward first base three batters earlier that will live forever with the man who caused it.
With two out in the ninth inning Monday, two strikes from a Dodgers victory that would even this National League Championship Series, Rollins hit a two-run double into the right-field gap against Broxton to give the Philadelphia Phillies a shocking 5-4 victory and probably insurmountable three games to one lead.
But the game wasn't lost then, Broxton fighting a fierce battle with a former league MVP.
The game was lost moments earlier, when Broxton folded in a timid battle with his ghost.
Your closer cannot be spooked by a memory. Your closer cannot be crushed by his past.
But that is exactly what happened with one out and the bases empty in the ninth inning of Game 4 when pinch-hitter Stairs came to the plate.
Yep, the same Matt Stairs who faced Broxton in the eighth inning of Game 4 of last year's NLCS.
Yep, the same guy who rocked Broxton for a two-run homer deep into the Dodger Stadium right-field pavilion that gave the Phillies the victory in that game and eventually the series.
Some wondered how the kid reliever would ever recover from such a blow.
Now we know that he probably has not.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia where everyone's supposedly so tough on the athletes, Marcus Hayes takes the opposite tack: Broxton wasn't intimidated at all:
Will Torre hesitate to let Broxton face Stairs again?"No," he said, firmly.
Expect a similar strategy if they meet again.
Broxton doesn't want his 99 mph fastballs coming anywhere near Stairs' lethal, 41-year-old bat, which managed just 20 hits (five homers) in 103 at-bats this season -- though he did walk 16 times, second most among major league pinch-hitters.
Walking to first, Broxton figured, was better than watching Stairs jog around all four bases again.
"I wasn't going to give him anything down the middle," said Broxton. "I was going to keep it down, and hope he'd chase ... You're not going to give it up to a guy coming off the bench and is a fastball hitter."
Broxton wasn't exactly scarred by Stairs' homer.
He enjoyed a spectacular season, the linchpin of a devastating bullpen, with 36 saves in 42 chances. He held opponents to a .165 average and struck out 114 hitters, both best among major-league relievers.
He has never watched Stairs' homer, he said.
It was put behind him, "the next day," he said.
My impression wasn't that Broxton was scared; my impression was that he was foolish. In that situation, you work extra carefully if the batter is Barry Bonds. Or Babe Ruth, or Ted Williams, or Mickey Mantle. But Matt Stairs, really? The same Matt Stairs who turned 41 last winter and has a sparkling .402 slugging percentage in his last two seasons? This is the player you're not even going to try to retire?
Maybe the scared and the foolishness go together. I suppose that Broxton's memory of last October did throw a little scare into him, which resulted in something foolish. But it seems to me a massive leap from "I don't want to throw a good fastball to Matt Stairs" to "The kid reliever still hasn't recovered." For all sorts of reasons, good pitchers sometimes make bad pitches, or good pitches that get hit hard anyway.
I link, you decide.