Saturday, October 13, 2007
Boston's bullpen implodes in seven-run 11th inning
By Jim Caple ESPN.com
BOSTON -- Once upon a time, before multiple surgeries on his arm and back, Eric Gagne was the most dominating closer in baseball, going 84 consecutive save situations and more than a year without blowing one. Then again, once upon a time, Creed was a popular rock band, too.
When the Red Sox traded for Gagne at the deadline, they had visions of a devastating 1-2 punch with Gagne setting up closer Jonathan Papelbon. It didn't quite work out that way. Gagne went 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA for Boston during the regular season and probably just joined the official ranks of Red Sox players most likely to have their tires slashed. Put it this way: After his performance in Saturday's 13-6 loss to Cleveland in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, Boston's fans jeered the mere announcement of his pitching line.
Gagne pitched the ninth inning in Game 1 and was ineffective enough that the Red Sox wound up warming up Papelbon despite having a seven-run lead. Before Game 2, general manager Theo Epstein said, "It's obvious that [manager Terry Francona] is trying to find spots when he can get him into a game and find his rhythm again."
It's safe to say that Saturday's 11th inning was not one of those desired spots.
Eric Gagne got his first batter in 11th inning on a strikeout, then the floodgates opened.
The Red Sox had been in prime position to take a 2-0 lead in the series just minutes earlier in the 10th inning. They had their dominating closer on the mound in the top of the inning and the heart of their order due up in the bottom of the inning. And then Cleveland's little known Tom Mastny retired David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell in order. After that, the Red Sox bullpen door swung open to begin the 11th and out came Gagne to preserve a 6-6 tie.
Gagne struck out the first batter he faced, Casey Blake, providing a moment of hope for Boston fans. That moment passed quickly. Grady Sizemore singled, Asdrubal Cabrera walked and Francona decided he had seen enough. When Cleveland sent up former Boston hero Trot Nixon to pinch-hit, he replaced Gagne with Javier Lopez.
Lopez gave up a run-scoring single to Nixon, then threw a wild pitch to score another run, walked Victor Martinez intentionally and gave up another run-scoring single. Jon Lester, who pitched well for Boston after coming back from his cancer treatment, came in and gave up a run-scoring double to Jhonny Peralta followed by a three-run homer to Franklin Gutierrez to complete the carnage.
Gagne left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters, though in his defense, he's usually been a pretty stand-up guy and it's possible Red Sox Nation might have deported him or grabbed him for extreme rendition.
Lopez, meanwhile, called the seven-run inning "disappointing," which is a bit like calling Chernobyl an industrial energy mishap. "We battled all game long, with the score going back and forth, back and forth," Lopez said. "It's just unfortunate the way things ended."
The bullpens had been exceptional -- or at least both were until, as Francona put it "the last 15 minutes -- on a night neither starter got out of the fifth inning." Cleveland's bullpen doesn't get much credit, but Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt and Mastny were stellar, allowing only one hit in 5 2/3 innings. Betancourt completed his night by retiring Kevin Youkilis on a line drive to center after the Boston first baseman fouled off six 2-2 pitches with the potential winning run on second base.
Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis said that prior to the lengthy Youkilis at-bat, he and manager Eric Wedge were considering sending Betancourt out for yet another inning but decided against it once his pitch count reach 42. But Mastny did the job in the 10th and in the end, it was Boston's 'pen that ran out of gas first.
"Asking your bullpen to come in [in the fifth inning] and throw zeroes against that team for however long it was going to take, that's just not fair to them," Boston starter Curt Schilling said. "That was all about me coming up small in a big game."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.