These details paying off
Work by scouts picked up team
DENVER - Allard Baird stopped for a cup of coffee before he went to Coors Field yesterday afternoon. He did not pull out a stopwatch to calculate the barista's time on the double espresso, nor did he note whether the cashier returned his change with his left or right hand.
But as the man in charge of the reports the Red Sox professional scouts prepared for this run through the postseason, there are few details that have not been recorded, stored, and analyzed for the team's use.
"You know how people say, 'Don't sweat the small stuff?' " Baird said before last night's game. "This is completely the opposite. You sweat the small stuff. It's all about the little things. If they don't want it, they don't have to use it, but it's all there if they want it."
There's a story from Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Before a hobbled Kirk Gibson hit his home run off Dennis Eckersley, he remembered what longtime scout Mel Didier said at a scouting meeting. "Podner," Didier said, "as sure as I'm standing here, if Eckersley goes to a full count, he'll throw you a backdoor slider." Didier said afterward that Gibson, remembering that advice, smiled to himself just before launching Eckersley's backdoor slider into history.
In a similar vein, Sox bench coach Brad Mills, in Game 2 of this Series, armed with information assembled by the Sox scouts, correctly anticipated that Matt Holliday would attempt to steal on Jonathan Papelbon's first pitch with two outs in the eighth and the Rockies down by a run. He signaled for a pickoff, and Papelbon, who had not picked off a runner since breaking into the majors last year, nailed Holliday with ease.
Mills deserves credit for the exhaustive preparation he puts into his job. But the play also illustrates the work done by the Sox' professional scouting staff.
"We had some stuff on other teams," said Baird, reluctant to reveal much about the Rockies. "One guy was extremely aggressive when he got on second base who didn't run very well. He's a guy you wouldn't try to pick off [with the pitcher]. You'd allow him to maintain his aggressiveness, but put on a pickoff play from the catcher, because this guy always got caught on his front foot with his secondary lead.
"There was another guy when a guy played behind him, he'd take a lead off first, a walking lead, with his body turned facing the shortstop. He'd drop his head consistently. We thought we could sneak behind him and pick him off with the catcher with a righthanded hitter at the plate. He was very lazy in his readiness.
"Those are the type of things that can make a difference."
You watch pitchers to see if they're tipping off what they're going to throw. You watch a pitcher's time to the plate with a runner on base and a runner's time from first to third.
You watch a hitter to see what he does on certain counts. You study a manager's tactics, when he's likely to bunt or hit and run or substitute.
You study the ballpark, which becomes even more critical when your team is visiting for the first time, like the Sox this season at Coors Field.
Todd Claus, who managed Double A Portland to the Eastern League title in 2006, joined Dana LeVangie, the Sox' former bullpen coach, as the team's advance scouts this season.
The third member of the team is a man who never leaves Boston: Kyle Evans, the advance scouting coordinator, watches hours of video and does statistical analysis.
During the regular season, the country is divided geographically among three other pro scouts: Gus Quattlebaum has teams in the West, David Howard the Midwest, and Galen Carr the East.
Baird chuckles. When he was general manager of the Royals, a job he held until being dismissed during the 2006 season, he probably had four professional scouts. Since he was hired by Theo Epstein as assistant to the general manager, Baird estimates that Epstein doubled the size of the team's pro scouting staff from eight to 16.
Early August is a time the scouts get their last looks at prospective free agents. But already, adjustments were being made in coverage in anticipation of the postseason. By mid-September, a scout had been assigned to each of the potential playoff qualifiers.
In addition, the Sox had pro scouts Jerry Stephenson and Dave Mahoney follow the Sox for two series, advancing them like an opponent.
LeVangie and Howard scouted Anaheim. Keith Champion, who for five years worked for the Cubs as an advance scout, and Claus had the Indians.
By the end, numerous Sox scouts had seen the Rockies. First, it was Dave Klipstein, who went to the Rockies' instructional league to chart the progress of rehabbing players Aaron Cook and Willy Tavares. Then it was Carr and Dave Finley, and special assignment scout Marc DelPiano, who did special video work. Claus and Howard, Champion and LeVangie, and Baird himself, all eventually saw the Rockies, too.
"Because the Rockies had such a long layoff, a couple guys tried to dig on makeup," Baird said. "Mental readiness, not mental toughness. They're all tough on this level, but maybe there were some guys who hadn't been in the playoffs that might not have the readiness. Anything to get an edge."
What makes it all worthwhile, Baird said, is that Terry Francona and the Sox coaching staff embrace all the information.
"And Jason Varitek and Curt Schilling, I don't know if I've ever seen two players with a greater attention to detail," he said. "It's pretty amazing."
It was time to go. It was a couple of hundred paces back to his hotel, a 2 1/2- second ride on the elevator to his room, another 12 steps to the door. Sweat the small stuff, win the big prize.