Former Red Sox outfielder and minor league manager Gabe Kapler will offer his thoughts and insight on the Red Sox throughout the 2007 playoffs. Kapler will resume his major league playing career in 2008. Gabe and his wife, Lisa, co-founded the Gabe Kapler Foundation, a family run, non-profit foundation dedicated to stopping domestic violence.
The 2007 Red Sox are World Series champions.
After watching Jon Lester's performance, my mind immediately wanders to the future. How does this team not win again next year? These guys are a dynasty in the making.
We have to assume that the young players have built a tremendous level of confidence by performing so well in the series. Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellisbury all delivered on the biggest stage under the most blinding spotlight.
Clay Bucholtz was not on the playoff roster, but bet on him being in this rotation and producing for years to come. Jonathan Papelbon has established himself as the game's premier closer. Daisuke Matzuzaka will have this year under his belt and will be better next season.
With the core of the team under contract, improvement is around the bend. Very few teams can say they won a world championship and improved the following year.
Personality and chemistry are clearly not an issue. The boys have been in the trenches together now. They will fight for each other. They will grow together. I can close my eyes and see this team crowned the team of the decade.
Best of times
I can't imagine what it's like to be a young sports fan growing up in New England.
Right in your front yard, you have the Sox and the Pats. Without question you can brag to friends from anywhere else that you root for the best two teams in the country.
You can argue that your football team is having one of the best seasons ever. That your quarterback is the best of all time. You get to watch the greatest clutch hitter in Sox history. You marvel at the comebacks and the personalities and the drama. You, as a young sports fan are witnessing the greatest sports era in your region's history.
The outfield at Coors Field is the most difficult to play in all of baseball. Often times I would glance over at the other outfielders and they would look miles away. Yes the ball carries very well but that is not the most challenging factor. There is so much ground to cover. The gaps are huge. Because the air is thin, you are forced to play deeper allowing for plenty of soft hits to fall in. This in turn creates high scoring, long innings. Pitchers become frustrated as outs become hits. It can turn into a track meet in a hurry out there. If you are not in good physical condition, a ball that you normally catch over a shoulder can bounce off the tip of your glove, conceivably changing the outcome of the game. Being mentally prepared for all of these factors is an outfielder's only defense.
Curt Schilling is the king of minimizing damage. He realizes that his job is to keep his team in the game.
He knew that it made more sense to give up a run with a ground ball than to try to be perfect, walk Todd Helton and possibly get himself in more trouble. Many guys will pitch around Helton in that situation. Schill was willing to trade a run for an out, and consequently, got out of the inning without too much harm done.
An island to myself
I'm in Turks and Caicos, in a sports bar with a beautiful marina behind me. A cool island breeze is flowing through the open windows on all sides.
With a cold beer in my hand, I am watching Curt Schilling throw to Willy Taveras (he just got hit by a pitch on his left hand on a fastball up and in). The bar is almost empty so the ball striking Jason Varitek's glove is easy to hear. It's strange, but nobody has talked about the World Series here. It kind of stinks to have nobody to talk baseball with right now.
What do i do?
Anybody know a good Boston sports bar in Turks and Caicos? I am down here checking out property and I need to find a place to watch the game with some like minded folks. Oh well, I guess a hotel room will have to do!
Did you see that catch Coco made?
A close friend and I were chatting on the phone about Coco's catch last night. That was not a great catch. It was spectacular. When analyzing the play, take into consideration that he was running full speed into the triangle where most players fear the wall and back off or slow down. My friend made a great point. If it was a one run game, it goes down as one of the greatest catches in postseason history.
Thanks, Baseball Gods!
In the clubhouse, we often discuss The Baseball Gods. If you pimp a home run you may upset them and your next hit may be hard to come by. If you are a pitcher and talk about a hitter as if he is not a threat, the Baseball Gods will getcha and that hitter will hurt you.
The Baseball Gods also decide the outcomes of games. Tonight they wanted the Red Sox to win. The positive energy was evident early on. Jake Westbrook was not sharp early, Dice-K was.
The Baseball Gods have a sense of humor. They wanted to mess with us. They didn't let the game get out of hand until they were ready. They tempted us with rallies, then smacked us around a bit with several double plays. It was time to really make us squirm. Just when we started to feel comfortable, Julio Lugo drops a ball in left field. But Julio plays the game the right way so the Baseball Gods rewarded him by making sure that the play did not hurt. They did however, remind him that they were in control later by not allowing him to get the ball out of his glove on a potential DP.
Just to prove how much power they have, they included Joel Skinner, The Indians third base coach in their shenanigans. They smiled on Dustin Pedroia rewarding him for his belief in himself after struggling early in the series. They teased and taunted us all game before finally letting us relax in the bottom of the 8th inning.
The Sox must be living well. Make no mistake about it, the Baseball Gods were in control tonight.
On behalf of sports fans everywhere, I would like to thank J.D., Schill and the rest of the Sox for giving us the perfect Sunday. Football all day and Game 7 of the ALCS at night. Heaven!
Grinding out the pitch count
Just as important as the four runs scored in the bottom of the first are the 36 pitches thrown by Fausto Carmona. A pitch count that high in one inning puts him in a very difficult position going forward. If a pitcher averages 20 pitches per inning (which is a high number in itself), he will reach 100 pitches after five innings. If the Sox continue to grind, the Indians will be in the bullpen early in the game rendering the Schilling/Carmona matchup a non issue.
Luckily, cooler heads prevailed
Does anyone realize the importance of the mid-game near brawl last night? If Kenny Lofton and Josh Beckett go to blows - and both get ejected - The Sox lose an absolutely dominating starting pitcher with several innings to play. With all due respect to Lofton, that's not a trade I am willing to make.
Let us all be thankful that Josh kept his wits about him and stayed in that game!
It's the little things
You don't get on SportsCenter by laying a bunt down with runners on first and second, one out, up three runs in the eighth inning. The glory goes to the long ball.
Julio Lugo's bunt will get lost in the shuffle, but it did so many great things. It kept the Red Sox out of an inning-ending double play.
It loaded the bases, putting a great deal of pressure on the Indians. It knocked Rafael Perez out of the game. It gave Lugo a hit and some much needed confidence.
It ultimately helped put the game out of reach. When you are struggling with the bat, you have to find a way to help your team win games. Lugo found a way tonight.
October 18, 2007
Sticking with the pitch theme, let's chat about the sinker. If a ground ball double play is a pitcher's best friend, then a good two-seam fastball (a.k.a. sinker) keeps that friendship intact.
I can not tell you how frustrating it is to come up with runners on 1st and 2nd, nobody out, do everything mechanically correct, hit the ball on the nose straight into the ground and get thrown out at 1st base after a 6-4-3 DP. The hitter is at the mercy of the movement of the baseball. He is essentially swinging at a ball that he thinks will be up and away and ends up down and in.
When a good sinker ball pitcher gives up damage through the air, it's most likely a result of lack of downward movement. Point being, guys like Derek Lowe, Jake Westbrook, Brandon Webb and others have success by keeping the ball down in the zone and relying on ground balls.
Aiming to deceive
I should also mention that deception plays into the equation. Look no further than BJ Ryan of the Blue Jays, Todd Jones of the Tigers or Keith Foulke; all guys who get great results without as much velocity. In the case of deception, the ball just gets on you in a hurry. These guys hide the ball well and the hitter seems to have very little reaction time. The guys who have both fastball life and deception, like Papelbon, seem unhittable. So the next time you're watching a game and ask yourself: "How did he miss that pitch?", you have the answer.
Ever wonder why one pitcher can live in the middle of the plate with his fastball and the next has to hit spots?
The answer is fastball life. Here is an example. If you have been paying close attention to this series, you've seen Betancourt have a great deal of success. He seems to have no fear -- goes right after guys. Both in the ALDS and the ALCS, he has split the middle of the plate with his (belt-high) fastball many times against some very good hitters. Foul balls, swings and misses; weak contact the result. What is different about his 94 mph? His ball seems to take off while others seem to slow down. The ball at times appears to defy gravity as it jumps toward the plate. Pitching is not purely about velocity. Look around Major League Baseball and you will find tons of pitchers who throw in the mid-90s but have trouble getting outs. Rafael Betancourt is not one of them.
Fortunately for the Sox, neither is Josh Beckett.
Less is more
Don't have much to say tonight. Sometimes no blog is the best blog...
Byrd's delivery baffles
This simply baffles me. We all know that hitting is all about timing and rhythm. Why then, do more pitchers not vary their rhythm?
Whether or not what Paul Byrd is doing right now with his delivery works tonight, more pitchers should use this tactic. Over the years, many Japanese pitchers have used it as a resource. If the guy on the mound has the ability to stay consistent with his mechanics, it's a no brainer.
Confidence goes a long way
You think baseball isn't a game of momentum? Consider tonight's game.
Indians starter Jake Westbrook didn't look terribly sharp out of the gates. During the second inning, he found himself with the bases loaded with nobody out against one of the top lineups in baseball. Everyone everywhere believed the Red Sox would score multiple runs in the inning and take command of the game and the series.
By inducing a shallow fly ball and a double play, the Indians squirmed out of the jam unharmed.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, on the other hand, started out great (he struck out three of the first six hitters he faced). Kenny Lofton may have been the one guy in that lineup who the Red Sox were not concerned about hitting a home run. But a line drive to right goes out of the ballpark and the Indians are up 2-0.
Did Westbrook somehow acquire more talent after the second inning? Of course he didn't. He had confidence. It's a lot easier to pitch up 2-0. He had momentum on his side and cruised until Jason Varitek touched him for a two-run homer in the sixth.
Dice-K struggled to find his rhythm after Lofton's home run.
Confidence is the single-most important factor in all of sports. It's what makes the best players who they are. The Red Sox have plenty of time to find their swagger, and steal back the momentum of this series.
On second thought . . .
OK, OK, OK . . . the ballpark does matter. Kenny Lofton's home run might be an out at Fenway Park and David Ortiz's double is definitely a home run in Boston. Go figure.
Venue doesn't matter
I was racking my brain trying to come up with how The Jake will effect tonight's game. I wanted to give some perspective about the way the flawless playing surface would be beneficial to Westbrook, a ground ball pitcher. Maybe the ball carrying well to right field bodes well for power hitting lefties. I'm sure it helps to know that a deep fly ball to right in Boston is a HR in Cleveland. Here's the bottom line. It doesn't matter if it's Jacobs Field, Fenway Park or Central Park. If the Sox play their brand of baseball, good things will happen. Now if those bugs come back....well, lets just hope those bugs don't come back.
Give them credit
Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due. The Indians bullpen showed a special kind of resolve shutting down a battling Sox lineup from the middle innings on. I have to admit that I could not figure out how the Sox were going to be held in check after Carmona was removed from the contest. With Manny and David locked in and the rest of the lineup having good at bats, I was certain that double digits were inevitable. Youk and Manny both kept grinding their plate appearances. They each worked monster at bats vs. Betancourt, fouling off pitch after pitch. The guy just continued to pound the strike zone. I think we chalk this one up to an impressive performance by the Indians relievers and move on to The Jake.
Count on Schill to be focused
One of Curt Schilling's most endearing qualities is his honesty about his performance and his thoughts leading up to games. I LOVED hearing him say he gets nervous before starts. In my opinion, every player in the league experiences nerves at some point before a game. Some are man enough to admit and embrace it, others hide and act "too cool". Schill, who starts Game 2 tonight, is open about it. He does get anxious before big games. Butterflies and adrenaline create focus. Have you ever seen a more focused pitcher than Curt on the big stage?
During the game tonight, the Fox broadcasters were talking about Boston's Terry Francona and Cleveland's Eric Wedge as Manager of the Year candidates. They mentioned the fact that Wedge was working with a smaller payroll, a valid point. I would make the argument, however, that a manager in Boston with a larger payroll has twice the pressure.
Tito is expected to win. A small payroll can always be pointed to as a reason for not winning. If payroll is to be considered, which it should, so should many other factors. When assessing the Manager of the Year race, one has to examine the higher degree of difficulty managing in Boston or New York. Nowhere is the spotlight bigger or decisions more scrutinized.
It is much easier chatting it up with three or four beat writers and maybe one national reporter than dealing with a crowded clubhouse filled with media every night. A manager in Boston can't hide.
I would draw the analogy of sitting at your computer or desk trying to work with someone coming up to you every five or 10 minutes needing your attention. Now try to be productive.
Finally, a higher payroll doesn't necessarily buy better players. The Indians have some pretty talented guys and some great arms. Wedge and Tito are asked to manage the team they are given to the best of their abilities. They are asked to bring the best out of their players. Tito's guys are rising to the occasion as we speak and will continue to do so throughout these playoffs.
A chess match
Ryan Garko had a difficult decision leading off the second inning. Ideally as a hitter in that situation, you want to see a pitch and get into a good hitter's count.
Putting the first pitch of the count in play for an out is not a great outcome. It forces the next hitter to take a pitch. However, against a pitcher like Josh Beckett it's tough to give him a strike and put yourself in a hole.
So what do you do you do? Garko elected to swing at the first pitch. It would have been a ball up. A lazy ground ball to third base was the result, and Beckett went on to have a very efficient inning keeping his pitch count low.
Sabathia is a tough at-bat for any hitter. That being said, as with most hard-throwing lefties with good breaking balls, right-handed batters will feel more comfortable in the box against him than left-handed batters.
As righties, we get a good, long look at the ball. We know if the breaking ball starts off the plate away, it has a good chance to be a strike. If it starts in, it's probably going to be a ball. Of course against a pitcher like CC who can run it up there in the mid 90's, it makes sense to sit dead red fastball until you have two strikes. At that point a hitter has a chance to at least fight off the breaking ball.
It is impossible to look for off-speed pitches and hit fastballs. Making Sabathia get the fastball down in the zone is also essential. Velocity is much more difficult to catch up with when it's up in the zone. Finding a way to get into hitter-friendly counts so that those hittable fast balls are more plentiful may be the most important piece of the puzzle. This may be accomplished by seeing some pitches early in the count. The danger of course is that he starts off hot and hitting corners. Then it's straight to battle mode!
Recognizing a key component
The playoffs are a stressful time for a player. Family is in town, appearance requests are plentiful and of course The Indians come to Fenway tonight. The pressure in October is tremendous.
How does a Sox player deal? Every player approaches this time of year differently. Many use teammates as an outlet, others may use family and friends, and some may just be great at multi tasking. I used a combination of the above, along with a valuable Red Sox resource named Don Kalkstein.
The guy is pure gold to an organization that is constantly in the spotlight. He teaches visualization, at-bat processing and so on. Most importantly, he is a valuable ear when the spotlight is the brightest and things may not be smooth. I had the pleasure of working with him in Boston and Texas so I can say without a doubt that he is part of the winning equation in that clubhouse. I simply believe with my heart that while the players usually (and should) get the glory, its important for some guys like Donny behind the scenes to be recognized.
Welcoming back Trot
I was just thinking how crazy it's going to be to see Trot Nixon come to town for the ALCS. I know he has been back already, but this is for the playoffs.
It was so strange to see him hit that HR off Clemens in a Cleveland uniform (after seeing it happen on numerous occasions in a Sox uniform). It seems like just yesterday he was rounding the bases after hitting the walkoff against the A's in '03.
This guy is a true warrior! He is as loyal as they come and the definition of a great teammate. Trot came to win everyday and it's going to be hard to watch a postseason game without my friend playing for the good guys.
It's all in the eyes
I just compared and contrasted the celebrations of The Sox in Anaheim and the Indians in New York. The Sox had goggles protecting their eyes from the dangerously acidic champagne bubbles. The Indians on the other hand ventured into their celebration bare-eyed, a clear indication that the Sox are better prepared....
Hit 'em where they ain't
It's a fine line between a double play ball and a huge hit to drive in two runs. Victor Martinez just snuck a hard ground ball in the six hole after a intentional walk to Travis Hafner. If that ball is four feet closer to Derek Jeter, he feeds Robinson Cano for an easy 6-4-3 DP.
Dustin Pedroia is a flat out grinder! He brings so much more to the table than physical ability. Watch the man work in the batter's box. He believes if a pitcher gets him out, that it was pure luck. You can't teach that kind of confidence. His aggressive energy wears off on his teammates and it's just a matter of time before he gets a hit or makes a play that changes the course of these playoffs.
Let's start now!
Just a personal opinion, but I bet the Red Sox want to play ASAP. After a convincing sweep of the Angels in the ALDS, the last thing a team wants is to let that energy die down.
If the Yanks/Indians series drags on, The Sox don't have as much opportunity to utilize the positive emotion. As a hitter specifically, I want to be back in the batters box after one off day. Hitting is so much about timing and the bat can feel like a foreign object initially after a significant layoff.
For now let's enjoy an incredible ALDS victory and get ready for the ALCS!!
Right in the middle of the 1 o clock games?!?! This is a scheduling disaster. Does MLB not know that Sundays in the fall are for football? Believe me, I am fired up for the Sox game today but cmon! How does this game not get played at night!? Today is going to be tough. Thank goodness for multiple TVs and DVRs.
How does he do it?
After watching Manny pound that K-Rod fastball last night, I marveled over how he accomplished the feat. For years I have been saying to myself, "How does he do that?". Bottom line? He is just more physically gifted than most anyone else. There are plenty of factors that play into what makes Manny such a special hitter. One can point to his balance, his patience, his raw strength, among many others things
I went back and watched some at bats last night after the game and found that the best hitters had something in common. From the time they were in a ready position, to the point of contact, their heads were perfectly still. A hitter's eyes are his most important tool. If his head is moving at all, his eyes are moving as well. Putting a round bat on a round ball is difficult enough. Try it when that round ball in moving 96 miles per hour. Manny's head is extraordinarily quiet when he hits. His eyes are focused and relaxed.
From the time we put on our first t-ball uniform, we hear coaches saying "watch the ball hit the bat". Keeping a still head will help kids take that first important step.
Popular belief suggests that high pitch counts are a direct result of lack of control. It makes sense. If a guy is throwing a lot of balls, he will walk hitters and consequently throw more pitches.
I would argue that often times, the high pitch counts are a result of swings and misses and one of the most under appreciated stats in all of baseball, the foul ball.
Both Dice-K and Escobar threw a ton of balls in the strike zone tonight but because both guys have tremendous stuff, the two lineups were unable to put the ball in play early in the count. Consequently, both starters were out of the game early. Strangely, efficiency for a pitcher can be negatively affected by a live fastball or a sharp breaking ball.
So I round third base after my first HR at The Tokyo Dome and there are two cheerleaders jumping up and down. They have pigtails and are wearing Tokyo Giants outfits. They are waiting for me at home plate with giant stuffed animals. They hand me the stuffed animals as I run by. The custom is, after a HR a player is supposed to give one stuffed animal to the fans and put one in his locker. Whoa. That was strange! A whole different world. I wonder what Dice-K's "whoa" moment was. Or is it coming tonight....
Can somebody please clear this up for me?!?!
I just sat down at the computer and told my wife I was going to write a blog. She said "Are you crazy? What do you need to write another blog for? Are you some nutty computer lunatic?"
So I did some research and noticed that Nick Cafardo wrote his blog every hour or so tonight. That made me feel better until I saw Bob Ryan averages about one every 3 weeks. Two guys I love to read. Hmmmm. Who's right?
I guess comparing bloggers is like comparing baseball pitchers. There is no formula for what works. You can do it with Tim Hudson's body or Josh Beckett's. Tom Glavine gets it done with three different change ups, Derek Lowe with a steady dose of sinkers. I'm a rookie once again!
You know what stinks? Getting messages from "close friends" around playoff time requesting tickets. Here's a sample. "Hey Gabe, it's Chris, the guy you met at Starbucks last year. You know I would never ask unless it was important, but my aunt's neighbor is gonna be in Boston and she asked if you might be able to swing a couple of seats for tonight's game. If it's an inconvenience at all don't worry about it but..."
Now you know that if you don't take care of that guy, the guilt will chase you (or if you're superstitious about stuff like that you may worry you will go 0-for-5). As a player, you're given 6 tickets per game. So what do you do? Should you tell your wife and kids to watch it on TV so Chris's aunt's neighbor can go? If it happened to me, and I was just a part time guy, can you imagine what Ortiz's voicemail sounds like? These guys should shut their phones off when September arrives.
It's tough enough to prepare for the Angels. Ever see that Corona commercial where the guy throws his phone in the ocean? Now's the perfect time for the players to do just that!
When Kevin Youkilis made contact with that John Lackey fastball in the first inning, I bet he immediately felt an intense euphoria.The feeling is kind of like throwing up after feeling nauseous for a while. It's relief. Intense relief!
Everything leading up to that moment creates great tension. Then, with one swing, all of that anxiety is gone. There is nothing quite like knowing that no matter what you do for the rest of the game, you had a gigantic moment.
You think he felt the same level of pressure in his second at bat with a HR and the lead in the game under his belt? NO CHANCE. He was confident. He knew in an instant that he had given Josh Beckett a lead in Game 1. He injected faith in his team and the starting pitcher. He drew first blood for the Sox.
One could argue that it will turn out to be the most important run of the series...time will tell.
What a start
This was a manager's dream! Absolutely dominant starting pitching performance, early four-run cushion, solid defense already on the field and the emotional support of the fans. No decisions necessary!
Beckett came out with a confident, clear headed, relaxed look on his face. He displayed tremendous command throughout. When he missed, it was with enough velocity and movement that he consistently missed bats. The movement is what created the domination. As a hitter, it is the combination of those three attributes that makes him so devastating. When one fastball stays straight and the next sinks and runs a few inches, you don't know what to look for. At that point you are sitting on velocity and if the ball moves at all, solid contact is difficult to come by. The result tonight was 18 straight Angels retired.
The story of Josh's night was told in the 7th in an at bat vs. Vlad Guerrero. He knew it was unnecessary to throw him a strike to win the battle. Beckett featured several fastballs that chased the dangerous hitter in off the plate. As anticipated, the pitches induced swings and misses or foul balls. Those are not easily executed pitches! The end result of course was a base hit to left on a fastball in the middle of the plate. Nobody's perfect. The point is, Josh was as close to perfect as a Sox fan could hope for and the first few pitches of that at bat were a perfect example of his control of the Angels lineup
Tonight's game contained many of the ingredients that made the Sox successful in the regular season. Beckett obviously, a huge HR from Ortiz, aclutch hit and strong defense out of Mikey Lowell and solid breaks from Coco in CF. Ellsbury made a late-inning contribution, and Tek called a magnificent game. You could not draw up Game 1 any better. Chalk up the first few yards of the sprint to The Sox.
Fired up for gametime
Damn do I miss Boston right now!! There is nothing quite like waking up the day of a playoff game, getting a cup of coffee, reading the newspaper and then heading to Fenway Park.
The leaves are changing and the Pats are cruising. Josh Beckett is facing off against John Lackey tonight and Red Sox Nation will be in an electric state. I know that at about 3 o'clock today, the Sox clubhouse will be exploding with a combination of excitement, nervous energy, and anticipation of what's to come. As the series unfolds I will be adding thoughts here and there. There will be no recipe, just a pinch of this and a pinch of that.
Everyone knows that the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. No need to get too high or too low. It makes no sense to hang on every pitch because there is always tomorrow. Ladies and Gentlemen, that all changes now. Welcome to the biggest (and shortest) sprint in all of baseball -- the 5-game series. This is the time to get fired up about every little detail. In a short series, anything can happen. See you after the first pitch!