Down to the season's final week, it's baseball 24/7
Posted: Wednesday September 28, 2005 2:51PM; Updated: Wednesday September 28, 2005 7:58PM
Craig Hansen had a rough outing with the Red Sox on Tuesday.
The Major League Baseball Extra Innings package is a blessing and a curse. My first pennant race was 1994, before we had the Internet, let alone digital cable. If you wanted to track scores then, you could either fashion a super antenna out of that foil from a Ho-Ho or watch the tracker at the bottom of CNN Headline News. Now, though, I can sit here and watch every game that's relevant in the American League. So I do. And so my right thumb is now twice as strong as my left. A few questions from a night (and part of an afternoon) of watching ball:
Is any team excited about the season's final day? Assuming there's no rotation juggling (and I can't imagine there will be too much, since everyone plays every day from here on out), we'll see the same pitchers Sunday we saw last night when all four teams in the mix lost. Brandon McCarthy was so-so for the White Sox, but Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Scott Elarton looked awful for the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians respectively.
Speaking of Elarton, I've long wondered how this guy's been winning of late. He throws mostly fastballs, and not spectacular ones: high 80s without much movement. He's got a big curve and he'll occasionally throw a slider or a change, but mostly he just pounds the strike zone with not-so-hot heat. He doesn't fool many people, and it caught up with him last night, when it looked like he was throwing BP. Nonetheless, hats off to him for reinventing himself after shoulder surgery.
Why do the Yankees and Orioles always play marathons at Camden Yards? Four hours and 16 minutes last night. A couple years ago they played the longest nine-inning game ever, and they went 3:55 in one last year and 3:46 earlier this season.
What's Red Sox manager Terry Francona going to do with Craig Hansen? After swearing he wasn't going to bring the rookie out of the bullpen in big situations, Francona went to him in the eighth with one out, men at second and third and the game tied 5-5. That, gentle readers, is a tight situation. And it was made tougher by the fact that the first two men Hansen faced were lefties.
The verdict: He didn't look great. He gave up a sac fly then an infield single and a walk to load the bases. He got out of it on a 405-foot fly ball. His fastball wasn't hopping as advertised; he was in the mid 90s. As a result, they were calling a lot of sliders, and Hansen wasn't throwing very good ones. (Last week Francona talked about how rookies tend to squeeze the ball in tight situations, which can lead to some bad breaking balls; perhaps he was prescient.)
But Francona had no choice. He couldn't go to his closer, Mike Timlin, with five outs left, because he pitched an inning in the afternoon game. And Jonathan Papelbon threw an inning in the first game as well, which pretty much ruled him out. And his lefty specialist (if you want to call him that), Mike Myers, was burned in the seventh. (His only other option, Chad Harville, came into the game in the ninth. The first guy he faced was Shea Hillenbrand, who was 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts on the day. Harville walked him on four pitches.)
I think the fact he was forced to use Hansen in that situation was a good thing. At some point, Francona had to see what Hansen could do in a squeeze. Fans in Boston were calling for the kid to be installed as the closer sight unseen based on his work at Double A. And Francona himself had to wonder if he had the next Francisco Rodriguez on his hands. Now he knows he probably doesn't, at least not this year.