Boston's Foulke feels strong, ready to reclaim role as closer
Posted: Monday Feb 20, 2006 4:32 AM
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Boston closer Keith Foulke endured a year when nothing saved him.
An operation on his left knee. Another on his right knee. Personal problems. Criticism toward his public comments.
His brilliance during the Red Sox's first World Series championship in 86 years in 2004 was ignored in the turbulence of his tumble last season.
"It was the longest six, seven months of my life,'' Foulke said Sunday during a frank discussion of his problems and desire for privacy. "It was draining.''
Now he's feeling strong and has a chance to return to the dominance he showed during a six-season stretch when his highest ERA was 2.97 before it rose to 5.91 when he was 5-5 last year, his second in Boston.
"Everything he went through last year, it doesn't matter anymore,'' manager Terry Francona said.
Foulke said his legs bothered him for several years and that finally ruined a season last year. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on July 7 and surgery on his right knee after the season.
His last outing was on Sept. 18.
"I had to protect my knee so I started throwing everything very stiff-legged,'' Foulke said. "That's when my shoulder started bothering me.''
He decided, "I need to shut down before I blow out my shoulder.''
Foulke planned to throw a bullpen session Monday for the first time in spring training.
"By the time we leave here in six weeks, I'm sure I'll be feeling pretty good,'' he said. "My arm feels better now than it has probably in a couple of years.''
He's also made progress in his personal life.
"I'm a lot more focused this year,'' he said. "I got a lot of things off my mind and the personal life has straightened out a little bit. I guess sometimes when you see the dark side of life, there's only one way to go, and that's up.
"I consider myself very mentally strong and I'm not going to dwell on last year.''
Foulke knows that his comments - be they straightforward or sarcastic - sometimes cause trouble he doesn't intend.
Last year, he said he wanted to move out of Boston to the suburbs, but critics took that to mean he was unhappy in the area. He still lives in the city.
"I'm a country kid. I don't like to be in the city itself,'' he said, but "I love the city of Boston.''
On Sunday, he said he loves pitching and the camaraderie of being on a baseball team but can't "sit around'' and watch nine innings, presumably of games that don't involve him.
"I actually find baseball kind of boring,'' Foulke said. "It's not my life. Pitching is something I enjoy doing and I'm probably going to get a lot of people that are a little chapped at me for saying that, but just don't take it the wrong way.''
And, before the large media contingent, he said, "I like privacy and I could honestly go about my entire career and be happy if I never had to be in the media.''
He should have received more attention for his performance in the 2004 World Series. He finished all four games, had a win and a save and allowed just one run in five innings. He also caught Edgar Renteria's grounder and threw to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the clinching out.
But Curt Schilling got more publicity for pitching with a bloodstained sock over a surgically repaired ankle, Manny Ramirez was named MVP and Mientkiewicz kept the final-out ball before giving it to the Red Sox.
"I'm not going to brag, but I think I did a pretty good job in that series and I'll be selfish,'' Foulke said. "Yeah, I think I do deserve that ball.''
Teammates probably would agree.
"Keith was the single reason we have a championship in this city,'' catcher Jason Varitek said. "I have a ton of confidence in him.''
Foulke also is confident and driven to avoid last year's discomfort of facing teammates after letting them down.
"I was disappointed in myself more than anybody else on the face of this earth was disappointed in me,'' he said. "So (if) I make me happy, everybody else will be happy.''
Notes:Left-hander David Wells, who wants to be traded, reported on time and worked out lightly as he recovers from knee surgery. ... Francona was pleased with Curt Schilling's first bullpen session Sunday.