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No Mo, no problem
Boston overcame Vaughn's absence with clutch hitting
Posted: Friday October 01, 1999 01:45 AM
"It's never as bad as you think it is, and it's never as good as you think it is," he said last Thanksgiving eve after agreeing to sign with Anaheim.
Ten months later, his teammates couldn't agree more.
The Red Sox were expected to struggle without Vaughn, their leader and only legitimate power threat. Many picked them for last place in the AL East.
Instead, with Cy Young Award shoo-in Pedro Martinez, AL batting leader Nomar Garciaparra and a bunch of unheralded players, they are in the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time since 1915-16. And they have a shot at their first World Series title since 1918.
Vaughn, 10 months after making his comment in suburban Easton, Mass., is finishing a disappointing season with the AL West's last-place team.
The current Red Sox have succeeded without his big bat.
"They're not a bunch of bombers," said closer Rod Beck, a late-season acquisition from the Chicago Cubs who added depth to an already strong bullpen. "They hit their share of homers but they get on base. They put the ball in play."
Beck was on the mound Wednesday night when shortstop Garciaparra caught a line drive and stepped on second for a double play that ended Boston's 6-2 win at Chicago and clinched at least a wild-card spot.
With the second game of the doubleheader still to play -- and the feeling that the Red Sox were far from their ultimate goal -- the celebration was subdued.
"I just hope that we stay focused and take a little step further than last year," Martinez said.
The Red Sox were eliminated in the first round of their last three playoff appearances, including losing at Cleveland in 1995 and 1998. They'll open this year's division series next Wednesday at Cleveland if the Indians have the AL's best record or at Texas if the Rangers overtake the Indians for that distinction.
Red Sox manager Jimy Williams has done a masterful job juggling his lineup so no player sits on the bench for long. There were few complaints from players who felt they should play more.
Pedro Martinez, 23-4 and the league leader in ERA and strikeouts, would get two starts if the best-of-5 division series goes the limit.
There's even a chance that closer Tom Gordon, who made his first appearance since June 5 on Wednesday, could be healthy enough for the playoffs.
But the key to Boston's first consecutive 90-win seasons since 1977-79 has been contributions from lesser-known players.
Players like center fielder Darren Lewis, hitting only .242 after the clincher but with an ability to hit-and-run, sacrifice, steal and play brilliant defense. Many of his teammates got a taste of postseason play last year.
"This time the guys have been through it," he said. "But, more than anything, we have to look at the fact that our pitching's done so well and we've played good defense all year."
Perhaps Boston's best stretch came from Sept. 3-15, when it went 9-3 on a tough road trip to Seattle, Oakland, New York and Cleveland.
The Red Sox began the season with five straight wins but by July 25 were only 53-46. Since then, they were 38-21 through Wednesday's games. They've done all that with only one pitcher having more than 10 wins, one hitter batting over .300 and no one with 30 homers.
"Our two guys that we rely on a lot are Nomar and Pedro," Saberhagen said. "It doesn't matter if those guys have great years. You've got to have other guys step up and have good years."
"This shows the Red Sox can put a contender out there year in and year out, even though we lost one of our most recognizable players," general manager Dan Duquette said, referring to losing Vaughn, but who acquired Mercker, Beck and designated hitter Butch Huskey for the stretch run.
"Last year, we won one playoff game. This year, we'd like to win a lot of playoff games."
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