With Mike Timlin taking the mic tonight beside Don Orsillo, it feels like a good time to reflect on the past.
In Faithful, Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan followed the Red Sox 2004 season day-by-day, game-by-game. On September 24 of that year, the Sox lost to the New York Yankees.
On September 23, 2004 the Red Sox played the Baltimore Orioles and Terry Francona hard a test that Grady Little had failed just one year prior managing his bullpen:
“Tonight new manager Terry Francona shows his faith by resting the hard-ridden Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke and letting lefty specialist and submariner Mike Myers pitch to a right-handed hitter with bases loaded and the score tied in the eighth.”
Truly a tense moment for Red Sox Nation. The two authors go on:
“Then in the ninth, he lets righty specialist and submariner Byung-Hyun Kim (no, that’s not a typo) pitch to a left-handed batter with two on.”
Of course, the pair allowed four runs and cost the Red Sox the game.
But when Francona, in the next game, against the Yankees, left Pedro Martinez on the mound to start the eighth inning, with a pitch count over one hundred, the big metaphors began to emerge.
He-who-shall-not-be-named-Grady-Little had made a return appearance to the Sox dugout as Hideki Matsui continued his reign of terror against Boston.
O’Nan compares the pitching decision to the Kobayashi Maru; the tactical simulation faced by Captain Kirk and explained in both the 2009 Star Trek movie and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It is designed to be an unwinnable. And Terry Francona, knowing exactly how his predecessor had failed just one season earlier, seemed to make the same mistake.
Francona managed his bullpen brilliantly in the playoffs that year and maybe he had his reasons for taking a few risks late in the regular season, but for a few days in late September, in what would become the best year for the Red Sox in generations, there was still doubt.
With the playoffs starting next week, doubters will be back, but which team among the ten will prove the doubters wrong?