Flashback: Timlin Night

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?

Flashback: John Burkett

Ten years ago today (September 19, 2003) the Boston Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians in Jacobs Field. Progressive Insurance was still five year away from buying the naming rights to the stadium, the Indians’ Eric Wedge was in his first season as a manager, and the winning pitcher was John Burkett.

While he didn’t know it at the time, Burkett was making one of his last appearances in the major leagues. No team would step forward to offer a contract to the then 38-year-old right hander.

The Red Sox would be the last of five stops in the career of the veteran pitcher. In 59 starts during the 2002 and 2003 seasons Burkett won 25 games and compiled a 4.85 ERA as the team’s fifth starter. Although he posted a shiny 3.01 ERA and struck out a career-high 20% of batters in 2001, his second of two seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Burkett was still nearly a decade removed from his fourth place finish in Cy Young voting for his work in the 1993 season.

Burkett would pitch two times in the Red Sox 2003 playoff run: once against the Oakland A’s and once against the New York Yankees. He held the A’s to four runs in 5.1 innings, which was enough for the Boston bats to overcome. In Yankee Stadium, Burkett started Game 6 of the ALCS and lasted just 3.2 innings while surrendering five runs, though only three were earned. The Red Sox would win that game, tying the series at three and giving Pedro Martinez the chance to send the Sox to the World Series with a victory in the final game.

That his career ended with the Red Sox is somewhat interesting in it’s own right because of a trade that took place in August of 1996. The Marlins traded Burkett for a young pitcher on the Texas Rangers, a guy in the A level South Atlantic League named Ryan Dempster. Still just 19 years old, Dempster wouldn’t make his debut in the majors for two more years.

What did he do after baseball? Bowling, of course. And it turns out he’s pretty good, just as the Nike commercial featuring Randy Johnson as a ten-pin pro would have you believe.

Tony LaRussa, Manager to the Stars

One of the baseball’s most legendary managers called it quits Monday. Just a few days after winning his third World Series title, his second with the St. Louis Cardinals, the bullpen manager hung up his cleats for good.

Will Albert Pujols follow his lead out of town? Will LaRussa return to manage the NL All-Star team? We’ll find out as the offseason kicks into gear.

One thing is for sure, Tony LaRussa left a lasting impact on major league bullpen management.