October 20, 2008
When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews key decisions in the postseason to see if the right one was made.
The Turning Point: His team down 2-1 with two outs in the seventh inning Sunday night, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek strikes out with runners at the corners. In the ninth with his team down 3-1, Varitek strikes out with a runner on first, as another Red Sox rally fizzles against Tampa Bay.
The Question: Did Red Sox manager Terry Francona err by not using a pinch hitter in either situation for Varitek, whose production has drastically declined in recent seasons?
Go with the captain: Varitek, one game before, hit a go-ahead homer to help the Red Sox win 4-2 and even the series at three games apiece. Francona's patience, hope and faith was rewarded then, and should have been extended one more game. Besides, Jacoby Ellsbury, too, had gone cold in the ALCS, mired in an 0-for-14 slump. Sean Casey was 0-for-2 in the ALCS with a pair of whiffs. Jed Lowrie was batting .118 in the ALCS. Those were Tito's alternatives?
Go to the bench: Varitek batted .220/.313/.359 in the regular season and was batting .127 (9-for-71), including the playoffs, since Sept. 8. At that point, anyone among Sean Casey, Jacoby Ellsbury or Jed Lowrie would seem a better choice than Varitek.
Hindsight is 20/20: If Francona had a deeper bench, with options such as Mike Lowell or Julio Lugo (who are injured) maybe he would have had better alternatives. He also had to pinch hit for Alex Cora, who was batting behind Varitek. (Lowrie did the honors, grounding into a force out to end the game.) However, the way Matt Garza and, later, David Price pitched, no alternative might have mattered.
• "We need him. I believe in him. I will always believe in him." — Francona on possibly benching Varitek during a slump in July
• "I think different people, everybody, had a chance a chance at a different point, and they beat us."— Varitek, on Boston's scoring chances in Game 7
Stew Verdict — Tito managed with his heart, not his head: Francona has used a pinch hitter for Varitek before; he even did so in Game 2 of the ALCS, going with J.D. Drew in the ninth inning. Francona also decided to use three catchers on the roster for this round of the playoffs. Something was telling him to bail on Varitek, he just couldn't bring himself to do it later in the series. Varitek's home run was both the best thing and worst thing that could have happened to the Red Sox. It helped them win Game 6, and it helped sealed their fate in Game 7. Francona should have lifted Varitek, for sure, in the seventh. In the ninth, against Price, a left-hander, Varitek actually would have been the better statistical bet: he hit .284/.378/.484 in the regular season against lefties. Say, why does Varitek still switch hit? That's another second-guess.