As the glow of 2004’s epic title begins to fade, more and more fans are ripping manager Terry Francona. Its comical to listen to sports radio, as even in the face of victories fans strain to find things to fault.
They obviously forget the old days, when the Red Sox were managed by old geezers who took pride in managing by hunch, filling their staffs with old drinking buddies instead of qualified coaches, and ignoring statisical data regarding their own players as well as opponents. As recently as 2003, when Grady Little was at the helm, the club was still mostly in the Stone Age when it came to decision-making during games.
Last night, Francona made a nice little move, or should I say non-move, one many managers would make – to be sure – but one that many fans, if given the chance to manage for a night, would not have. With two outs in the eighth inning, and a man in scoring position with two outs, Francona declined to pinch hit for his weak-hitting shortstop, Gonzalez, and instead let him hit against the hard-throwing Orioles reliever, Chris Ray. Francona, naturally, was thinking ahead to the ninth inning and he wanted to keep his best defensive infielder in the game. Of course, he popped out, and a valuable opportunity to drive in an insurance run was off the board.
The following inning, with Papelbon on the hill trying to earn the save, Terry’s non-move was vindicated when, with one out, Gonzalez made a truly great play – not a spectacular play – a great play – against Nick Markakis. He fielded a grounder in the hole to his right and immediately, against the momentum of his body moving toward the outfield, made an almost perfect throw to first base for the out. Almost any Red Sox shortstop since Rick Burleson would not have made the play – it would have been a chore for any current backup. The second out thus was made, and when Papelbon induced another grounder to short you knew it was over.
The decision to leave Gonzalez in will not go in any scorebook. But it was wise, and Francona deserves credit for having made it.
Now about his decision not to use Papelbon as a starter ….