If the AL East comes down to one or two games at the end of the season, look no further than June 2 and June 10.

In both games, with the Red Sox leading in the late innings, Hideki Okajima — usually so reliable, though less so this season — imploded. But he didn’t just implode. He imploded spectacularly, to the point that it was clear to everyone watching that he was not going to get the job done. Yet he was allowed both times to finish coughing up the lead.

On June 2, Okajima gave up three consecutive singles on a grand total of six pitches. At that point, he should have been pulled. You knew it. I knew it. Everyone at Camden Yards knew it — except, apparently, the one person whose job it is to pull pitches. Instead, Okajima was left in to: 1. Give up a sacrifice fly, 2. Induce a fielder’s choice groundout, 3. Load the bases again with a walk, and 4. Give up a bases loaded double that effectively ended the game. If Okajima shouldn’t have been pulled after loading the bases with no outs, he certainly should not have been allowed to continue after reloading the bases with two down.

Yesterday was worse. In the seventh, the Red Sox up by two, Okajima clearly didn’t have it. After an initial strikeout, Okajima loaded the bases on two walks and a double. That should have been the end of his night. Javier Lopez surely was able to pitch. He last threw on Friday, and he induces ground balls 54 percent of the time, double the rate at which he induces fly balls. Okajima instead was left in, and Tito trudged to the mound a batter later with the score tied.

Terry Francona is a great manager, clearly one of the best in Red Sox history. He does many things to win games that otherwise might be lost. He does many things to foster a winning team about which we may never know. But he has always had a weakness for sticking with his guys — the veterans who have been successful in the past, but might not be right for a particular game or situation (Kevin Millar says hello while Kevin Youkilis sits on the bench).

Yesterday’s was a winnable game, and Terry Francona lost it, refusing again to take the ball away from "his" guy. Worth remembering in a few months if the division race remains tight.

9 comments… add one
  • Well, I was very angry last night about Tito’s tactical misfires. But he didn’t lose the game, Okajima, Pedroia, Manny, etc. lost the game by not executing. The thing that galls me is that Tito’s job is to, quite simply, put his team in the best position and let the players do their thing. Bringing in Okajima and giving him a little rope is completely defensible. But when the rope has already been extended he needs to be agile enough to make a move. Last night he sat on his hands and managed passively, when even a minor bit of activity would have (possibly) resulted in victory, or at the least would have improved the chances for victory. The bullpen was rested, too, which makes the inaction even more galling.
    Last night (and June 2nd, too) were anomalies for Tito, thankfully, but no less maddening and potentially long-reaching in their effect. Better forgotten, at least by everyone but Tito.

    SF June 11, 2008, 11:10 am
  • Javier Lopez surely was able to pitch. He last threw on Friday, and he induces ground balls 54 percent of the time, double the rate at which he induces fly balls.
    I’ve always been the only one to defend Lopez as a good bullpen arm on this forum. Seeing Paul advocate his efficiency almost made me choke this morning!

    Atheose - SF June 11, 2008, 11:22 am
  • I don’t know if the Yanks are on a better track with pitching Mo so often. I’m actually quite a bit worried.
    That said, the guy playing me in fantasy has Oki somehow, so no rooting for him this week!

    Lar June 11, 2008, 11:24 am
  • Yeah, I couldn’t believe I was advocating for him either, but he’s been effective this season, particularly lately, and you gotta give credit where it’s due.

    Paul SF June 11, 2008, 1:47 pm
  • I wasn’t able to catch those two games you mention, and yeah, they sound bad. In the cases you cite here, it sounds like Francona was ignoring visible signs. Maybe he was, or maybe the result reinforces the visibility of those signs. But doesn’t every manager tend to err to the side of his veterans or “proven” players, which then sometimes gets the team in trouble? Again, I didn’t see the games, so I probably am having a hard time envisioning just how egregious the error may have been. Just thinking out loud.
    But also: If the division is decided by one or two games, and the Sox are on the short end of it, there will be literally dozens of reasons for why that was, which is always the case when there’s a close finish.

    FenSheaParkway June 11, 2008, 2:03 pm
  • Yeah, if we end up losing the division by a few games Papi’s absense will probably be the largest reason.

    Atheose - SF June 11, 2008, 6:54 pm
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