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.