Humankind has always felt a deep need to chart the passage of time.
I’m a human.
That’s as much of a transition as you’re getting into my third annual review of the previous year in Boston sports, which in 2011 saw three teams win their division and one win it all.
• 2010-11 Final record: 46-25-11, Northeast Division Champions; defeated Vancouver Canucks in 2011 Stanley Cup, 4-3
The Bruins ended a 39-year championship drought on the back of Tim Thomas, who submitted perhaps the greatest single season in NHL goalie history. He set an NHL record for best save percentage, then won his second Vezina Trophy (top goaltender in the league), the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP of the playoffs) and, oh yeah, the Stanley Cap.
Before they could win the Stanley Cup, the Bruins would submit three spectacularly entertaining playoff series. They beat the Canadiens in seven games in the quarterfinals, overcoming an 0-2 deficit and winning three games in single or double overtime. They next swept the Flyers, flushing the bitter taste of the previous season’s blown three-game lead against them. Finally, the Bruins played a hard-fought, evenly matched series with the Lightning that culminated in a penalty-free, 1-0 victory in Game 7 at the TD Garden.
The Bruins’ blue-collar hockey succeeding against the much flashier Canucks validated Boston’s long-suffering Bruins fans. The 2011 NHL playoffs so entertained me that I can finally count myself among them.
WEEI Red Sox reporter Alex Speier reported Wednesday that Bobby Valentine’s hiring as the new manager flies in the face of an administrative promise made earlier in the off-season that the team would not go after a disciplinarian. While the report did not state who made the promise or to which player, a similar report by ESPNBoston.com’s Joe McDonald suggests Speier is (as usual) right on the money.
If that’s the case, management’s decision to go with Valentine is yet another botched play from Ben Cherington and this suddenly bumbling ownership group.
Which Front-Office Staffer’s Nose is Growing?
GMs and owners shouldn’t have to consult with players on the majority of baseball operations. In many cases, what front-office guys do is either too complicated or too unrelated to be worth bothering players with.
But on the other hand, management should never straight-up lie to players, either. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened: Management told at least one player Valentine specifically would not be the next Red Sox manager, then they went ahead and hired him anyway.
They knew the Red Sox feared the arrival of a disciplinarian like Valentine after seven years of “player’s manager” Terry Francona. But instead of listening to the players and working with them to assuage their concerns, Cherington’s staff decided the best course of action was to ignore the players and sell them a line, then let Cherington unilaterally do whatever he wanted.
It was a cowardly, dishonest decision that does nothing to fix the widely held belief by fans that this new era is nothing but a pale shadow of the Francona-Theo Epstein era.
In recent years, Red Sox-Yankees games have morphed from simple baseball contests into battles so epic in size and length you could probably get through half of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and still catch the ninth inning. Baseball is inherently slow, and these extra-long games make it even more monotonous. Few have seriously tried to speed up Red Sox-Yankees games, the notable exception being umpire Joe West.
Beckett certainly takes his time between pitches, but is he really to blame?
Beckett Works Faster Than You Think
Games Beckett has started this year have averaged 3:27. A bit on the long side, sure, but a whopping six of Beckett’s starts have gone to extra innings. As the team’s ace and most consistent pitcher, Beckett often finds himself matched up against the best pitcher on the opposing staff. The Red Sox have averaged just 3.7 runs in games started by Beckett. Low-scoring games often mean extra innings.
Removing Beckett’s extra-innings games (21 total extra innings), average game time drops to exactly three hours. If you’re an NL baseball fan – where the pitchers having to hit usually means a full inning of quick and easy pitching – transitioning to the AL, that might seem like a long time. Longtime AL fans know that with the DH making lineups stronger one to nine with fewer sacrificed at-bats, three hours is downright breezy.
Beckett is also a slightly faster pitcher when he faces the Yankees, extra-inning slogs like Sunday’s notwithstanding. In 28 career starts against the Yankees – including two with the Marlins in the 2003 World Series – Beckett’s starts have averaged 3:23.
Beckett has been victimized by great opposing pitchers, extra-inning games and occasionally rain. Beckett can’t control any of these factors, so blaming him for the length of his games is ridiculous.
With the Yankees, Caution is Wise
Even if Beckett takes too long with his pitches against the Yankees, there are some compelling reasons why:
The Yankees are patient: The Yankees lead the majors with 441 walks this season. They have the 11th-fewest strikeouts with 785 (seventh in the AL). They rank second behind only the Red Sox in on-base percentage at .344. The Yankees are very good at discerning a bad pitch from a good pitch, and if their hitters are going be that deliberate in their at-bats, shouldn’t Beckett be as deliberate with his pitches? Beckett takes his time because he doesn’t want to risk even a single bad pitch. Which is good, because…
The Yankees are powerful: The Yankees lead the majors with 153 home runs, 12 more than the second-place Red Sox. More than that, their offense this season is built around their power. They aren’t an offense that strings together five or six hits and walks, but rather clobbers teams with a lineup in which every hitter is threat to go deep at any moment. Sunday’s game was exactly like that: the Yankees scored just twice, but on solo home runs from their one- and nine-hole hitters, who saw a combined six pitches in two at-bats. The Yankees can score quickly, so it behooves Beckett to make sure every pitch he makes is what he wants and where wants it. Except he can’t just pitch them outside all the time, because…
The Yankees are fast: The Yankees lead the AL with 119 steals and are tied with the Rangers for highest success rate at 76 percent. Teams have stolen 16 bags off Beckett (11th most among AL starters) and been caught only four times (bottom 40 percent in success rate). If Beckett takes his time on the mound with Yankees on, it’s because he knows they want to run, and his slowness gives them a good chance of doing so successfully. So he holds the ball as long as he can to disrupt their timing and increase his chances for a fly out or a double play.
Beckett isn’t as slow as people say he is, but he has good reason for taking his time against the Yankees. Beckett owes nothing to a bored and easily distracted t.v. audience, and the fans in the stands want more than anything else to see the Red Sox win. If Beckett’s pace increases the Red Sox’s chances of winning, then how can anyone naysay him?