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Management, pitching the keys



Special to ESPN.com

Oct. 30

In the end, the cliches and pagan incantations about The Curse turned out to be as real as rumors that spacemen from Mars had landed in Webbs Mills, Maine. The curse, as most everyone now realizes, was management and pitching, and all it took for the new management to reverse the past was not a deal with Asgaya Gigagei -- or any other Native American god -- but to trade for Curt Schilling and sign Keith Foulke.

Keith Foulke
After being a World Series hero for the Red Sox in 2004, Keith Foulke suffered through an injury-plagued season in '05.

In fact, if only Foulke were with the Red Sox in 1986, when they had no closer, or 2003, when Grady Little trusted no reliever, we never would have been burdened with the tedious notion of a curse. The Cardinals had Bob Gibson in 1967, the 1975 Reds were simply better, and in 1978 it came down to Ron Guidry versus Mike Torrez. In 2004, Schilling limped to three victories -- which means in 14 career postseason starts he has allowed more than two earned runs twice, once when he could barely stand -- and Foulke was the dominant figure of the postseason, allowing seven hits and a run with nine strikeouts in 14 innings.

If Major League Baseball actually took such things seriously, Foulke would have been the MVP of the World Series; Fox didn't consider Foulke enough of a name to give him the award. But Schilling said that the one snapshot he and his teammates will carry from this October is the closer "standing on the mound with the ball." Foulke finished all four games against the Cardinals, and allowed a Larry Walker home run with a 4-0 lead in Game 3 because he knew a walk could ignite a rally and invited hitters to try to take him deep until it got close.

Against the Yankees, Foulke saved the Red Sox by throwing 100 pitches in less than 50 hours, culminated by striking out Tony Clark with two on and two out in Game 6 when he had no changeup. He saved one Anaheim game, then got a strikeout with the bases loaded in the eighth, pitched a scoreless ninth and got Boston to extra innings for David Ortiz to hit his dramatic series-ending walkoff piece.

Did teammates know this was in Foulke? "Not really," says Kevin Millar. "He always seemed to be a guy you felt comfortable against because he doesn't throw 100. But, man, he is a ferocious competitor. Talk about guys who take it to another level?"

"You never know until a player gets there," says Theo Epstein. "We obviously liked Keith, that's why we signed him. This is one case where expectations were exceeded."

After the Red Sox went down 3-0 to the Yankees and Tim Wakefield went to the bullpen in Game 3 to save it for a seven-game series, three past and present 20-game winners named Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe started six games and combined for a 1.81 earned run average. Mike Timlin and Alan Embree, giants in consecutive Octobers, bridged to Foulke. The Cardinal starters, on the other hand, got only 17 swings and misses in more than 350 pitches, with only Jason Marquis, who threw more balls than strikes, making it through the fifth inning.

"We can't give enough credit to the scouts who prepared us for St. Louis," said Lowe. "We had a tremendous game plan." To Lowe's undying credit, seldom do players acknowledge those who spend 200-something days a year away from their families, scrambling on red eyes to offer information, analysis and ideas. In this case, Boston advance scout Dave Jauss, with the help of Jerry DiPoto and coordinated by Galen Carr, prepared a creative and brilliant scouting report.

It was Jauss who always wanted to try running on Mariano Rivera, and, it turned out, changed the entire series when Dave Roberts ran first on Rivera, then Tom Gordon. Then for the Cardinals, the dilemma of the great three in the heart of the order was attacked: They threw breaking balls at Albert Pujols that broke back on the inside corner, froze him and temporarily smudged his strike zone; they threw inside changeups to Scott Rolen; they buzzed Jim Edmonds, went in, out and up, and when Edmonds struck out against Foulke for the third time in four at-bats in the ninth Wednesday night, the trio was 6-for-45 with one RBI. "The pitchers did a great job executing that plan," said one Red Sox official. "But don't forget that it was Jason Varitek who was guiding them through that execution. No catcher prepares and guides better than Jason."

Epstein knows that "two years are never alike," and that too often winning teams fall in love with the moment and shackle themselves with emotional, bad contracts. The Red Sox will do everything they can to sign Varitek and make him the face and soul of the franchise. But Martinez, Lowe, Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mirabelli and Pokey Reese all could be gone if their asking prices do not fit what the club feels are their values. As Terry Francona managed so well to never lose the focus of a seven-game series against the Yankees, so Epstein and John Henry will not lose the focus on wanting 2004 and ensuing seasons to be the recreation of 1903-1918, when the Red Sox won five world championships and might have won a sixth had John McGraw not refused to allow the '04 Giants to play a world series against Boston's AL champions.

In the short term, Boston likely cannot easily replace the 30 wins and 399 2/3 innings provided by Martinez and Lowe. They can try to sign Brad Radke (Mr. Reliable) or Carl Pavano, but there is a bridge until either late 2005 or 2006 when youngsters Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester are ready to step in.

They think it will take four years and $30 million to re-sign Cabrera, who was telling people at the World Series that his agents had told him several teams were in, including the Cardinals if they lose Edgar Renteria. Boston will not go that far with Cabrera, because they believe Hanley Ramirez has a chance to be special, a Florida State free safety athlete with power, speed and electricity, and Ramirez's ETA is 2006. They'd love to sign Omar Vizquel for shortstop and Barry Larkin as a 100-something game utilityman, but word is that Vizquel is very close to signing with the White Sox for two years and $8 million to play for fellow Venezuelan shortstop Ozzie Guillen.

Renteria, Nomar Garciaparra, Cabrera, Cristian Guzman, Vizquel, Larkin and Reese are shortstops on the market. Problem is, the Red Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, White Sox, Rangers, Mariners, Reds, Diamondbacks and Washington are in the market for shortstops, to varying degrees of need.

Next year has finally come, which means that for Henry and Epstein, promises are unnecessary this winter, and a few miles down Route 95 they have support in the reminder that the Bob Kraft/Bill Belichick/Scott Pioli Patriots are the model of competency and rationality. Friday, 34 hours after Foulke snatched Renteria's bounder, the Red Sox began a daylong series of personnel meetings crafting their winter game plan: Build a team not for January, but for the long run of 2005 and even 2004-2014. This, following the immediate history of trading local icon Garciaparra on July 31 and 90 days later winning the World Series no previous Boston baseball administration had been able to do since Calvin Coolidge was governor of the Commonwealth.

News and notes

  • One can be certain that the Red Sox will present Garciaparra with a ring, just as the Yankees showed class and understanding by leaving the lights on after Game 7 of the ALCS and allowing 8,000 Red Sox fans to frolic for more than an hour in Yankee Stadium, not to mention letting players, families and front office executives to celebrate on the field late into the night ...

  • Now, of course, King George's War restarts. The Yankees will be in on Carlos Beltran, but also want two starters. If they can't get Randy Johnson, they'll dabble for Eric Milton (his 0.58 ground ball/fly ball ratio is a killer in that whiffle ball park in Philly, although 23 of his 43 gopher balls were on the road), Jaret Wright, Radke, Pavano and Martinez. The issue of Jon Lieber's $8.5 million option will be worth watching; Lieber is very good, and probably can rework a longer deal with a lesser 2005 hit ...

  • Baltimore is looking for a starting pitcher and a righthanded-hitting outfielder and may move or non-tender Jay Gibbons ... The White Sox have little money, and Ken Williams is starting at shortstop and trying to find a starter and an outfielder ... Cleveland has changed its priority from starter to closer, but Armando Benitez or Troy Percival may be pricey. The Indians will sign a second-tier starter, but likely won't try to get into it for one of Oakland's Big Three ...

  • Once the Angels decline the option on Ramon Ortiz, they're supposed to have $13 million to get them to a $95 million budget, a number owner Artie Moreno may move up. They need a shortstop (Garciaparra?) and a starter. However, having decided to say goodbye to Troy Glaus, Bill Stoneman is expected to make a run at Beltran and possibly Pedro Martinez.

  • Atlanta's budget remains at $80 million if John Schuerholz cannot trade Andruw Jones, with J.D. Drew, Wright and Russ Ortiz on the market. The Braves may look for bullpen help and use John Smoltz in the rotation with Mike Hampton, John Thomson, Horacio Ramirez and Jose Capellan ... The Cubs want a closer, but first have to decide their situation at short, the outfield and second base ... The Cardinals are worried that without a bump in budget it may be difficult to sign Renteria, Mike Matheny and Woody Williams (whose agents are looking for more than one year), and will be major players in the Randy Johnson trade sweepstakes ...

  • The Mariners and Tigers are both expected to be big spenders, with the M's looking for power (Richie Sexson ... Carlos Delgado ... Adrian Beltre ... Troy Glaus?). Detroit will spend for a closer and veteran starter, like Derek Lowe ... The Padres think they can get out from underneath Ryan Klesko's contract by putting Sean Burroughs in a deal with Klesko ... The Giants need a shortstop, closer and center fielder, with little money to remain at $80 million ...

  • Oakland may put Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson on the market and take the best deal for one of them. It appears Billy Beane plans to take a step back and develop young players. OF-1B Nick Swisher ("Jim Edmonds at $300,000," says one scout) and 1B-DH Dan Johnson are expected to play a lot in 2005, with RHP Joe Blanton in the rotation and Huston Street and Jairo Garcia in the bullpen. The A's think catcher Landon Powell and outfielders Jason Perry and Richie Robnett will be ready in a hurry, so 2005 may be a re-tooling season with Erubiel Durazo available ...

  • The Rangers have $15 million to spend, and will sign one or two lesser pitchers and try to get a shortstop and trade Alfonso Soriano ... In one year, catcher Sandy Martinez played for Aguilas when it won the Dominican League, the Dominican Republic when it won the Caribbean world series, Buffalo in winning the International League and was with the Red Sox when they won the World Series ... Jim Leyland is very much in the Philly managerial chase, and the Mets have been told Wally Backman is getting the Arizona job over Bob Melvin and Manny Acta ...

  • Ricky Henderson called the Red Sox clubhouse Thursday looking for tickets for Saturday's sixth game. Told there was no game, Henderson asked, "Why?" OK. In 1980, Ricky asked an Oakland teammate, "How long will it take me to drive to the Dominican?" Really ...

  • It doesn't get much better than "Enjoy the Sandwich," the tribute to Warren Zevon, with staggering performances by Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt on "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," Bruce Springsteen on "My Ride's Here," Peter Yorn on "Splendid Isolation" and Jordan Zevon on "Studebaker." Time for one more, listen to the late genius' "Bill Lee."







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