Red Sox re-sign key member of bullpen
"There were times when he seemed to pick the bullpen up by its bootstraps by himself," general manager Theo Epstein said after giving Timlin a deal that guarantees the pitcher $2.75 million. "When things looked bleak, that's when he was the most positive. He willed the bullpen to success at times."
Timlin was Boston's most reliable reliever last year, going 6-4 with two saves and a 3.55 ERA and leading the team with 72 appearances. In the playoffs, he retired the first 23 batters he faced and did not allow a run in 9 2/3 innings as he developed into an eighth-inning specialist who handed the lead over to closer Scott Williamson.
But Timlin and Williamson stayed in the bullpen when manager Grady Little decided to let tiring ace Pedro Martinez try to pitch his way out of trouble in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the AL championship series against the New York Yankees.
Martinez blew a 5-2 lead, the Yankees won in 11 innings and Little was let go as manager after the season.
"His postseason was hard to ignore, but I think it's a mistake to put too much significance on a small sample size," Epstein said of Timlin. "It just confirmed what we already knew about Mike: that he was capable of dominating over long stretches, and doing it when it matters most."
Timlin, 37, gets $2.5 million next year, and Boston has a $2.75 million option with a $250,000 buyout.
If he pitches in 50 or more games next year and is not on the disabled list at end the of the season, the 2005 salary becomes guaranteed. If he pitches in 50 or more games and is on the DL at the end of the season, the salary still would be guaranteed if a doctor agreed upon by the player and the team determines he will be back to his normal level of health by spring training.
Timlin is 51-55 with a 3.56 ERA and 116 saves in 736 appearances covering 13 major league seasons. He was not immediately available for comment.
"Mike demonstrated last year that he thrives under the spotlight in Boston," Epstein said. "He's a key member of our ballclub, on and off the field."
Epstein said no decision had been made on how Timlin would be used next year.
"The most likely scenario is that he will fulfill the role he had in 2003: pitching some very important innings, stabilizing our bullpen," Epstein said. "I would never rule anything out for Mike. ... But I certainly wouldn't anoint him in (the closer's) role, either."
The Red Sox bullpen struggled all season after Epstein tried to depart from the modern baseball formula that saves the closer for save situations. Only in the playoffs did they finally find a rhythm, with Timlin pitching the eighth and Williamson pitching the ninth.
While conceding Friday that it was a mistake to underestimate the need for his pitchers to have defined roles, Epstein said he would not hesitate to define the roles differently than other teams.
"I believe that the best pitcher should pitch the most important innings," he said.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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