Fault here rests with the brass
The Red Sox are full of ideas, from ownership to baseball operations, and many of them are good. Hiring Bill James was a good idea. Putting new seats in left and right field was a brilliant idea. Making decisions with the fan base in mind was a necessary and long overdue idea.
And then there was the clunker that resulted in 10 days' rest for Derek Lowe.
Ten days? Your No. 3 starter certainly needs time to recuperate, but he doesn't need a leave of absence.
For some reason, the Sox are intrigued with the concept of "breaking up" Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling by placing Tim Wakefield between them. The thinking is that hitters will be thrown off by a 65-mile-per-hour knuckleball between the fastballs of two power pitchers.
That might sound mildly fascinating during a staff meeting, but I'm sure Walter Alston never wanted to put a change-of-pace type between Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Anyway, it's not very practical when you consider that some pitcher will have to pay the price for all the office brainstorming.
Lowe -- after being washed out by rain and skipped over by his manager -- finally got the chance to pitch yesterday at Fenway Park. He quickly realized he would have had better luck placing balls in a pitching machine. He couldn't get the Yankees out; maybe a mechanical pitcher would have been better. (Both man and machine would have had their way with .156-hitting Alex Rodriguez, who is going to be lifted for a pinch hitter any day now.)
Catcher Jason Varitek knew Lowe was struggling, but he was determined to come up with pitches he thought Lowe could make. Together they flashed through sinkers, cutters, and curves. Nothing worked. "The curve was [expletive]," Lowe said. "I don't think I threw one for a strike all day."
Just 2 2/3 innings and 75 frustrating pitches later, Lowe was done. He allowed seven earned runs and four walks in the Sox' 7-3 loss. Entering the game, he had pitched 433 career innings at Fenway and never had allowed more than six earned runs in a start. His career ERA at home is 2.83, but yesterday he walked around the clubhouse saying, "I'm the one with the 35 ERA. My ERA is in the -- God knows what stratosphere I'm in."
Actually his ERA is 9.35. But that's not the point. The Sox seemingly have drawn a pitching line that is just as senseless as the red "Keep Out" line in their clubhouse. They no longer want to give Martinez an extra day between starts when they have the opportunity. And they'd like to have the luxury of Wakefield starting between their fastballing bookends.
"Well, between Pedro and I we gave up 14 runs in seven innings," Lowe said, referring to Martinez's awful start against the Orioles Thursday.
An irritated Lowe tried, several times, to put a positive spin on his paid vacation. He said he didn't want to make any excuses for his performance. He applauded the bullpen for holding the Yankees scoreless after he left. He joked that he hung around until the New Yorkers "kicked their extra point." He asked a reporter about his stylish hat. He said he feels guilty about taking his paycheck because he hasn't done any work. He wondered if he and several teammates would be able to secure tickets for Game 7 of tonight's Bruins-Canadiens series.
He tried to say all the right things.
But he knows it's been a while. The last time he pitched, the Bruins were beginning their best-of-seven quarterfinal series.
"I'd rather not get into the whole why-I-got-skipped theory," he said. "I understood. We sat down with Terry [Francona] and Theo [Epstein] was in there. Dave Wallace. We kinda went over the whole situation. The big thing, I believe, was that they really wanted to get Wakefield in there between Pedro and Schilling and they saw this as an opportunity to do it."
That was the safe Lowe. Later, the honest Lowe said, "I can't think of the last time Roy Halladay pitched after 11 days, and he's the only guy who's got more wins [over the past two seasons]."
After the loss, Wallace said the team should have found a way to get Lowe an inning to prevent such a lengthy layoff. The pitching coach is right. The Sox should have done it to maintain on-the-field rhythm as well as clubhouse serenity.
One of the negatives of players in their contract years is that many of them start to see conspiracies, real and imagined, in all corners. A move to help the team suddenly becomes interpreted as a negotiating ploy by management to reduce a player's value. Sox management is kidding itself if it doesn't believe that those thoughts floated through the minds of free-agents-to-be Lowe and Martinez in the past week.
During the roughest moments of Lowe's long afternoon, he appeared to be peering into the dugout. He appeared to do that four or five times. He was asked if he were staring someone down or, worse, asking out.
He said he wasn't. He added that his mound presence -- which was scrutinized by his bosses last season -- can be deceiving. Just because he's taking off his cap, rubbing his brow, and letting his eyes dart from right to left doesn't mean he's unnerved.
"Everyone is different," he said. "I'm not Pedro. I'm not Schilling. I'm not Wake."
He is a good pitcher who needs to have a feel for what he's doing. He is a man who is extremely observant of things happening around him. He is the one who finally got the ball yesterday and paid the price for a rare bad idea on Yawkey Way.
Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.