Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 61-65

To recap where we've been:

75. Sad Sam Jones, P
74. Ernie Shore, P
73. Jimmy Piersall, OF
72. Dennis Eckersley, P
71. Ray Culp, P
70. Tom Brewer, P
69. Tony Armas, OF
68. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
67. Jeff Reardon, P
66. Chick Stahl, OF

And here's where we're going:

65. Rube Foster
The Oklahoma native -- the first George Foster to make an appearance in Red Sox history --made more than 30 appearances on the mound just three times in his five-year career. But he sure made the most out of the time he had.

The 5-foot-8 Foster first opened eyes by going 24-7 in the Texas League in 1912; he made the Red Sox out of spring training in 1913 and had a 3.16 ERA in his 19 appearances, including eight starts and one complete-game shutout. In 1914, though, he broke through in a big way. His adjusted ERA+ of 158 in 211 2/3 innings ranked him third in the American League; his 1.70 ERA still ranks him seventh in team history for a single season. The Red Sox, though, finished second in the American League, 8 1/2 games behind Philadelphia.

They weren't about to finish second again in 1915.

As a whole, the Red Sox pitching staff had a 2.39 ERA that season. Seven pitchers from that staff, including the previously profiled Ernie Shore, appear on this list. Foster wasn't quite as sharp as he had been in 1914; his ERA skyrocketed all the way to 2.11 in 255 1/3 innings, good enough for third-best on the staff. (Shore had a 1.64 ERA; Smokey Joe Wood's was 1.49.) Foster went 19-8 with 21 complete games, including five shutouts, all tops on the team.

And come playoff time, Foster was the ace. The Red Sox dispatched the Philadelphia Phillies in five games, and Foster started -- and finished -- two of those games. He threw a three-hitter in Game 2 to beat Erskine Mayer, and he beat Mayer again in Game 5 to clinch the series. In his two starts, Foster surrendered all of four earned runs in 18 innings; he struck out 13 and walked just two. He even went 4-for-8 with a double and an RBI at the plate. His ninth-inning single, in fact, plated the game-winning run in Game 2.

Foster and the Red Sox weren't content with just winning the title in 1915, though. Only Smokey Joe Wood was gone from the previous year's pitching staff thanks to a contract dispute; he would be sold to Cleveland before the 1917 season. Foster, though, just kept pitching. His ERA was 3.06 for the season; he went 14-7 with nine complete games and tossed a shutout against the Yankees in mid-June, one of the highlights of the season.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, won 91 games to outdistance the White Sox and Tigers and reach the World Series once again. Foster made just one appearance, throwing three shutout innings in relief in Game 3, a game the Red Sox would lose. But it was enough to earn him his second career World Series title.

Two years later, Foster was out of baseball. But what a ride it had been.

64. Trot Nixon
Bernie Carbo. Carlton Fisk. Dave Henderson. Troy O'Leary. David Ortiz. Mark Bellhorn. David Ortiz. J.D. Drew. David Ortiz, yet again.

All have hit dramatic, historic, franchise-changing home runs. But you could make a case that the most important home run hit in franchise history was hit by, yes, Trot Nixon.

Here's the setting: It's Game 3 of the 2003 American League Division Series against Oakland; the game is tied at 1. The A's lead the series, 2-0. It's the bottom of the 11th inning. The Red Sox hadn't scored since the second inning, and even that was a meager effort, a run handed to them thanks to three Oakland errors and an umpire's call of interference during a rundown between third base and home. Since then, Ted Lilly and the Oakland bullpen had surrendered just three hits in 8 2/3 innings.

Doug Mirabelli hit a one-out single to right field. Nixon, who had missed time late in the season with a strained calf muscle, strode to the plate to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler. He took two pitches and then went after the third. By the time it landed in the center-field stands, the Red Sox had a 3-1 win and were alive once again.

Why was that home run so significant?

* If the Red Sox lose Game 3, they bow out of the ALDS.
* They thus don't come within five outs of defeating the Yankees and going to the World Series.
* Aaron Boone never hits his home run. (Best wishes.)
* With no eighth inning in Game 7, Grady Little isn't fired. Terry Francona isn't hired.
* Coming off such a meek exit to the playoffs, there's no reason to take a huge gamble on Curt Schilling; Theo Epstein never makes his Thanksgiving Day visit to the Schilling home and never makes the trade.
* Keith Foulke isn't signed.
* The Red Sox don't win the World Series in 2004.

That's what Nixon's pinch-hit home run in 2003 did for the franchise.

Oh, and Nixon's career slugging percentage of .478 ranks him in a tie for 16th place in team history -- ahead of, among others, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski. So there's that, too.

63. Marty Barrett
The last time the Red Sox drafted a second baseman out of Arizona State, it worked out OK. The first time, it worked out OK, too. The last time was Dustin Pedroia. The first time was Barrett.

Barrett earned first-time All-Pac-10 honors in 1979, his only season with the Sun Devils. Playing mostly third base, he hit .332 with 63 runs scored in 62 games. Three years later, he made his debut with the Red Sox. Two years after that, hit hit .303 with 23 doubles for a Red Sox team that finished fourth in its division with 86 wins.

And two years after that, Barrett was in the World Series. He played a big role in getting the Red Sox to the World Series, too; he earned MVP honors in the American League Championship Series thanks to his 11 hits in 30 at-bats (.367) with four runs scored and five RBI. He was even better in the World Series against the Mets, going 13-for-30 (.433) with five walks. In the fateful sixth game, in fact, Barrett was 3-for-4 with two walks and two RBI; it was his two-run single that put the Red Sox up by two runs going into the bottom of the 10th inning.

The devastation that went along with Game 6 torpedoed a couple of careers, but Barrett's wasn't one of them. The next year, in fact, his batting average jumped from .286 to .293, and he was successful on 15 of his 17 stolen-base attempts. He hit .283 again the next season with 83 runs scored and career-best 65 RBI for a Red Sox team that once again went to the playoffs.

By 1990, he'd become a bit player; the Red Sox released him in December, and his career was all but over. His legacy, though, will be as one of those players who would be remembered extra fondly if not for the devastating bad breaks of the 1986 World Series.

62. Johnny Damon
Speaking of legacies: It's tough to torch a legacy any more than Johnny Damon did by signing with the Yankees in December of 2005. To make matters worse, the center fielder had publicly promised not to defect to his team's biggest rival just months earlier: "There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard," he said. "It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need."

There's a reason fans had such a strong reaction to Damon's change of heart: He meant an awful lot to the Red Sox fans. He came to Boston after one season in Oakland and six seasons in Kansas City; the outfield in which he played with the Royals also included Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye and was so loaded that Damon played 67 games in left field and 25 more at designated hitter. He was an instant hit with the Red Sox, hitting .286 with 118 runs scored in 2002 and .273 with 103 runs scored in 2003.

A year later, though, Damon showed up at spring training with a beard and long hair and did everything but walk on water. He hit .304 and walked 76 times, a career-high. He hit 20 home runs and drove in 94 runs, both career highs, and he scored 123 runs. With the possible exception of his 2000 season in Kansas City, it was the finest season of his career -- and it was just in the nick of time.

The Red Sox won 98 games but finished three games behind the Yankees in the American League East. In a three-game sweep of Oakland in the American League Division Series, Damon went 7-for-15 with four runs scored.

His production dwindled to almost nothing in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees; he had just one hit in 13 at-bats as the Yankees built a 3-0 lead in the series. Even as the Red Sox chipped away, Damon still did almost nothing. By the time Game 7 rolled around, the center fielder was 3-for-29 (.103) with eight strikeouts.

No one will ever remember that, though. All they'll remember is that Game 7. After David Ortiz hit a two-run home run in the first inning, Damon hit a grand slam in the second inning to put the game out of reach less than an hour after it had started. When he came up again, he hit a two-run home run to turn a rout into a laugher. The Red Sox didn't even need to use Keith Foulke.

Damon than had at least one hit in all four games of the World Series, including a solo home run to lead off Game 4 in St. Louis. That, as it turned out, would be all the run support Derek Lowe would need; eight innings later, the Red Sox were World Series champions.

61. Jonathan Papelbon
Here's another guy who almost certainly will climb this list in short order. Papelbon already is climbing the all-time saves list with the Red Sox. With 113 saves through four seasons, he's already moved past Jeff Reardon (88), Ellis Kinder (91) and Dick Radatz (104); barring injury, he'll pass Bob Stanley (132) this season to become the Red Sox's all-time leader in saves.

Even those who believe the save is a relatively worthless statistic -- and this blogger is among them -- Papelbon has had a remarkable run thus far. He has a 1.84 ERA in his career; opposing hitters have hit just .194 against him, including .181 in save situations.

In the postseason, he's been all but untouchable -- opponents are hitting .120, OBP'ing .178 and slugging .169 against Papelbon. He has thrown 25 career postseason innings without allowing a run, a major-league record.

Many pitchers would keep the baseball forever after throwing just one scoreless inning in the postseason. When Papelbon heard he'd broken a record (in Game 1 of the ALCS against Tampa Bay), though, he had to go back and retrieve it from the trash can.

His run started with a 1 1/3 shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALDS against Chicago in 2005; it continues to this day.

He's even shelved concerns about his shoulder, concerns that prompted the Red Sox to consider making him a starting pitcher to keep him on a more regular schedule. Now, the only concern Red Sox fans have is just how long he's going to stay. He says he's more than happy to go year-to-year with his contract; he's going to command top dollar when he hits the free-agent market after the 2011 season.

Until then, though, he'll remain the most dominant closer in the history of the Red Sox franchise.
Coming up: The pitch that shocked a Nation.


dbhammel said...

I got it right, 1 point for me! Didnt expect the originial dirt dog to be that high, but I guess we all kind of forget how good he was because we expected him to become even better.

Brian MacPherson said...

And if you look back at the list, the 80th and 90th best players in Red Sox history weren't all THAT fantastic, anyway. It's just now that we're getting to guys you'd call stars.

dbhammel said...

Fair enough, I suppose the allure of nostalgia makes the old time players seem better than they were. I guess its the opposite phenomenon as the one currently sweeping ESPN and the like to dub every new stat the "greatest of all time". I guess thatd be the Vince Carter Phenomenon. VCP, I like that.