Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Game 98: Welcome...To The Future

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 7, Oakland Athletics 3

Thank God that was a blowout from the third inning; I may have watched the whole game, but at least I didn’t have to fret about a last-second loss. Well, sort of. There was the seventh, when things almost fell apart…

I’ve been singing praises in the Church of Craig Hansen since last year (note that I managed the blasphemy of bashing the Papal-Bon in the same post and the baseball gods conspired to make him great just to show me the error of my ways). There are a number of reasons why I like the guy: he’s the future, he’s grooming to be the closer, he’s got the same last name and he grew up in a town where I lived for a few months. What’s not to like? Still, there are times this year when it’s clear that the kid has some growing to do before he’s ready. Like last night.

Tito has been putting Hansen (and MDC) into more and more pressure situations lately, pushing them along in their development, relieving the need for Mike Timlin to set up every save and pushing Tavarez to the very back of the bullpen and Saenez out altogether. It’s a good plan – I’m sure the eventual idea is to make the ideal order into starter for seven, MDC for the eighth and Hansen for the ninth, which means that both pitchers will need to learn how to pitch when the game is on the line. It does create some interesting situations that cause you to sit up and take notice, like when Hansen came in to relieve Beckett to start the seventh, got two outs but managed to load the bases in the process. Though visions of yesterday’s loss danced in my head and I would have had to resist reaching for the bullpen phone, Tito remained calm and let the kid work things out. Three pitches later, Mark Kotsay grounded to short to end the inning.

It’s a great sign for two reasons: first, that won’t be the last time Hansen faces a batter with a big inning on the line and he’ll need to know what to do. Second, he didn’t panic in the situation, didn’t let the pressure get to his head and turn him into a replica of another Red Sox pitcher we know so well. He made the pitch, got the out and stopped the bleeding before it started. It was rock.

Tonight, Curt Schilling faces young Jason Windsor, who’s pitched a grand total of one start (against Baltimore) and is the proud owner of one earned run surrendered in five innings. Let’s show him what he happens when he goes up against real bats. GO SOX!!!