Sacrifice Leads to Success
It was Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. October 16, 2004. The Red Sox were down two games to none to the Yankees. The local nine were in the middle of receiving a black eye bludgeoning from the Bronx Bombers. For most, it was the precursor to yet another year flushed away, another close, but no cigar Autumn in Boston.
But something happened that night, something that will be forever forgotten by many in New England. Tim Wakefield approached Terry Francona and offered to relinquish his opportunity to start Game 4 in an effort to preserve the Red Sox bullpen. When the smoke cleared, Wakefield had taken a bullet for his team. He labored through 3.1 innings, allowing five runs. The Sox lost 19-8. However, Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke went unused, while Alan Embree did end up making an appearance but only faced four hitters. The Red Sox left Game 3 licking their wounds, but, because of Wakefield’s sacrifice, they were able to keep the stalwarts of their bullpen intact. It ultimately facilitated their ability to come from behind and defeat the Yankees in the best of seven series.
It wasn’t about Wakefield. It was about what was best for his team. It was about sacrifice.
And that is something that is sorely lacking on the 2012 Boston Red Sox.
This winter, the front office promised Daniel Bard an opportunity to serve as a starting pitcher. He sports an A+ plus fastball, an A slider, and a changeup that is more than serviceable. Beyond his raw stuff, Bard has the intelligence and makeup that can only boost his ability to start at the major league level. To put it simply, he is a bright kid with great stuff who deserves the chance to maximize his potential.
Ideally, Bard would complete the first step (in a multi-step process) in becoming a front line starting pitcher by tossing an uninterrupted 140-160 innings this season. This, before injuries and ineffectiveness plagued both Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon respectively, was going to be a difficult task.
The Red Sox did not pursue Jonathan Papelbon in free agency. At the same time, they agreed to move Bard from the eighth inning to the fifth spot in the rotation. First year GM Ben Cherington was tasked with replacing the final six outs in a ballgame. He did a seemingly fine job. In a pair of under the radar trades, Cherington acquired both Bailey and Melancon.
Problem solved, right? Ehh, not so much.
Bailey suffered a freak thumb injury just before the beginning of the season that will ultimately sideline him for roughly three months. Melancon is now in Rhode Island after a series of appearances in which he failed to do anything but struggle.
The Red Sox are now presented with the unenviable task of attempting to replace the replacements that were acquired to replace Bard and Papelbon. Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales are your 2012 version of Papelbon and Bard.
Bard is in an unique place. Unlike Papelbon, he is still a member of the Red Sox. According to Bard and the brass on 4 Yawkey Way, he is a starter. Nevertheless, his turn was skipped on Monday after a rain out on Sunday. In an interview on Sunday night, Valentine declared that Bard would be able to pitch out of the bullpen once or twice during the week while still retaining his position in the rotation.
Bard’s comments before Monday’s game against the Twins were quite telling.
“I already told them back-to-back is out of the questions for health reasons,” Bard said. “I haven’t thrown one back-to-back all spring. It wouldn’t be fair to ask me. They were totally in agreement on that one.”
Bard is telling management that working back-to-back days is out of the question. Bard, a guy who is entering his fourth, not his tenth, year in the big leagues, apparently believes that he calls the shots. It’s not about what is best for his team. It is about what is necessary for him to continue on the path of being a starting pitcher.
The Red Sox bullpen possesses quality firepower. The bullets, however, have simply not been allocated in the correct chambers. Franklin Morales has a live arm that would look nice in the sixth or seventh inning. Alfredo Aceves is an invaluable weapon who should not be closing. Instead, he should be serving as a multi-inning swingman who also has the potential to retire batters in high leverage situations
So why aren’t these bullpen pieces slotted correctly?
Because Bard has not stepped up.
The bullpen is decimated. Papelbon is in the National League. Bailey is recovering from thumb surgery. Melancon is attempting to regain his confidence in Pawtucket. There are no horses left in the stable. Only ponies remain.
Cherington and the Red Sox have some serious decisions to make. On May 1st, Aaron Cook, who is pitching extremely well in Triple-A, can opt out of his contract if he is not promoted to Boston. Cook could seamlessly enter the Sox rotation, and Bard could slide into the bullpen, which would provide the stability it desperately needs. In order for that to work, it would likely require Bard’s consent (as ludicrous as that may seem).
A move like that would require the same sort of selflessness that Wakefield gave to his teammates and the organization eight years ago.
A move like that would require sacrifice.