Postgame Spread
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Monday, October 29, 2007

The One Downer About The Series    

Today, as I sip my soda that I'm sure nobody spit in, I feel bad for Eric Gagne.  Well, as bad as you can feel for a multi-millionaire who just landed himself a World Series ring.

Gagne may have his ring, but you gotta wonder just how much he can enjoy it.  He barely pitched in the series, making a single appearance in Game 1 garbage time.  If he hadn't blown up in Game 2 of the Cleveland series, he might have played a bigger role.  Tito wouldn't have shied away from using him last night.  Gagne would have had a chance to actually help the team when he was needed.  Hideki Okajima would have gotten some rest, or could have come in to face Brad Hawpe or something as the emergency set-up guy or whatever.

Instead, Tito worked Okajima to the bone, essentially signing the poor bastard up for a 2008 that will look an awful lot like Keith Foulke's 2005.  And Gagne got to watch it all from the drum circle in the outfield.

Based on what did happen with Okajima in Games 3 and 4, would a Gagne goof or two have been any worse?  I say no.

I don't fault Tito for leaning on Okajima as he did, but I would still have liked to see Gagne redeem himself.  With a 3-0 series lead, and a 3-1 lead in the game, Tito still didn't think Gagne had a better chance to retire the side than his exhausted workhorse?  I think Tito had enough rope to take a crack at it... besides, Lugo and Drew had their moments, so why not Gagne?

Maybe there's a good reason for his disappearing act, especially when set next to the copious opportunities given to a worthless stiff like Javier Lopez.  Maybe Tito saw something on a personal level that led him to believe Gagne sucked.  Maybe Gagne's a dick.  Who knows.  But I doubt it was anything like that, and even if I didn't there would be no grounds for assuming so.  We have no choice but to assume his seat in the doghouse was based on anything but a lack of confidence in Gagne's ability to get results.

Still, I think he got a bum rap.  He leaves his stint in Boston with a reputation as a Lidge-style closer who folds under the pressure, but that is not at all consistent with the nature of his struggles.  Striking out the side between scorching line drive doubles, with fairly impeccable command and a willingness to pitch to contact, is not what you get from a garden-variety walk-the-bases-loaded choke-artist reliever.  The guy wasn't a headcase.  If he were, you'd have seen walks.  I don't think his problems were mental.

I think they were physical.  Given that there's no other viable explanation besides atrociously horrible luck (which, frankly, reflects even better on Gagne than an injury does), I have no choice but to assume that he is quite seriously injured, and was trying to pitch nonetheless.  It's not that hard to imagine another elbow injury that makes itself known intermittently during an outing, causing Gagne to be uncomfortable throwing the baseball at certain moments but not at others.  With his contract up, and a rep for being easily injured, he has plenty of motive to tough out an injury without telling anyone about it.

In that light, I consider the booing and the Gag-Me crap to be particularly unjust.  His struggles are more heroic than they are gutless.  I appreciate that he stuck it out instead of packing it in.  Remember, he had every right to reject the trade and stay in Texas, preparing himself both physically and statistically for free agency.  He didn't do that.  He shot himself in the foot, time and again, trying to win us a World Series.  The results may not have been there for him personally, but I still tip my cap to what he was up to, even if I'm alone in doing so.

But with no redemption moment, the Fenway crowd has no reason to join me.  They will boo his ass loudly and proudly upon each and every return he makes.  And that's a crying shame, especially considering that none of his mistakes cost them... anything!  They won the division despite those blown games!  They won the ALCS despite his Game 2 meltdown!  They won the World Series without him!  Why be mad?  He doesn't deserve it.  And if you think he does, you also imply that Gagne should never have accepted the trade, and should have instead played it safe in Texas, piling up garbage saves and shooting for his checkbook.  To say nothing of flipping off the rest of the Red Sox.  What kind of message is that?

To me, this is the one sour note to come out of the World Series.  Gagne should have our gratitude.  And he should have had his moment.  Instead, he'll probably look at his championship ring the same way Drew Bledsoe looks at his.

4 Comments:

  • If he is hurt, and the FO is aware they weren't seeing him at 100%, wouldn't they offer him a 1 year deal to see whether he can get healthy and put things back together?

    By Blogger Chris, at 9:39 PM  

  • I sure would. But he's kinda worn out his welcome here. Politically it'd be a tough sell, both to fans and to Tito, and he's such an injury risk to begin with that there's no telling whether he can ever stay healthy. (Also, with Boras as his agent, he'd take whatever deal was most lucrative.)

    But my point isn't so much that he's awesome and an excellent long-term buy, but that he sucked for reasons beyond his control and thus should have gotten more sympathy. Especially in retrospect, considering that he didn't actually cost anyone a goddamn thing.

    My lesser point is that rolling the dice with Gagne last night would have been nearly equivalent to rolling the dice with Okajima... not as safe, but with a much higher upside in terms of forgiveness and character arc.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 11:19 PM  

  • Nice post. As a relatively impartial observer, I don't care much, because I sort of feel like Gagne's gotten his accolades and whatever, but your perspective is easy to identify with. Certainly Simmons' remarks, which I imagine were much milder than many (though I can't stand reading Simmons' baseball commentary), were pretty over the top. And they certainly didn't appear to involve much in the way of, say, thought.

    Your lesser point is the one that I find more compelling. I feel a little sad that Okajima's statistical profile from the postseason is not going to reflect just how dominant he was, and worried he may have overextended himself. Despite hoping Boston kind of tanks next year (go Devil Rays!), I hope Okajima isn't ruined, even for just a year. I'm looking for big steps backwards from Youkilis, Varitek, and a re-signed Lowell instead, along with a Pedroia sophomore slump.

    Of course, the success of the 2008 Red Sox will probably have much more to do with how much time Manny and Ortiz miss, like usual, but we can dream.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 11:52 AM  

  • I don't think anyone will ever question Okajima's contribution to the playoff run. Stats are misleading, and his struggles came in winning efforts. He never blew a lead, he just made things "interesting." And really it was just Game 4 that was his doing; the Game 3 HR can be chalked up to Tito rushing him onto the field in relief of Delcarmen or whoever.

    And that point wasn't meant as a dig on Okajima. It was in praise of Gagne more than anything. But yes, that too. I mostly hope a) Okajima is cognizant of precisely how stacked the odds are against him next season, in the Foulke sense, and b) that the team realizes it too, and has some kind of conditioning plan in place for him. (And Daisuke too, for that matter.)

    By Blogger Jeff, at 3:24 PM  

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