Card of the Day: 2004 Topps Postseason Highlights Aaron Boone

I’m going to cheat a bit here and double dip. I wrote the following piece for my other blog and felt it was worth sharing here as well. Enjoy.

I can’t help it. Every time I see Tim Wakefield, I think of 2003. I think of Aaron Boone. I think of a floating knuckle ball that never hits the catcher’s mitt. I think of lost dreams and heartbreak. And I know I can’t be the only one. Boston fans have had much to cheer about since 2004, but you can’t tell me that all is well in your in mind when you see Terry Francona send Wakefield to the hill every fifth day. You can’t tell me that disaster is not the first thing on your mind.

So, for the love of God, someone tell me why the hell Wakefield — pictured here on this 2003 Donruss card — was on the mound for Game 4 of the 2008 American League Championship Series. He was not the sole reason why the Sox lost that game, but his effort surely didn’t lift the team’s spirits, or for that matter even give them a chance to win. Hell, the squad was already down by three runs before Boston’s leadoff hitter even picked up a bat.

Now you can give me that song and dance about how Wakefield’s slow-pitching was a stark contrast to the powerful arms of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but none of that means jack when 1) Wakefield’s fastball tops out at 86-88 mph and the Rays sluggers are killing the ball, 2) the wind is blowing out to left field, and 3) Wakefield’s career postseason ERA is approaching 6.00 (Note: Wakefield now owns 6.75 ERA in 72 post season innings.)

But I’m not going to spend my night talking entirely about Wakefield, because all that will do is leave me feeling even more pissed off than I already am. Instead I want to discuss a related subject that seems to be annoying me equally as much.

Let it be known, Newspaperman thinks today’s pitchers are a bunch of pussies, and so are the managers who call the shots. I hate the pitch count, and very mush dislike the notion of five-man pitching rotation.

This has nothing to do with Wakefield per se, but everything to do with the fact that he was on the mound during the game in question. In a short series — and yes, a seven game series is short in my mind when everything is on the line — why not go with a three-man rotation?

The simple answer is because somewhere along the line some body figured that pitchers maxed out their efficiency around 100 pitches, and in order for them to be productive, they need four days off in between starts. This is nonsense. And shortening a starting rotation from five to four for the playoffs is not enough.

Matsuzaka, Boston’s best pitcher this post season, should have been on the mound for Game Four. It was almost a must-win type of situation. Francona could have had Matsuzaka for Game Four, Beckett for Game Five and Lester for Game Six. And if Boston got to, or needed, Game Seven, you go back to Daisuke.

But no, instead we saw Wakefield and his fluttering knuckleball that got smacked around the yard like a slow pitch softball in Game Four. And instead of giving the team its best shot of tying the series, Francona set his team up for failure before it even had a chance to score a run.

And while I sit here and look at the pitching matchups for the next three games, should the series extend that far, and see that the Sox actually do have a chance because of their three solid big-name pitchers. I can’t help but think: What if Matsuzaka had pitched on Tuesday. I mean it’s not like he would have been pitching on really short rest. He would have had three full days between starts. Plus we’re talking about a guy who threw 400 pitchers over the course of three days during a 1998 Japan high school championship tournament.

Generally speaking, I’ll concede that the post season and regular season are two different beasts. But I firmly believe that baseball managers need to examine their staffs as individual entities and figure out what works best for them. The notion that pitchers can only throw a certain number of pitches, and that all staffs must be comprised of five guys — even if one of two of them is mediocre, or worse — is ridiculous.

This is why we no longer see studs like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, who routinely had high pitch counts — and were successful.

This is the reason why we go ga-ga over Roy Halladay’s nine complete games in 2008.

And this is why a pitching scrub like Sidney Ponson is still employed.

Bring back the four-man rotation. Maybe then I’ll listen to the argument of throwing Wakefield during Game Four. Then again, had the four-man rotation been more common place, Wakefield would be out of a job, or at best be coming off the bench.

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