Two weeks ago I was driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco: an eight-hour trek through desert high and low, past lonely towns barely removed from the 19th century. Regrettably, I did not have a CD player, so I was forced to choose between war talk, sports talk, or the ramblings of my mind. The former was nauseating, the latter boring and depressing. Sports talk it was.
Two ethereal voices were babbling about the NBA's MVP award. One of them insisted that Tim Duncan would win the award, with Kobe Bryant finishing second, Kevin Garnett third, and Tracy McGrady fourth. The other thought his partner was a bozo: Kobe Bryant should win the award, with McGrady second, Duncan third, and Garnett fourth. Back and forth they went: Duncan will win, Kobe should win, blah, blah, blah. The second guy failed to grasp the thrust of the first guy's point: it doesn't matter whether Kobe Bryant SHOULD win the award, it will be Tim Duncan who WILL win the award, based on the Spurs finishing with the best record in the West. After about a half an hour of this madness -- "How can you possibly say Duncan deserves the award over Bryant???"; "I never said he DESERVED it, I said he WOULD win it!!!" -- I turned off the radio and listened to my thoughts. (Surprisingly, I did not pull off the road and commit any felonies, either to myself or to any innocent folks.)
How in the world is this relevant to baseball? Three weeks ago I said the Red Sox would end the closer-by-committee experiment, and was accused -- in the polite Canadian way -- of jumping the gun. Well, my argument was not based on what should happen but on what would happen. I still think the closer-by-committee approach can work, provided the right (or left) arms are available. But a week ago I wrote in my A's "column" that a team with less to lose than the Red Sox would need to try it; this was echoed by Rob Neyer, a real writer, in his column Friday. And, no, I am certainly not implying Neyer stole my words; simultaneous creation is a depressing reality of writing, creative writing especially, but even in non-fiction baseball gibberish. Am I right? Is the committee dead? My vote is yes: Chad Fox has received the last three Red Sox save opportunities, this coming about five seconds after Brandon Lyon had been, more or less, appointed head of the committee by Grady Little. The Red Sox have more to worry about than Little's glibness: neither Lyon or Fox is a reliable option, and I firmly believe it's a matter of time before Boston acquires someone.
Last night was my first view of Fox since his days with the Brewers. I was not impressed. Despite an error by Kevin Millar in the 9th inning, Fox deserved the blown save, having thrown three strikes to the four hitters he faced: one which was bunted, one which was chopped to Millar, and one a hanging breaking ball which was slashed to RF on a line by Benji Molina. Prior to these events, Fox had walked Scott Spiezio on four pitches, none of them close to the zone. The inning before this, Brandon Lyon had surrendered a run, avoiding a "blown save" by about six inches, as Garret Anderson's double just missed finding the right-center-field seats. Lyon looked very hittable; his fastball hit 96 MPH, but it was straight, straight, straight. His slider was fairly tight, but he looked afraid to locate it near the strike zone. I saw no evidence of an effective off-speed pitch, which is not as important for a relief pitcher, but in Lyon's case it wouldn't hurt.
My problem is not so much with Lyon but with Fox: how the devil did he deserve the faith the Red Sox are putting in him? (Or, for that matter, that the Brewers put in him two years ago.) Here's a pitcher who has pitched two full (albeit effective) seasons out of the last six because of continual arm problems, and it's not like he's pitching very well this year, either, as the 10 walks in as many innings indicates.
So here's my query to the good people of Batter's Box: who else can you think of who has milked so much out of so little? Aside from Fox I'll name Darin Erstad, who is a solid baseball player, but who has had only one truly good year, and for this received a four-year, $32 million deal. Is this a great country or what?