By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
As the record-setting 2018 Red Sox close out the regular season against their ancient rivals – and possibly their first-round opponent in the playoffs – the New York Yankees, baseball fans across New England are doing what they do best.
Recent less than stellar pitching performances from the aces that will be leaned upon heavily when baseball’s real season begins next Friday from Chris Sale – whose left shoulder is keeping more than first-year manager Alex Cora awake at night – and David Price – who has yet to prove that he has the stuff it takes internally to win in October – has Red Sox Nation in a state of panic, reminiscent of the pre-2004 days.
Earlier this week, BSD caught up with one of the heroes of that historic curse breaking club and should have been World Series MVP, former closer Keith Foulke, to talk about playoff baseball and why he likes his former team’s chances this fall.
Here is some of the conversation we had with the sure to be future Red Sox Hall of Famer.
BSD – You pitched in the playoffs three different years – including the epic run of ’04 that broke the 86-year drought for Boston – how different is it from the regular season?
KF – I guess the one thing that I learned being there a couple of times and failing, is the margin of error is a lot smaller. It seems that all mistakes are magnified and one thing I learned is that sometimes you have to dial it back and play within yourself. You can’t try to throw the ball harder or make it break more. You cannot try to out do yourself.
BSD – You’ve got a unique perspective heading into this playoff season, where in ’04 your team had a great regular season, but entering Game 4 against the Yankees, you were looked upon as failures. How much do the players in the clubhouse hear the way the media and fans are portraying them in the public, and what effect does that have on the team?
KF – Especially now, with social media. I mean, I watch the game as a fan. I know a bunch of the guys on the team, but I truly sit back and watch it as a fan. We have a very mature, young ballclub. I think that’s one of the things that makes them dangerous this postseason, and the next few years to come.
You need experience. I mean for as many games as we won in ’04, they have probably won 20 more right now. That experience is big, and them failing last year, will help them be better this year.
BSD – Your ’04 team was stacked offensively, with the likes of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup – not to mention that Bill Mueller won the batting title hitting in the 8-spot. Do you see any similarities to the names that Terry Francona wrote out on his lineup card back in the day and those that Alex Cora does now?
KF – Yeah, I think there are probably a lot of similarities. I think J.D. [Martinez] and Papi cancel out. I think you could compare Mookie [Betts] to Manny, even though they get it done in different ways. This lineup is so deep, it comes down to who can have those quality at-bats. Who can move the runner over?
That’s one thing, Billy Mueller was such an unselfish hitter. He would hit the ball up the middle, he would hit the ball hard the other way. Those type of things can make the difference in the playoffs between being a winning team, and one that ends up finishing second.
BSD – In your opinion, how much does a manager’s strategy change in the playoffs, especially when it comes to using the bullpen?
KF – It definitely does. You play it as a 5-inning game, especially if you have a strong bullpen. You’re not worried about saving bullpens for tomorrow or the next day, it is more like “What do we need to do to win tonight?”.
If I can get my starter through five, I’m going to run out my best four or five guys – I’m not sure how much matchups will take place – out there every night until the season is over.
BSD – Your thoughts on Mookie Betts, who is playing like the best player in Major League Baseball?
KF – I agree, 100%. He is such a fast twitch guy. His hand-eye coordination is just phenomenal. He can hit for power, he can hit for average. He can run, he can catch, he can throw – I mean he is the ultimate five-tool player. Plus, you don’t ever see him upset.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say he is great for that clubhouse. He’s a great influence on the other players. And, in my opinion, he plays the game right.
BSD – Without a doubt, the two most obvious question marks facing the Red Sox entering the playoffs is the health of Chris Sale, and what David Price will show up in the playoffs. Do you think Sale is injured, and if so, how will it affect his performance this postseason?
KF – (Laughing) Yeah, even if I knew something, I wouldn’t say it. But Sale has the ability to pitch. That’s one thing that will always separate him from almost anybody – whether he has a 100-mile an hour fastball or 91 – he still has the ability to pitch.
BSD – You have lived in Boston for the better part of a year recently, so you know how skeptical fans around here can be. What would you say to the fans who are practically lining up on the Tobin Bridge after the last two starts from Price and Sale?
KF – Not to get on the fans, because I’ve obviously gotten in trouble for this before (laughing). Me, being a fan now, we have the best team in baseball. Especially [fans] being from Boston, who had so much disappointment over the last 80 years – or whatever it had been – it’s easy to doubt when you have experienced that type of losing.
I think we are a much better team than we were last year. This is where if you are a fan, you have to believe in your players. You have to believe that they are going to step it up. You have to believe that they are going to learn from their past.
Are they going to win the World Series? We have a better chance now than we did in April. We have 10 of the best teams in baseball playing for the same trophy. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.