Pushing the Panic Button

1187012858We try not to get too hysterical about the Red Sox around here. There are more than enough places you can go for that sort of thing. We prefer to take a slow, reasoned approach to a season that lasts six months and tends to have high highs and low lows magnified beyond all reasonable concern. That said, last night sure was a kick in the head.

I’ll grant you that the Sox need to know if Eric Gagne is going to be any help in the playoffs, but here’s a hint: When he can’t find the strike zone (and yes I know, Ed Rapuano inexplicably called balls on three straight pitches that were right down the middle to Frank Thomas) and walks in the tying run after loading the bases with two outs and nobody on base, it might be time to get him the hell out of there. Experiment in May, Tito.

“The fact of the matter is, we need him,” Jason Varitek said.

No, you don’t. Unless Hideki Okajima is cooked, a reasonable supposition, you don’t need Gagne. You need Manny Delcarmen and you need Mike Timlin. Having an effective Gagne would be lovely, but you don’t need him.

Here’s the other thing. For five months or so, Terry Francona’s bullpen use was very good. It’s not for nothing that the Sox relievers have been relatively healthy and productive. But then Tito panicked on Friday against the Yankees, turning to Okajima early and Papelbon even earlier. It was one of the few times this year that one of his bullpen moves made little sense in any context. Last night leaving Gagne in to inevitably lose made no sense in any context.

The Sox will make the playoffs. They have a seven game lead over Detroit. However, Tony Mazz tries to make the point that winning the division is irrelevant. It is not. Practically, it would be a tremendous advantage to the Red Sox to play more games at Fenway than anywhere else. Mentally, there is never a good time to blow a 14.5 game lead to the Yankees. Ever.

OK, Clay. It’s on you.