Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In defense of Javier Lopez

There's absolutely no excuse for botching the play the way Lopez did last night in the bottom of the ninth.  I mean, I know second string Little Leaguers that would have caught that feed from Youkilis.  However, that game was not lost solely on a fielding error by the unfortunate Mr. Lopez.

Remember the third inning, when Lugo got a nearly perfect throw from Youkilis while covering second, and a clean catch would probably have meant an inning ending double play?  Well, E6 dropped it, and instead of being out of the inning, Ben Francisco took Sox starter Brad Penny deep for a three-run homer.  Alright, so Julio just needs to shake the cobwebs off, right? He can't be that bad... but wait.  

Lugo, seemingly determined to make Sox fans forget the two hits he notched last night, made a nearly unforgivable mistake: he ignored a center fielder calling for the ball.  The rules of fly ball catching are simple: the shortstop has priority over the infielders, the center fielder over the other outfielders, and the center fielder over the shortstop.  Lugo, perhaps thinking that a spectacular running catch in short center field would endear him to the fans who have previously disparaged his performance, ran out into Jacoby Ellsbury's territory and tried to make the play.  Now, had he made the catch, it wouldn't matter, but he didn't.  Instead, Ellsbury goes into a slide, seemingly hoping to avoid a collision with Lugo, and Lugo, of course, misses the ball, which bounces off Ellsbury and into left field... I'm just assuming the inimitable Jason Bay returned it to the infield, because I was too busy screaming profanities at my television to notice.

Lugo had this to say: "It's going to take me a little while to get back.  I'm not 100 percent right now. I haven't played for a long time, and I'm going to be off a little bit. I don't have my skills put together. It's going to take me a little while to get back in playing shape and for my knee to feel good and be 100 percent."  Oh, okay.  But if Lugo's not 100%, what is he doing back with the big club? Isn't the purpose of a rehab assignment to get the player back to his full potential!?!? Whew. Deep breaths...

Not that this was a one man show: the Sox made other errors last night, including one on a throw from Mike Lowell, usually an exemplary fielder, throwing over Pedroia's head (cue the "Pedroia is short" joke).  Penny gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings, though only four were earned.  

Obviously, Lopez's drop of the Kevin Youkilis feed that would have meant extra innings was the most visible sign of defeat, since, technically, it was the play during which the winning run was scored.  However, it's important to remember that even if Lopez had made the play, there's no guarantee that the Sox would have won in the extra frames.  I'm a bit of a Lopez apologist, and I'll admit that it's partially because he generally seems like such a good guy (also, slightly hilarious, see his comments in this video).  But I genuinely believe that Lopez has something to offer this team: at this time last year, Sox fans were doubting the effectiveness of Manny Delcarmen, and to this point this season, MDC has not surrendered an earned run.  I have faith that Lopez will pick it up, and really, he pitched a scoreless ninth, except for his own error that allowed an unearned run.

An unfortunate way to end the eleven game winning streak, to be sure, but in the wise words of Kevin Youkilis, "You don't like losing, but we're playing good ball.  There's too many games to sit around and mope.  Just go home, get some rest, and get back at it again." And really, if anyone has the right to dismiss this loss, it's the man who had two of his throws turned into errors instead of outs.
I imagine his thoughts as this picture was taken closely mirror the words we see Pedroia use after he strikes out... But that's just a guess.

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