Billy Wagner hinted yesterday that he’s leaning toward retirement, saying “I don’t plan on talking to nobody” when asked where he’ll pitch next season.
Wagner was dominant after coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery, posting a 1.72 ERA, 26/8 K/BB ratio, and .154 opponents’ batting average in 15.2 innings, but gave up two runs in Game 3 of the ALDS as the Red Sox were swept out of the playoffs.
As part of the trade that sent Wagner from New York to Boston the Red Sox agreed not to exercise his $8.8 million option for next season, with the assumption being that he wanted to pursue closing elsewhere. Wagner is just 15 saves from reaching 400 for his career, which is a mark topped by only Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, and John Franco.
Wagner called the 400-save milestone “just dust in the wind” yesterday, but Mike Puma of the New York Post quotes “a source close to the situation” as saying that he “might just need a cooling period before deciding to pitch in 2010.” That seemingly makes more sense than battling all the way back from Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as an elite reliever only to call it quits 15 innings later.
Wagner’s awesomely named agent, Bean Stringfellow, seems to think that he’ll be pitching in 2010, saying the following to the Boston Herald this morning:
Those comments probably came right after the Red Sox lost, so I’d bet they were said in the heat of the moment, when he was very frustrated. That’s probably not the best time to take comments like that as gospel. That’s not what Billy has told me or indicated to me about next year. That’s not to say that he couldn’t, but he’s given me no indication that he will retire. Certainly I am moving towards him playing next year.
Wagner is a Type A free agent, so retiring rather than signing elsewhere would cost the Red Sox a pair of compensatory draft picks. And more importantly the best left-handed reliever of all time showed that he has plenty of gas left in the tank at the age of 37.
Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.
Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.
Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.
It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.
After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.
The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.
Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.
The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.
Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.
Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.
After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.
According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.
The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.