Boston hurler ready to make first postseason start
By Alan Ginsberg / MLB.com
Game 3 starter Bronson Arroyo cracks a smile while meeting with the press on Thursday. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON -- Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Tuesday night, Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon called his team a group of "idiots." No wonder Bronson Arroyo fits in so well.
Arroyo, who will start Game 3 of the American League Division Series for Boston on Friday afternoon at Fenway Park, has been nothing if not consistent of late, going 5-0 over his last nine starts of the regular season -- while watching his team win all nine -- to earn a slot in the Red Sox's postseason rotation.
He hasn't lost since Aug. 15 -- a game in which he allowed just three runs over seven innings -- and has been a dependable cog in the Boston rotation for most of the year.
"He's been our most consistent starter since April," first baseman/outfielder Kevin Millar said.
In his first full season in the big leagues, Arroyo set career highs in wins (10), starts (29), innings pitched (178 2/3) and strikeouts (142). His 4.03 ERA was 12th in the AL and opponents hit just .249 against him, making him one of only nine AL pitchers to hold opposing hitters under .250 for the season. Batters weren't getting on the easy way, either -- he issued just 2.4 walks per nine innings pitched, 10th-fewest in the AL.
"He's taken this opportunity and he's kind of run with it," manager Terry Francona said.
Arroyo's numbers -- specifically, his win-loss record -- could have been even better, had he received more help from his teammates.
"We haven't scored runs for him at times," Millar said.
Indeed, in the eight starts Arroyo lost-- he also suffered one defeat as a reliever -- Boston scored just 22 runs. But the Sox have also hurt Arroyo defensively; he was the victim of 19 unearned runs, which tied him for the third-highest total in the Majors.
While Arroyo was best away from Fenway -- his 3.06 road ERA was fifth in the AL -- and at night -- his 3.94 mark placed him ninth in the junior circuit -- the daytime shadows at Fenway could work to his advantage.
"If it's a sunny day, Bronson's breaking ball is going to be tough," Millar said.
Either way, Arroyo doesn't expect to be phased by the pressure of his first postseason start after making three ALCS appearances last year.
"I don't think my career is depending on this start," Arroyo said. "People look at big games and when you get a reputation for games like that, that's why Curt Schilling has the reputation that he does, someone who steps up in big games. Hopefully, tomorrow, I will, too. Obviously, if I go in there [Friday] and get bombed and give up seven runs, that will put a little stain on you, but all you do is go out and do what you do all year as best you can. It's going to be like any other game."
Boston's 2-0 lead should also help take some of the pressure off Arroyo.
"I think it's definitely going to calm me down personally. If you're down 2-0 and it's a do-or-die game, like it is for them, it's going to allow me to go out and try to be aggressive early in the game and just try to establish the strike zone," he said.
Of course, that doesn't mean there won't be any added excitement.
Bronson Arroyo / P
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"Everybody's going to have postseason jitters. It's inevitable, but you get out there, you play, you throw his first strike and here we go," said catcher Jason Varitek, who said the task before Arroyo is simple. "Go out there and pitch his game, throw strikes. Pitch his game and let his stuff and his location and those things dictate his start.
"Pitching at Fenway, the atmosphere's been like this plenty of times."
Francona, too, doesn't feel compelled to tell Arroyo anything complicated.
"Bronson has earned his stripes. He's made a lot of starts this year, and we've seen him evolve into a pretty good Major League pitcher. And we would not give him the start if we didn't think he could handle it. He doesn't need to be spoken to," he said. "He doesn't need a speech. If he needed a speech, we wouldn't pitch him. He's ready to pitch. He deserved this and he's earned it. And not only that, we think he's going to be fine. We think he's going to do real well or we wouldn't send him out.
"Bronson has got a good head on his shoulders."
He'll have to use it to solve his struggles against the Angels, who beat him June 1 in Anaheim, scoring six times on eight hits and two walks, and then touched him for five runs on six hits and four free passes over just 2 2/3 innings -- Arroyo's shortest start of the season -- exactly three months later.
In that sense, Arroyo probably sees the wisdom in Emerson's words -- consistency against Anaheim is exactly what he'd like to avoid.
Alan Ginsberg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.