10/22/2004 9:23 PM ET
Notes: Long wait over for Mirabelli
Catcher has been waiting for Series start for a year
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
|Doug Mirabelli hit .281 with nine homers in 160 at-bats during the regular season. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BOSTON -- Doug Mirabelli, the underrated backup catcher of the Red Sox, has been waiting for this day for over a year. Saturday night, it finally comes.
When the Red Sox were ready to close out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series (they held a 5-2 lead with a mere five outs left), Mirabelli was positively pumped up about the fact he'd be starting Game 1 of the World Series against the Marlins.
Tim Wakefield was going to pitch that game, and as always, Mirabelli would catch the knuckleballer. Instead, that lead evaporated and Wakefield was pressed into service in relief. With Mirabelli behind the plate in that fateful 11th inning, Boston's season ended on one Aaron Boone swing.
It's funny how things work out. One October later, it was the Yankees who couldn't hold a lead. They had a 3-0 edge in the series, and then the Sox stormed back to win the last four games.
Once again, the Wakefield-Mirabelli battery is slated for the opener. And this time, there will be no obstacles.
"I thought about that a lot," said Mirabelli. "Can you believe we were going to be starting Game 1 last year and it didn't come through? This has been something that we've waited for all year and it's come back to us again. How often would that ever happen that you were going to start Game 1 last year and all of a sudden you fall into it again. It's an amazing story and we just want to take advantage of it now."
Mirabelli often mentions Wakefield in the "we" sense because they are very much a package deal. So when Wakefield's Game 4 start in the Division Series was canceled because the Red Sox swept in three straight, Mirabelli lost his game. When Wakefield unselfishly offered up his services to pitch out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the ALCS and essentially sacrificed his start in Game 4, Mirabelli lost another turn to play.
Not that he'd ever complain.
"For the last three weeks, I was preparing, thinking I was playing every fourth day," said Mirabelli. "Then at the last second, something changes and I don't play, so I've really kept that high level of intensity to go into play the next day and it hasn't worked out but I think it's helped me stay where I am right now," said Mirabelli, who has been a steady backup for Jason Varitek the last three years.
While catching a knuckleball can be nearly impossible for a lot of catchers, Mirabelli almost makes it look second-nature.
"You just kind of get into a trance there," said Mirabelli. "It's almost like a relaxed state even further than you would with guys throwing straight. Your reflexes are so much quicker when you're relaxed. At any moment, the ball is going to dart in a different direction. You need to be as relaxed as possible so that maybe if it does take that last dart, it's just an instinct to catch it."
While Mirabelli says that catching is far easier to him than hitting, he has held his own with the bat, hitting .281 and belting nine homers in 160 at-bats.
Schilling good to go: While Curt Schilling's right ankle was a subject of deep concern throughout the ALCS, there seems to be a handle on it this time around.
The team's medical staff came up with a suture treatment prior to Game 6 against the Yankees, and it worked like a charm, enabling the right-hander to fire seven innings of one-run ball. Schilling had the stitches taken out immediately after the start. He will go through the exact same process this time around.
The suture treatment will be applied on Saturday, the day before he pitches Game 2 against the Cardinals. Assuming there is a Game 6 of this series, Schilling will undergo the process one more time. And as soon as the season ends, Schilling will undergo surgery to repair the torn sheath in his ankle.
The Yankees didn't bunt at all against Schilling in Game 6. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa isn't sure he will either.
"I watched quite a bit of that last performance and it looks to me like the thing he has to do is throw the ball well and his ankle is good enough to do that," said La Russa. "Terry [Francona] is very sharp. You play first base in a little bit, third base in a little bit, take the bunt away."
Francona 'loves' the matchup: Francona certainly wasn't going to be picky about who the Sox played in the World Series. But he was revved up about being matched up with the Cardinals.
"Since I was a rookie, going to St. Louis, St. Louis is a baseball town and I've always loved it. I just love it. You stay at the hotel and walk two blocks to the ballpark, I love it," said Francona.
Respecting Rolen: Both Francona and Schilling know what Rolen is all about. Francona was his manager from 1997-2000 in Philadelphia. And during those same years, Schilling was his teammate.
"Best all-around player in the game," said Schilling. "He can win a game at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Watching him and listening to people talk about him, he straps it on a 162 games a year and plays the game at a level that few guys play at. I'm so proud of him and what he's done, and happy for him because he's done it in a tremendous baseball city, where he's getting his just due, that unfortunately he never got in Philly."
Francona and Rolen exchanged phone messages after the Cardinals clinched their trip to Boston by beating the Astros in Game 7 of he NLCS.
"I'm proud of him," said Francona. "I hope he goes 0-for-20 and he knows it, but I'm very proud of him. He's probably the Jason Varitek of their team. That's the kind of kid he is."
Lowe back on high: Derek Lowe's resurgence could not have come at a better time. It's doubtful the Red Sox would have beaten the Yankees in the ALCS if not for the way Lowe performed in his return to the rotation, helping his team win Games 4 and 7.
He will pitch Game 4 in St. Louis.
"I had no idea what my role was going to be coming into Anaheim or New York," said Lowe. "Now you know when you're going to pitch. I'm going to be in the bullpen for Saturday's game and Sunday's game. If you're needed, you're needed. If not, I'll be ready for Wednesday's game. In the playoffs, you go with the hot guys. Coming into the playoffs, I was about as cold as you could get. I understand why you got sent to the 'pen even though you didn't want to. Just try and take advantage of opportunities you're given."
Back on the big stage: When Mike Timlin won back-to-back World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992-93, he thought trips to the Fall Classic would become old hat. The respected setup man of the Red Sox is finally back in the World Series after an 11-year hiatus.
"When it doesn't happen for a couple of years, you're thinking it would be nice to get back," Timlin said. "After 10 years, you don't know if you're going to make it back. Last year, we had a shot and it didn't happen and you think, maybe I won't get back. But here we are."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.