Little frustration: Manager can't right Red Sox
Baseball/by Tony Massarotti
Monday, August 19, 2002
MINNEAPOLIS - For an instant, at least, the thrill of his rookie season was stripped away and his laidback, easygoing manner was gone. Under the inflatable roof of the Metrodome last night, Grady Little looked and sounded more frustrated than he has at any point this season.
Meanwhile, the air is steadily leaking out of the 2002 Red Sox.
``I'm hungry,'' Little said when asked to explain the edge in his voice following a 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins. ``I didn't eat this morning. I'm really hungry.''
Ah, but if only we could say the same for his team.
In the thick of playoff contention when they left Boston a week ago, the Red Sox today have some work to do. Little's team has lost three games in the standings to each of the New York Yankees, Anaheim Angels and Oakland A's in the last six days, and only brief flashes of energy suggest that the team has a pulse at all.
Maybe the Sox are tired. Maybe they simply don't care. Maybe they already have gone on strike. Whatever the reason, their season seems to be slipping away from them and the Sox don't appear to be doing much about it.
``With the personnel we're putting on the field, you'd like to think we'd have better results coming. But we're not,'' Little said.
Added the manager: ``We can't play a ballclub like this and do some of the things we did (last night) and expect to win.''
Depending on your perspective, last night's final score meant everything or nothing. The Sox trailed by only a 3-1 score through the first six innings, though it hardly seemed it. They subsequently inched to 3-2 before the Twins blew the game open with four runs in the eighth inning against starter John Burkett and reliever Chris Haney.
Prior to that, there were fundamental breakdowns everywhere. On a meek pop to short right field by Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz in the fourth inning, Sox second baseman Lou Merloni and right fielder Trot Nixon got their wires crossed and allowed the ball to fall between them.
An inning later, Merloni was unable to get the ball out of his glove on a double play pivot and the Sox succeeded in getting only one out.
Three innings after that, Cristian Guzman beat out a bouncer to first because - and this suggestion comes straight from Little - Burkett was late getting off the mound.
The manager's exact words?
``This club in Minnesota, they take advantage of every opportunity, and we gave them too many opportunities,'' Little said. ``When you have a ballclub like we have, you say you want to be in contention to win the American League East. You can't just go out there and let pop-ups that hang in the air for 20 seconds not get caught. You can't not turn double plays that are routine and forget to cover first base. It's a lot of little things.''
For almost as long as anyone can remember, the Twins have been a scrappy team, a pesky one, a club that waits for opponents to make mistakes. Now they have talent, too. Throughout the three-game series with the Sox, Minnesota rounded every base anticipating a muff or a bobble, playing with fervor and zest even in defeat. If they are not waiting for something good to happen, they are trying to make something good happen.
The Sox? Before dropping 2-of-3 to the Twins over the weekend, they lost 2-of-3 to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. It was during that series that Manny Ramirez pulled a ball into the left field corner and coasted out of the batter's box, only to get easily thrown out at second base when he decided to actually run and try for a double.
As for Little himself, he does not often show his frustration. But he clearly reached the point where he, too, cannot solve the Riddle of the Sphinx that his team has become, possessors of all that talent and, lately, not enough results.
``I think he's a guy that doesn't really show, but obviously he's frustrated. We're all frustrated,'' Merloni said. ``We've got a healthy team on the field and everyone's playing, and we're picking up these losses. We're on the field and we're saying, `Man, we're a better team than this.' ''
Or maybe not.