DENVER - Knowledge is power. It was the theme of this postseason, the undercurrent that propelled the Boston Red Sox to their second World Series sweep of the last four seasons.
In defeating the Colorado Rockies last night, 4-3, Boston reaffirmed the widely held belief that the American League is far superior to the one your team plays in, the one the Rockies chopped up 21 times in the 22 games that preceded this World Series.
Boston's dominance, though, might be overstated. After catching Colorado asleep after an 8-day layoff in a 13-1 Game 1 laugher, Boston won three competitive games, a single run separating the teams in two games, including last night. After falling behind 3-0 and 4-1, the Rockies fell just a few feet short of tying the game in the ninth, Jamey Carroll's drive chasing Jacoby Ellsbury to the leftfield wall.
What might not be overstated is the groundwork that went into this sweep, and the notion that the Red Sox are well ahead of the league in that department. When Jeff Francis reversed the Phillies' historical success against him in Game 1 of their Division Series, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle lauded his scouts for helping the lefty implement a revised game plan. When Jonathan Papelbon picked off Matt Holliday in the eighth inning of Boston's 2-1 victory in Game 2 of this World Series, it had the fingerprints of both team's scouting departments.
The Rockies knew Papelbon had not picked off a single runner his entire career, that Angels infielder Howie Kendrick had stolen second and third against him in the Division Series. The Red Sox knew Holliday had a history of opportunistic steals when he reached first with two outs because of the pitcher's focus on Todd Helton, the Rockies' cleanup hitter.
The immediate result was an embarrassing moment for the Rockies' MVP candidate, extinguishing a chance for Helton to pump some life into his team and this series. The lasting result was an extensive discussion about Boston's in-depth scouting program, which has doubled in manpower over the last year, presenting yet another disadvantage for the lesser-endowed and more loosely run teams - like the Rockies.
And the Phillies.
"Every club attacks it a little differently," Boston general manager Theo Epstein said diplomatically. "It's not that complicated. You rely on scouts in the stands and video analysis. The real key is the coaching staff and the players taking it to the field. It doesn't matter how well you scout without that."
The Red Sox finished with a .333 team batting average, one of the highest of any World Series winner. Boston's .442 on-base percentage before last night also positioned them to be the best-ever in that category. From top to bottom, their lineup wore out Colorado pitching with lengthy and productive at-bats.
"They really [didn't] let us get into any rhythm or get ahead in a lot of counts," said Francis, who surrendered six runs and 10 hits in four innings of Boston's victory in Game 1. "Whether they know things are coming, I don't want to use that as an excuse to say that's why they're hitting me."
Although Epstein called the cost of added scouts and expenditures "nominal compared to the big picture," Boston's big picture is a payroll of $160 million compared to $51 million for Colorado. Nominal, then, is a relative term.
"We made a slight change by rotating our advance scouts," Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "We have them present now - during series, at the beginning of series. So it's not just a piece of paper."
Replacing paper with people, said Varitek, created dialogue and brought the players into the process. Each scout could build upon the information already obtained. Two were in charge of looking at the Red Sox as an opponent would. There were 18 others who simply watched games on television, took notes, and added to the voluminous information.
Sox advance scouts blanketed the Rockies in the weeks before the series began - along with the Diamondbacks, Padres, Mets and Phillies. As Colorado made its improbable run to the National League pennant, one Red Sox scout was replaced by two new ones, who were then relieved by a couple more. They even sent people to the Instructional League to watch the rehab starts of last night's Colorado starter, Aaron Cook.
"For me, it's helped," said Varitek, the team captain.
Because of his position, Varitek also has more opportunity to implement the information. That was particularly helpful to last night's starter, Jon Lester, who was making his first start of the postseason and who had never faced anyone in the Rockies' lineup - at any level.
"I don't like information," said Lester. "Because then you start thinking about that stuff out there instead of just executing your pitches . . . I'm just going to mainly rely on 'Tek' and see what happens."
Here's what happened: Lester pitched in and out of trouble until he was relieved with one on and two outs in the sixth inning. He threw 92 pitches and allowed three hits, and left with a 2-0 lead. Two innings later, World Series MVP Mike Lowell pounded a 1-0 pitch into the leftfield seats for a 3-0 Boston lead. And the team that powered its way into this postseason playing near-perfect baseball was down to its last outs, wondering whether the guys on the other side were that much better, or that much more resourceful. *
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