New York Theo Epstein marched down from Boston Friday to give John Smoltz the bad news: “Sorry, kid. You haven’t got what it takes.”
Never mind that Smoltz is six years older than Epstein, has a World Series ring, a Cy Young Award and a pre-stamped ticket to Cooperstown either as a starter or a reliever.
The kid didn’t have what it takes on a Thursday night in August against the Yankees. So therefore, Smoltz is out, as in “designated for assignment,” which is baseball euphemism for you’re fired.
“We respect what Smoltz has done in his career,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said in announcing the move before Friday night’s Yankees-Red Sox game. “It just got to a point where we needed to make a change to help our team do better.”
As a result, the Red Sox promoted Junichi Tazawa, a 23-year-old who has never thrown a pitch in the big leagues. “He wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think he could do the job,” Francona said, the implication being clear: The Red Sox no longer thought John Smoltz could. At least not in these, the games that really matter to them.
And so, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, a beast that eats its young and its old, claims another victim.
Smoltz is not the first player to find his services no longer needed by one of the two teams immediately following a poor performance against the other, only the latest, and arguably, not even the most prominent.
That would be Joe Torre, who never recovered the trust of his employers or many of the fans after his team blew a 3-0 lead to lose the 2004 ALCS in seven games. He stuck around three more seasons as a dead manager walking.
And there are at least four other pitchers and one other manager whose tenure with one of these teams ended immediately following an epic failure against the other.
Grady Little sealed his fate the moment he allowed Pedro Martinez to take over management of the team just long enough for Petey to blow a three-run lead in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Three innings later, Aaron Boone finished off Little with a winning homer off Tim Wakefield.
In the same 2004 ALCS that put Torre on permanent notice, Javier Vazquez’s Yankees career ended when Johnny Damon, then a Red Sox, hit his first pitch out of the park for a grand slam. In 2005, Tim Redding — yeah, that Tim Redding — made his one and only appearance as a Yankee, bombing out in a six-run first-inning against guess who? In 2007, Chase Wright went from prospect to suspect after allowing four consecutive home runs to the Red Sox. He pitched once more in pinstripes and was never seen again.
And Friday, lost in the fine print of Smoltz’s release, was the name of Billy Traber, the Red Sox reliever who came in to allow Jorge Posada’s three-run homer. His name, too, was followed by the dreaded letters DFA.
For all the clubhouse-speak about how these Yankees-Red Sox games are no more important than any others on the endless regular-season schedule, it is obvious that both teams measure the value of their players, especially their pitchers and managers, by how well they perform against the other.
“These are important games we’re playing right now,” Francona said. He had no time to shed tears over a pitcher who could no longer help him win them.