Manager Grady Little spoke for the entire angst-ridden Red Sox Nation this week when he confided, "I find myself anxious when I wake up in the morning, thinking about the late innings" -- except that most Red Sox fans would substitute the word "ill" for "anxious."
Nearly three weeks into their much-debated closer-by-committee system, the Red Sox have seen one committee member (Alan Embree) go on the disabled list, another (Bob Howry) sent down with a 12.46 ERA and a third (Ramiro Mendoza) put on temporary hiatus while he irons out his mechanical problems.
Things have been so bad for the Red Sox that when one committee member, junior member Brandon Lyon, pitched a clean ninth inning Wednesday for only the team's third save in six tries, Little was ready to scrap the whole committee thing and make Lyon the closer -- even though Lyon is only 23 years old and was released by Toronto last year.
"We've been looking for a guy to step up," Little said, "and I saw a kid [Wednesday] night step up. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brandon up there again in the ninth inning."
But it is going to take more than one lock-down save to win the trust of Red Sox fans, whose biggest statement to date on the closer-by-committee concept came during pregame ceremonies for the team's home opener at Fenway Park. One by one, each committee member was introduced, and one by one each was roundly booed.
"The fans were just speaking their minds," shrugged right-hander Mike Timlin. "I'd be booing, too."
The creation of new general manager Theo Epstein and stats guru Bill James, the closer-by-committee works on the theory that the seventh inning can be just as important as the ninth inning, and that the role of the traditional closer is unnecessary in this age of matchup specialization.
However, some fans (as well as Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez) have criticized the committee concept as a bunch of stat-geek subterfuge designed to cover up the fact the team let Ugueth Urbina walk away via free agency, then failed to sign a replacement.
None of the committee members has had sustained success as a closer, which may wind up being the ultimate shortcoming of the committee and the statistical basis behind it: The success of a good closer has less to do with numbers and matchups than with intangible qualities such as guts and temperament.
Diamondbacks Dig Early Hole
Between the San Francisco Giants' torrid start and their own miserable one, the Arizona Diamondbacks at one point this week found a double-digit number next to their name in the games-back column -- an alarming development for the two-time defending NL West Division champs.
"There were a few times in the last week or so when I thought we were at rock bottom, that things would start to get better," Manager Bob Brenly told reporters after a particularly brutal 12-1 whipping at the hands of Colorado. "I think we're at rock bottom now."
According to the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune, the Diamondbacks are only the third team in history to be 10 or more games out of first place by April 15, the other two being the 2002 and 2003 Detroit Tigers.
Until Curt Schilling shut down the Rockies on Thursday night, the Diamondbacks had yet to get a win out of their dominant duo of Schilling and Randy Johnson, who went a combined 90-24 in 2001 and 2002.
Wright Resurfaces in San Diego
Jaret Wright, a hero of the pennant-winning 1997 Cleveland Indians as a rookie but a ghost the past few seasons, has turned up with the San Diego Padres, for whom he recorded his first career save this week.
Wright is only 27, but already has endured enough drama -- good and bad -- to fill a couple of careers. After starting two games for the Indians in the 1997 World Series, including an outstanding performance in a losing effort in Game 7 in Miami, he has been sidelined in recent years by arm injuries that required two surgeries.
But with Trevor Hoffman out until at least the all-star break, the Padres are giving Wright a shot at closing for them in the first half. . . .
The Florida Marlins' marketing department ran print ads in local newspapers just before a visit from the Atlanta Braves that read, "Come see batting practice with Greg Maddux and the Braves."
The Braves were outraged, but Marlins officials swore the ad was written before the season started and did not refer to Maddux's 0-3 start or 11.05 ERA at the time the ad appeared. Maddux responded by holding the Marlins to just two hits over six innings and collecting his first victory. . . .
Barry Bonds struck out seven times in his first 10 games this season; last year, Bonds didn't record his seventh strikeout until May 9. . . .
Hot prospect watch: Milwaukee Brewers first-base prospect Prince Fielder, their top draft pick last June, hit safely in his first eight games at Class A Beloit, posting a .444 average and .926 slugging percentage. Fielder, son of former slugger Cecil Fielder, doesn't turn 19 until May 9. . . .
The Seattle Mariners were missing two members of their bullpen last Sunday -- Arthur Rhodes and Giovanni Carrara -- because their wives were giving birth. Things got so dicey, Manager Bob Melvin was almost forced to use the previous night's starter, Joel Pineiro -- himself the proud father of a one-week-old son. . . .
Ticket sales for the Montreal Expos' real home opener -- the one in Montreal, as opposed to Puerto Rico -- have outsold projections and the team now expects a crowd of 35,000 or more at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night. . . .
Wasn't too hard to figure out what happened last weekend at Yankee Stadium: After Tampa Bay Devil Rays Manager Lou Piniella went on a profanity-laced tirade, media members found the corridor leading to the Devil Rays' clubhouse in total darkness. Piniella "was pretty hot," outfielder Al Martin told reporters. "I think all the lights in the tunnel were broken."
Asked about the broken lights, Piniella said, "I don't know anything about that."