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Foulke proves elite in saving Sox10/25/2004 8:09 PM ET
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Considering the way everything ended in the American League Championship Series, Mariano Rivera probably wouldn't be thrilled to learn that he was part of the inspiration behind the utter dominance of Red Sox closer Keith Foulke this October.
Quite simply, if not for Foulke's quality performance over a quantity of innings against the Yankees, the Red Sox never would have become the first team in Major League Baseball history to climb out of a 3-0 series deficit.
And they certainly wouldn't be leading this World Series, 2-0, if not for the way Foulke masterfully emerged from a precarious jam against the heart of the Cardinals' lineup in Game 1.
Foulke has always had the stuff to be a superb pitcher. He has a fastball he can spot with the best of them and a changeup that makes even the best hitters look bad.
But stuff alone isn't enough this time of year. Foulke learned that from the best. He learned it from the man against which all current closers are measured.
"I like watching Rivera pitch," said Foulke. "I've learned a lot from him. You never see him get flustered out there. You never see him have a lot of emotion while he's pitching. That's kind of the same way I go about it. When I'm on the mound, I have to be able to remain calm and be able to think. Watching Rivera and seeing how he does time after time, I've learned a lot from him."
Foulke knows that his team is a mere two wins away from getting one of those rings that Rivera has a collection of. Until then, he will remain largely oblivious to what his role has been in getting the Red Sox this far.
"I really try and think of it as just another game," said Foulke. "I'm trying to go out there and get my outs and help my team win. I'll sit down in November with a cold one, and I'll think about what went on. Right now, I don't want to get caught up in all the hype."
All Foulke has done for the Red Sox since the second season got underway is pitch 12 scoreless innings in nine outings. He has allowed just five hits while striking out 16. Opponents are hitting .119 against him.
While Curt Schilling winning Game 6 of the ALCS and Game 2 of the World Series on his gimpy right ankle might wind up the lasting image of this October for the Red Sox, Foulke's 100 pitches in a span of three days, in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the ALCS, should be right up there.
"I knew he was tough; I knew he was tenacious," said veteran Red Sox setup man Mike Timlin. "That's exactly how he's pitched. He pitches that way and it's awesome to see. We had talks in Spring Training. I didn't know him that well at that time. But he said, 'The more I throw, the better I throw.' That's pretty much what's going on right now."
It is all coming to light now, why, back in December, Sox general manager Theo Epstein made Foulke his plan A, B and C as far as acquiring a closer. The night the signing was consummated, Epstein spoke of the fact he wasn't just acquiring an All-Star closer, but "an elite pitcher."
Elite has been about the best way to describe Foulke's performance over these last few weeks.
Not that Sox left-handed setup man Alan Embree is surprised.
"He's a guy that loves to pitch," said Embree. "He's not your typical closer who wants just the saves. He doesn't need the saves. He just wants whatever it takes for the ballclub to win. If we're up by four or it's tied, and he has to come in early, he's willing to do that."
Embree and Foulke were members of the same bullpen with the White Sox in 2001. At the time, Embree was a little perplexed why Foulke wasn't getting the ball at last call.
"He was that consistent then," said Embree. "The White Sox's theory was that they wanted a hard guy at the end and Keith didn't fit that mold, and that's pretty much why he left. They traded him [to Oakland] for [Billy] Koch, and they got their hard thrower."
The A's got the better end of that trade, which is why Oakland GM Billy Beane tried so hard to keep Foulke last winter. But the Red Sox loosened their purse strings and got their elite pitcher.
"He makes Theo and company look that much smarter because they got the right guy," said Embree.
Foulke has proven himself to be a money pitcher on the grandest stage, showing the rest of the baseball world what the Red Sox have known for a while.
"My confidence is the same," said Foulke. "I believe I can pitch in this league. That's my confidence right there. It doesn't matter if it's the postseason or the first game of the season. I'll think about the postseason in November. Right now, I have a job to do."
It is a job just two wins away from completion.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.