10/09/2003 9:04 PM ET
Notes: Williamson emerging
Damon takes BP, still on track to start Game 3
NEW YORK -- Pardon Red Sox manager Grady Little for feeling a little envious when he walks past the Red Auerbach statue at the Boston tourist-haven known as Quincy Market.
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Though Little's bullpen has been markedly more stable during the playoffs than it was all regular season, the manager isn't yet ready to start celebrating before the final score is official, like a former Celtics' coaching legend was famous for doing.
"There's a guy sitting on the bench over there at Quincy Market, (and) he used to light cigars when he had the game in hand," Little said. "I haven't really gotten to where I'm lighting any cigars. We do have a little bit more confidence right now though. These guys are doing a great job, and that, too, becomes contagious."
As thrilled as Little is at the way his relievers have cranked it up in the playoffs (two wins, two saves, 0.93 ERA in six games), the lumps his team took during the regular season still stands out.
"It's taught me that when I go through the winter and go into Spring Training, I want to have a closer, to tell you the truth," Little said.
The good news for Little is that it appears he already has one.
His name is Scott Williamson. The right-hander, acquired on July 29 from the Reds, has shone brightly in these playoffs. Williamson won Games 3 and 4 against Oakland in the Division Series, and then pinned down a 1-2-3 save against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS.
"This is the pitcher we traded for that we're seeing in the playoffs," said Little. "Three weeks or a month ago, he had a lot of extra baggage he was carrying around with him, and all that he seems to have gotten rid of. Right now, he's the man we want on the mound."
Williamson got his first chance to close exclusively this year for the Reds, saving 21 games in 26 opportunities while posting a 3.19 ERA.
The hard-throwing right-hander would love to get the chance to perform last-call duties for the Red Sox in Spring Training.
"I'd love to have that opportunity," Williamson said. "Ultimately, it's up to Grady and (GM) Theo Epstein to decide who they want. I'll worry about that when the time comes. You're either the hero or the goat. You need to be a person who can do that, and take failure. If you can deal with that, it makes the job a lot easier."
Though it was perceived that Epstein was trying to be radical by going into last spring with a closer-by-committee, he says it was a matter of circumstance.
"You always want to have a closer," Epstein said. "You always want to know who your closer is. The reason we didn't (last offseason) is because of availability. There's no such thing as building a perfect club. Given the credible options we have now, that's something we'll certainly be able to accomplish."
Leading those credible options is Williamson.
Damon improving: Center fielder Johnny Damon, now three days removed from suffering a Grade 2 concussion on a collision in Oakland, is still hoping to start Game 3 on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
He took batting practice before Thursday's game.
"I'm feeling pretty confident that Saturday is going to be the day," Damon said. "Of course, what would help out is if we could win tonight and make me not have to rush back. I'm definitely sleeping more than I ever have in my life. I'd much rather be up and playing."
The past two seasons, Damon has been one of the Boston players most willing to play with an injury.
"I've always been the type of player who has gone out when I'm not 100 percent," he said. "If I'm a little bit better, I'll definitely be in the field. But I haven't worked out yet. I have to see if the headaches come. Of course, no one wants to play with a headache, but if I have to, hopefully the trainers will have the right medicine for me."
Walker on the bench: Little had no reservations about starting Damian Jackson at second base and keeping Todd Walker (four homers in the postseason) on the bench at the start of Game 2.
The reason? Jackson's range at second base could not be overstated with sinkerballer Derek Lowe on the mound. When Lowe is pitching a good game, an enormously high percentage of his outs are on the ground.
Jackson was at second for nearly all of Lowe's starts the last few weeks of the season.
"We're going with something that's been well discussed with all the parties concerned and that's what we feel like gives us the best chance to win this game tonight," Little said. "It's not like Walker's not going to be at the ballpark just because he's not starting the game. He'll certainly be available for the game and come off the bench and play later on."
Tip of cap to Timlin: Little wasn't irked at all that Yankees manager Joe Torre had the umpire check red-hot reliever Mike Timlin's hat during Game 1.
It was simply a sign of how utterly dominant Timlin was throwing the ball.
"When a guy is on a roll like this guy is, you try to do something to shake things up and you can't fault anybody for that," said Little.
Incidentally, when Timlin laughed at having his cap checked by umpire Tim McClelland, it was for a reason.
"He was telling Tim McClelland that he didn't want to take his hat off with that new hair-cut on national television," Little said. "He wanted them to check it with it still on his head."
Like most of the Red Sox players in recent days, Timlin got a closely-cropped cut, though he didn't shave his head clean like some teammates.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.