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Close Call

It's probably a little silly to question Red Sox Manager Terry Francona these days given the unprecedented success the franchise has seen since he took over before the 2004 season. But he came dangerously close to resembling former field boss Grady Little during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

It was Little, of course, who waited too long to remove a tired and at that point ineffective Pedro Martinez during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. The Yankees rallied, and Little was fired.

But last night it was Francona who stuck with his starter too long. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched beautifully between the second and sixth innings, had just worked out of first-and-third, no-out situation in the top of the seventh inning. He had thrown 107 pitches, 27 of which came in a ridiculous first inning when he walked the bases loaded but still managed to get out of it. The Red Sox held a tenuous 2-0 lead and it was at that point that Francona should have pulled his starter. He didn't.

Bad move. Or should I say non-move? Dice-K gave up a pair of singles within his first eight pitches of the eighth inning. Francona summoned Hideki Okajima from the bullpen, and Okajima received a huge break when the Rays' Carlos Pena swung at a 3-0 pitch and flied out to short right field. Rookie Justin Masterson was then called upon and induced a double-play ball by Evan Longoria, saving the game for the Red Sox and saving Francona from some unfair comparisons.

By Tom Heleba  |  October 11, 2008; 10:08 AM ET
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Next: Another View of the Eighth Inning


Natsfan1a, Nattybumpo - Not that I would encourage you to root against the Red Sox, but the NYY ownership lives in the Tampa Bay area, their spring training is also in the area, and a lot of the management other than Cashman is based out of there. While they would feel some short-term joy in a Sox defeat, I think the long term grating of being around gloating nouveau baseball fans would be a form of torture for them.

I'm sure the NAts middle infield prospect, the AG, would disagree that this is torture. More like a "stress" position.

Posted by: PTBNL | October 11, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Tom - I expected Dice-K to be yanked too because of the "dicey" 7th and the long wait between innings. However, I also thought he looked strong and could go 120 pitches. That is a heavy load compared to AL regular seasons, but in the playoffs he is lined up to get more Japan-like rest between starts. He had an extra day since his ALDS start and will have an extra day before game 5. I think the number of pitches might be less of a factor than it would have been in August.

Tito said he had all his relievers ready for the 8th. He said he wanted the righty face Upton, with Okajima available for Pena. Maybe Masterson for two, Okajima for Pena, then Papelbon for the rest would have been the push-button approach. My guess is he thought Dice-K had handled Upton well that night and he could get by OK if only one of the first two guys got on. He could then match up Okajima with Pena without Pena being the go-ahead run, and use Masterson to get out of the inning. As it turns out, he was be able to throw Papelbon just one inning yesterday so he could go two today and have an off day coming up.

As long as you are second guessing, how about giving Pena the green light on 3-0? I think the Red Sox and Varitek figured he'd be swinging and threw him either a change or a breaking ball on 3-0 and got him to miss it slightly and fly out. Pena works a walk, then even a ground ball double play by Longoria plates a run and you have Crawford up with a runner in scoring position.

Posted by: PTBNL | October 11, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the info, PTBNL. Sounds like there is a shot at tweaking Yankees ownership/FO/fans no matter what the outcome of the series.

Posted by: natsfan1a | October 12, 2008 7:21 AM | Report abuse

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