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Counting Pitches For Game 7 Edge

As soon as the final out of Game 6 was in Kevin Youkilis' glove at third base, analysts across the country were racing each other to reflect on the drastic shift in pressure from the shoulders of the Red Sox to the less experienced haunches of the Rays.

They're right, of course. As much as Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon may try to convince his team that, "If you'd told us in Spring Training we'd be playing one game to make the World Series, we'd have taken it," as he told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci immediately after the game on TBS, the prospect of a final game 72 hours after the Rays expected to be sipping champagne will certainly be a shock to the system. And a wreck to the team's nerves.

Combined with two straight Red Sox wins, compelling for both dramatic comebacks (Game 5) and immediate response (Game 6), Boston seems to hace a sudden and distinct series edge.

All that analysis doesn't take the relative shape of the two teams' pitching staffs into account, a perspective which paints a different picture.

Starters Jon Lester (Boston) and Matt Garza (Tampa Bay) have both started one game in this series, with Garza distinctly getting the better of his home-parked opponent. Garza lasted a full six innings, holding the Red Sox to six hits and one run in Fenway Park, three walks and five strikeouts to his name. He left after throwing 113 pitches, 63 of them for strikes, and has had an extra day of rest to recover for Game 7.

Lester, of course, has also had an extra day off. He needed it after getting shelled for eight hits and five runs at home in Game 3. His struggles across his 5 1/3 innings actually did have one benefit for Lester: unlike Garza's 113 pitches, Lester only lasted 96, 60 of which were strikes.

So Lester will have a fresher arm, right? Not quite. Lester has thrown the sixth-most pitches in the major leagues this year, a drastic increase over his 2007 totals.

Even if Lester does hold down the Rays, Boston's overtaxed bullpen will have to find a way to shut down Tampa Bay again, for the third time in some 72 hours. To call the Red Sox bullpen "fatigued" would be a serious understatement. Lefty Hideki Okajima, traditionally a one-run specialist, has worked four innings in two games, throwing 28 pitches in Game 5 and a whopping 32 last night. Jonathan Papelbon has worked three, with 38 pitches on Thursday and 8 in Game 6. Only Justin Masterson has been relative efficient in his pitch count, working an inning in both Games 5 and 6 with a total of 33 pitches.

Tampa Bay's bullpen is worn down, too -- both Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell worked in Games 5 and 6 and closer Dan Wheeler took the Game 5 loss -- but Maddon was able to keep a bullet in his gun in Game 6, saving Wheeler's arm another day with the Rays unable to grab a late lead. Wheeler threw 33 pitches on Thursday, but he's had two days to recover and try to re-focus his mental energy.

Add to both of those bullpens the teams' starters from Games 4 and 5 -- Andy Sonnanstine and Scott Kazmir for the Rays, Tim Wakefield (unlikely to be used under any circumstances) and Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Red Sox -- and the plot thickens even further. Anything is possible in a Game 7, but with both bullpens likely to see significant time -- Both Lester and Garza have had up and down results against an opponent they've seen plenty of -- Wheeler's rest could prove invaluable for Maddon's Rays.

Then again, he and his teammates will have to prove that they're over the Game 5 collapse. They couldn't quite make that leap in Game 6, and that has them right back under the microscope one more time tonight on TBS ... assuming they decide to show Game 7 from the start instead of skipping the first inning for a Steve Harvey Show re-run.

By Cameron Smith  |  October 19, 2008; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Rays , Red Sox  
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Next: Unexpected Relief

Comments

Cameron - Manny Delcarmen was unused and has had some pretty effective streaks, too (although hit in this series). For sake of argument, he and Masterson probably compare favorably to Wheeler and Balfour in terms of rest.

Speaking of rest, didn't it seem like Papelbon's velocity was down last night? Maybe 'Tek had saved the offspeed stuff for late in the series (Papelbon had been using mainly fastballs all year to conserve pitches).

Posted by: PTBNL | October 19, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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