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Instant Replay: The Rays' Green Light District

Dave has rightfully spent plenty of time here today questioning Terry Francona's logic in sending Daisuke Matsuzaka out to start the eighth inning last night in Tampa Bay. Still, the Rays own manager is due some of the same retrospective skepticism after two key moments in the Red Sox's 2-0 win, both times when he failed to flash up a single sign: the take.

In both the bottom of the sixth and bottom of the eighth, Joe Maddon decided against having two of his sluggers watch pitches in a 3-0 count. In the sixth, Evan Longoria watched three straight balls outside of the zone before popping out in foul territory. In the eighth, Carlos Pena flied out to right after earning a 3-0 count of his own.

What's worse, both did so on borderline pitches that might have been called balls. Then again, maybe that's exactly the way Boston wanted it. Let's break the at-bats down further to see what the Red Sox pitchers were thinking:

Sixth Inning: Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching, Evan Longoria hitting. Bases empty with two outs.

-- Pitch One: Matsuzaka misses low outside with an 85 mile-per-hour slider. Ball one on a pitch that wasn't particularly close
-- Pitch Two: Matsuzaka misses inside high on an 84 mph slider. Clearly he's trying to keep Longoria on his toes by changing location as drastically as possible.
-- Pitch Three: Matsuzaka misses outside on a 91 mph cut fastball. Longoria watches the pitch go low, but it's barely low, just below the bottom of the strike zone.
-- Pitch Four: Matsuzaka throws a 92 mph fastball on the top outside edge of plate which slides along the top edge of the strike zone. Longoria is caught behind the pitch, swings under it and pops out in foul territory in right field for out number three.

Verdict: It's hard to give Matsuzaka too much credit for Longoria's shortcomings, but he deserves a tip of the cap nonetheless. With Longoria still recovering from a fairly serious wrist injury, he's been sitting back waiting for fastballs. By starting with a pair of offspeed pitches, Matsuzaka still gave Longoria plenty to think about by changing location drastically. When he finally gave in and threw a fastball, he started inside low -- a pitch that could have been called a strike -- and then caught Longoria off guard by putting his next fastball as high as he could while keeping it in the strike zone. The fact that Longoria swung under it means he was probably looking for it to be lower, closer to where the previous pitch came in.

Eighth Inning: Hideki Okajima pitching, Carlos Pena hitting. Men on first and second with no outs.

-- Pitch One: Okajima misses outside low with a 77 mph curveball. Pena never looked like he was taking the bat off his shoulder.
-- Pitch Two: Okajima misses outside high with a 77 mph curveball. Again, no sign that Pena's biting.
-- Pitch Three: Okajima misses outside high with a 75 mph curveball. At this point Pena clearly isn't chasing the curve. He watched three pitches and didn't look like he was close to swinging at any of the three.
-- Pitch Four: Okajima throws an 88 mph fastball high along the outer edge of the strike zone. Pena gets under the pitch and pops out to right field.

Verdict: This one's on Pena. The power hitter was clearly sitting on a fastball, and he got one. Not only did he get the pitch he was looking for, Okajima -- unlike his countryman and teammate Matsuzaka -- was pitching to the same edge of the plate. He only threw one pitch low before going high three times in a row, yet still managed to get Pena to get under his offering ... on a pitch that might have been ball four.

So what can we make of Friday night's green light fiesta? Well, Okajima was definitely the Red Sox pitcher who had a "get out of jail free" card tossed his way by Pena. While Matsuzaka may have been lucky to get away with throwing Longoria a hittable fastball on a 3-0 count, he set up the pitch.

Still, the results from those two at-bats should give Maddon plenty to think about tonight against Josh Beckett and the Red Sox bullpen. The Rays manager gave his hitters the green light periodically during the regular season, but will he keep doing it after getting burned in Game 1?

Stay tuned tonight at the Trop.

By Cameron Smith  |  October 11, 2008; 7:22 PM ET
Categories:  Rays , Red Sox  
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Next: Red Sox Without the Real Beckett

Comments

Cameron - you are right about the Okajima pitch - high outside corner fastball. I thought it had a wrinkle because he missed it so bad.

Posted by: PTBNL | October 12, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

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