Chess Match: Managers make mark
Francona, Scioscia match dugout wits with bold moves
ANAHEIM -- With two of the game's best managers matching wits, the American League Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox figures to be full of bold and second-guessable moves.
Game 1 didn't disappoint in that respect, and such moves came early and late. Here's a look:
Looking to get crooked
The situation: After Jacoby Ellsbury opened the game with a double off Angels ace John Lackey, the Red Sox had Dustin Pedroia at the plate and David Ortiz on deck. Boston manager Terry Francona had to decide whether to have Pedroia bunt Ellsbury over to third and give Ortiz an easier route to giving the visitors an early lead.
The decision: Francona let Pedroia swing away.
The outcome: Pedroia grounded sharply back to Lackey, forcing Ellsbury to stay at second base. Ellsbury moved to third when Ortiz grounded out on a ball that slid into shallow right field against the Angels' Big Papi shift, and Kevin Youkilis grounded out to end the inning.
The analysis: Had Pedroia sacrificed Ellsbury to third, Ellsbury would have scored easily on Ortiz's groundout. Had a healthy Josh Beckett been Boston's starting pitcher, perhaps Francona would have anticipated a low-scoring duel with Lackey, who nearly threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox this season, and made a different decision.
In this case, however, Francona played for a crooked number instead of a single run, a decision no doubt made easier with Pedroia -- 73 extra-base hits, 83 RBIs and only seven sacrifice bunts during the regular season -- at the plate.
The explanation: "We know that you've got to try to bury the opposing team as much as you can." -- Ortiz
Fresher arm beats Big Papi
The situation: After Angels right fielder Gary Matthews Jr. appeared to lose a looping liner off the bat of Ellsbury in the lights, Ellsbury was at third base with two out in the seventh and Pedroia due up. With the Halos' bullpen buzzing, Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent pitching coach Mike Butcher out to visit Lackey.
The outcome: Oliver struck out Ortiz to end the inning.
The analysis: Although Lackey's pitch count hadn't reached 90 prior to the walk to Pedroia, the conditions at Angel Stadium -- 81 degrees and muggy -- might have factored in Scioscia's decision. Lackey appeared to labor a little in his final two innings of work, and Oliver was the fresher pitcher. Also of note: Going into the game, Pedroia was 5-for-12 in his career against Lackey, while Ortiz was 2-for-9 against Oliver.
The explanation: "John pitched a great game, and I think it was important to give a different look with Ortiz in there, and Darren Oliver came up big." -- Scioscia
Let it ride
The situation: Nursing a one-run lead, Red Sox lefty starter Jon Lester struck out the side in the sixth inning, but it pushed his pitch count to an even 100, and the Angels had a pair of switch-hitters due up to open the seventh.
The outcome: Lester pitched a perfect seventh on 17 pitches and called it a night.
The analysis: This was a no-brainer for Francona, who simply kept playing his hot hand. But it also doubled as a big-time vote of confidence in Lester, who was Boston's best pitcher in the second half of the season. If Beckett, whose Game 1 start was pushed back to Game 3 because of a strained side muscle, doesn't return to form, Lester will need all the confidence in the world because he'll be formally recast as the Red Sox's ace.
The explanation: "It was nice to get the ball for the seventh, to be able to go back out there and get three quick outs again and get the offense back in the dugout." -- Lester
Welcome to October
The situation: While Lester was being congratulated in the Boston dugout, Francona had to decide which of his trio of setup men he'd use to open the eighth.
The decision: Francona, who mixed and matched with lefty Hideki Okajima and righties Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson in the eighth down the stretch of the regular season, went with Masterson, a rookie who was called up from Triple-A in July.
The outcome: Masterson gave up two hits in the eighth but kept the lead intact with help from Ellbury, who made a diving catch to open the inning, and first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who gunned down a greedy Vladimir Guerrero -- he was trying to go from first to third on a bloop single by Torii Hunter -- for the second out.
The analysis: A bold move by Francona, to be sure, throwing the youngster right into the fire in a close game on the road for his October debut. It paid off, though, allowing Masterson to get whatever playoff jitters he might have been feeling out of his system while keeping Delcarmen and Okajima available were the game to go into extra innings.
The explanation: "Sometimes it doesn't always work out. Fortunately we were the better team today." -- Masterson
The situation: Jed Lowrie on first after a leadoff single in the top of the ninth, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek at the plate, score still 2-1 in favor of Boston.
The decision: Francona orders Varitek, who didn't have a single sacrifice bunt all season, to drop one down.
The outcome: Varitek lays down a beauty to move Lowrie to second, and Ellsbury followed with an RBI single. Ellsbury then stole second and scored on a single by Ortiz.
The analysis: Yet another example of Francona showing faith in his players' ability to perform under pressure. In doing in the ninth what they didn't do in the first, the Red Sox ended up with the crooked number after all.
The explanation: "Tonight was our night." -- Ellsbury
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.