10/26/07 1:01 AM ET
Chess Match: 'Pen mighty for Sox
Francona's aggressive use of relievers pays off
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
The situation: Curt Schilling allows a single and a walk with one out in the sixth.
The decision: The Red Sox call on top setup man, left-hander Hideki Okajima, to face righty-swinging Garrett Atkins, followed by lefty Brad Hawpe.The outcome: Atkins grounds out, and Hawpe strikes out on three pitches. The analysis: Francona managed aggressively and wisely, identifying an inning where the game was on the line and going to his best relief pitcher other than closer Jonathan Papelbon. Rather than being bound by the notion of Okajima as his eighth-inning pitcher, he called on Okajima for pivotal outs. Moreover, Atkins had a reverse platoon split in 2007 and has shown at most a negligible split over his career, so bringing in the lefty certainly was understandable against him. And Hawpe has been carved up by lefties all year. "If Okie doesn't throw as many strikes as he did, he wouldn't have been able to stay out there for as long as he did. But he was so good. His command was spectacular. And that set up the whole game." -- Francona Small ball in Beantown
The situation: With the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead, Jacoby Ellsbury leads off the sixth inning with a single. That brings up No. 9 hitter Julio Lugo.
The decision: Francona calls for the bunt.The outcome: Lugo's bunt isn't great, going right back to pitcher Matt Herges. Herges looks to second base, but Ellsbury is fast enough that Herges has no play and must go to first base. Ellsbury moves to third on a groundout and Kevin Youkilis walks, but the inning ends without a run when David Ortiz flies out. The analysis: The strategy, playing for one run, is defensible in a one-run game. The specific tactic is questionable. Given Lugo's rough season, it's understandable to try to make sure he gets the runner over. But given his speed, and that of Ellsbury, a double play is unlikely, so the bunt isn't really necessary. "We just try and do what we think is in our best interest to either score a run or win a game, and the way that the offenses were going, we needed to move some runners tonight. When you start matching up, they have some guys who can really match up. So one run can be really big. We did a good job of moving runners tonight." -- Francona Power on power
The situation: Two outs, bases empty, top of the eighth. MVP candidate Matt Holliday comes to the plate.
The decision: After 2 1/3 dominant innings from Okajima, Francona calls on his relief ace, right-hander Papelbon.The outcome: Holliday treats Papelbon like every other pitcher he faced on Thursday, hitting a laser-beam single through the box -- but then is picked off to end the inning. The analysis: Just as he did with Okajima, Francona manages aggressively with Papelbon. Against Colorado's best hitter, and a man who destroys left-handed pitching, the Red Sox wanted their horse in the game. Right call, even given the hit.
"That was our best-case scenario, the way it worked out. But Pap was going to face Holliday regardless. With their two fastest runners, keeping Okie out there could somewhat, hopefully, eliminate the running game. ... Because of how good Okie was, that worked out about as well as it could." -- Francona
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.