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10/15/08 2:44 AM ET

Chess Match: Sox 'pen taxed

Third straight short start puts relievers in a bind

BOSTON -- The Rays came out with a game plan for hitting knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Tuesday. The results put the Red Sox in a bind for managing their bullpen.

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The flip side of Tampa Bay's onslaught of nine runs or more in each of the last three games of this American League Championship Series was the damage it has inflicted on Boston's bullpen. Wakefield was the third straight Red Sox starter not to make it through the sixth inning, and it's taking a toll on the innings workload for the relievers.

After Tuesday's 13-4 Rays win in Game 4, the Red Sox bullpen could use a day off. Given the situation in the game, however, manager Terry Francona couldn't give them a breather Tuesday night.

Keep on running
The situation:
The Rays pounce on Wakefield for three runs in the first four batters thanks to back-to-back home runs from Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria.

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The decision: The Rays keep up the pressure on the basepaths against Wakefield, whose knuckleball makes him an easy target for stolen bases.

The outcome: Carl Crawford steals two bases -- third base in the opening inning, then second base in the third inning. Willy Aybar's two-run homer drives him home in the third.

The analysis: This was not an offensive effort fueled by running, but it was the best baserunning output all series from a Rays squad that likes to use its speed to create scoring opportunities. Whether that aggressiveness carries into Game 5 against Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka will be interesting to watch.

Call to the bullpen
The situation:
After a three-run first inning, Wakefield is back on the ropes in the third thanks to Aybar's two-run homer.

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The decision: After Dioner Navarro follows Aybar with a single, Francona makes the call to pull Wakefield and replaces him with Justin Masterson, who has been a big presence for the Red Sox in the middle to late innings.

The outcome: Masterson turns in some decent long relief, holding the Rays to a run over his 2 1/3 innings.

The analysis: Normally, it would seem like a situation for a traditional long reliever, but Paul Byrd had been used the night before. Given how heavily the Red Sox bullpen has been used lately, there weren't many fresh arms available.

The explanation: "We warmed [Masterson] up in the first. If we had gotten to [Jason] Bartlett [that inning], we were going to go to him. Once we got through that, he was the guy that was hot, and he was the guy [in the third] we felt could give us ... two-plus [innings], get us to a manageable part of the game. Again, it's not a very good situation, and he did a pretty good job. But again we were in a difficult spot." -- Francona

Delcarmen derailed
The situation:
Masterson keeps the Rays relatively contained for 2 1/3 innings before the Red Sox have to go back into the bullpen for the sixth.

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The decision: Francona goes to Manny Delcarmen, who hadn't pitched since Game 2.

The outcome: Delcarmen retires Fernando Perez to lead off the sixth, then gives up five straight baserunners, including back-to-back walks to force in a run.

The analysis: Delcarmen might well have been the trickle-down effect of the Masterson decision, leaving the Red Sox with limited options for the middle innings once Masterson kept them close.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.