At some point in the playoffs, textbook managing has to take a backseat to creativity. Joe Torre, once Don Zimmer left, never really put that together, and tonight, we saw both sides of the picture.
On the one hand was Terry Francona. Facing a five-run deficit and with two on and nobody out in the seventh, Francona played his trump card. Knowing that the Red Sox had their back to the walls, Francona wasn’t going to go down without getting his best pitcher into the game. Shades of the 2003 World Series this was not.
In a way, the move backfired. Jonathan Papelbon allowed the two inherited runners to score, but he staunched the bleeding after that. He pitched out of a self-induced two-on, no-out jam and held Tampa’s offense in the 8th.
This risky Papelbon move wasn’t the only gamble Francona took. He had gone to Hideki Okajima, one of his other top relievers, in the fifth to keep Tampa quiet. Only Manny Delcarmen in the seventh dropped the ball. Meanwhile, with a few other relievers in the pen — including Justin Masterson, the eventual winner — Francona knew that he could buy his offense a few innings before he absolutely had to turn the game over to Mike Timlin, the Sox’s 25th man in the postseason.
Across the field, Joe Maddon was not so lucky. Up 7-0 with two outs in the 7th, Grant Balfour lost it. Then Dan Wheeler, throwing just 19 of 33 pitches for strikes, lost it, and finally J.P. Howell really lost it. As his pitchers struggled throwing for command and struggled keeping Red Sox off the bases, Maddon didn’t really manage for anything.
At this point, Maddon has to know that even up 7-1, a lefty should come into face David Ortiz. Maddon has to recognize that when Dan Wheeler struggles, you remove him before J.D. Drew, another lefty, comes up to the plate. Maddon has to overmanage game five of the ALCS even with a six- or seven-run lead because this is Fenway Park and these were the Red Sox, winners of two of the last four World Series. They’re not going to roll over.
In the 8th, I believe that the Rays should have turned the ball over to one James Shields. He’s held the Red Sox in check all season and could have pulled a Randy Johnson circa 2001 in getting the final six outs. Maddon wouldn’t have burned his game six starter because there would have been no game six.
Perhaps, a move like that would have represented something of a Hail Mary in a non-Hail Mary situation. After all, Tampa — 57-24 at home — lost two in a row in the Trop just twice all season, once against the Mariners in April and once against the Yankees in September. But with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on tap, if I’m Joe Maddon, I don’t take those chances. After all in 2004, after the Yanks roundly beat the Sox in game three, Boston came back to win not just one but two games they shouldn’t have won. There certainly were shades of 2004 haunting game five tonight.
If Tampa is going to win this series, they have to learn that when the Boston Red Sox in October show you their jugular, you go for it with all you’ve got.