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Posted: Friday July 11, 2008 12:17PM; Updated: Monday July 14, 2008 10:55AM
John Donovan John Donovan >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Francona has tough choice to make for All-Star starter

Story Highlights
  • The decision boils down to two studs: Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay
  • There is sentiment for going with Mariano Rivera, but that's not going to happen
  • A two-inning stint is considered a heavy workload for All-Star Games these days
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Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee allowed a total of four earned runs in his first seven starts this season.
Brad Mangin/SI
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I'm Terry Francona, the manager of the Red Sox, and I have a job to do. I have six starting pitchers on this team that I'm supposed to be managing next Tuesday night in New York -- the American League All-Stars, you know, Yankee Stadium, this one counts, home-field advantage for the World Series, all that stuff? -- and I have to pick one to start.

It might not seem like that difficult of a decision. I mean, you can probably knock four of those six guys out of the running right away, just because they pitch sometime next weekend. If I tried to bring any of them back to start Tuesday night, all amped up on short rest in front of a bunch of rowdy New Yorkers on national television, and someone got hurt ... well, I'd have some hacked-off fellow managers in my grill. These guys -- the pitchers and their managers -- don't like anyone monkeying around with their arms. They sure as heck aren't going to want to force the issue for an exhibition game. Even something called the Midsummer Classic.

I guess I could really throw a wrench into this process and -- as some New Yorkers have suggested -- pick a reliever to start. You hear all the talk about sending Mariano Rivera, the Yankees' closer, out there as starter? Kind of a sendoff to Yankee Stadium, they say. A tribute to the old park's last year. But that's crazy talk. Absolutely nuts. Ridiculous. Isn't it? Isn't it?

OK, it'd be pretty neat -- sorry, I use that word a lot -- with Mo walking into Enter Sandman at Yankee Stadium. Mariano certainly deserves all the cheers and the recognition. But that's a pretty unusual spot for him. And, if I use him there, I wouldn't want to go more than one inning with him, for sure. Joe Girardi would have my head.

No, if I want to get a good seat at the managers' table at the next winter meetings, I'd better not mess this up. Forget all the relievers. And forget Justin Duchscherer, who pitches for the A's on Sunday. Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir starts the same day, so he's off the board. Scratch the Angels' Joe Saunders, because he goes Sunday, too. And we can probably forget Saunders' teammate, Ervin Santana, who starts Saturday. I can use those guys. I just don't think I can start them. I certainly can't ride them for more than an inning.

Anyway, that leaves me with Cliff Lee of the Indians and Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays. Among starters, anyway. That's not a bad choice to have. A lefty, Lee, and the righty, Halladay. Lee is second in the league (to Duchscherer) with a 2.43 ERA, and he has 11 wins. He pitches Friday, so he wouldn't be fully rested, but he'd be close. Halladay is fourth in the league in strikeouts and first in strikeout-to-walk ratio. And he has a 2.88 ERA, sixth in the league. He starts on Friday against the Yankees.

Neither of those guys will be pitching in October, so their managers shouldn't be all that worried about me burning them out. And, the truth is, it's not like I'm out there to abuse anybody. My starter will throw two innings, at the most. Nobody does more than that these days. The last starter to go longer than that was ... hold it, let me punch up baseball-reference.com ... the Braves' Greg Maddux. He pitched all of three innings in 1994, allowing one run in the NL's 8-7 win.

When I last did this managing gig, back in '05, my starter, Mark Buehrle of the White Sox, had only two days of rest. He went for two innings and that worked out all right. So maybe it's not that big of a deal. Last year, Oakland's Danny Haren started for the AL on three days of rest -- he's on the National League team this year, with the Diamondbacks -- and threw 39 pitches over two innings. That was considered a heavy workload. Heck, Dice-K spends that on two batters sometimes.

Last year's NL starter, Jake Peavy, was on full rest and he went only one inning. Sixteen whole pitches. Nobody on the NL team threw more than an inning last year. So if I can get Lee or Halladay to give me two innings, max -- maybe I can get two out of each of them, because they're both going to pitch, whoever starts -- everybody's happy. None of those other guys has to throw more than an inning. They'll barely break a sweat. Some of them probably won't pitch at all. They'll be on a plane by 11 p.m.

Lee or Halladay? Halladay or Lee? Lee's never been on an All-Star team. Halladay has -- he's been selected four times -- but he's never started. And starting is an honor.

This game is kind of important, too, you know. I don't know what home-field advantage is really worth in the World Series. They tell me, statistically, it's not a whole lot. But, if we're there and I have a choice? Give me the first two games at Fenway Park.

I guess I ought to look at matchups a little, too. But, really, does it matter? These hitters can nick up anybody. They're All-Stars, for crying out loud. And when you have a couple of switch-hitters in the middle of the NL lineup like Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones -- did you know that the top three hitters in the game, by OPS, are all in the NL? -- I'm not sure matchups are going to make a whole lot of difference anyway. (Albert Pujols. He's the third one. With Jones and Berkman. If you're wondering.)

Lee or Halladay? Hmmmmm. Rivera, maybe? I'm kind of leaning toward Halladay, being the more experienced veteran and all. But Lee's been really good this year, and that would turn around Berkman and Chipper to their weaker sides.

I wonder if Clint Hurdle is going through this same thing. Brandon Webb? Edinson Volquez? Tim Lincecum? Maybe Brad Lidge? Hurdle has some figuring out to do. Plus -- I wasn't going to mention this -- his team hasn't won this thing in the last 11 tries. Not that anyone is counting.

Man, this is tough. This is a lot of pressure for an exhibition game. It's enough -- I'm going to beat you to this -- to make a guy's hair fall out.

I know one thing. I'll be glad when the second half gets here and all I have to worry about is Manny.

 
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