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10/15/2007 12:46:00 PM

ALCS: Stay up late

By Joe Lemire

Forgive me, Tom Mastny.

In breaking down the playoff pitching staffs before the series, I wrote that the Boston and Cleveland bullpens were evenly matched, save the difference between the closers. But somehow I omitted Mastny.

Sure, the right-handed Mastny posted a 7-2 record this season but it was a pretty unremarkable year for the guy, who scraped by with a 4.67 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. Though the 26-year-old had been on the Indians' roster since the beginning of the season, manager Eric Wedge -– with good reason, mind you -– had bumped Mastny from his role behind Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez in the setup chain of command in favor of Jensen Lewis, just 23 and with 29.1 career innings under his belt. Those were, however, 29.1 career innings of 2.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP pitching.

So out trots Mastny in the bottom of the 10th on Saturday night, Wedge having already used Lewis earlier in the game. His mission: keep the game scoreless until the 11th when Eric Gagne, who has been nothing of a disaster for Boston, takes the hill. Oh, did I mention that Mastny had to face David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell?

Quick statistical interruption:

This season the heart of the Red Sox's order (i.e. Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell) batted .318 with a .409 OBP, 76 HR, 325 RBIs.

In the playoffs, before Mastny's 10th inning, the trio was batting .537 with a .512 OBP, 6 HR, and 22 RBIs in five games. And don't forget that Ortiz and Ramirez didn't make an out in 10 plate appearances in Game 1.

Yet, with all that going against Mastny, he retired them easily in the most pressure-packed of situations, with a grounder and two fly balls. He even fell behind Ortiz with a 3-1 count and Ramirez 2-0, the big sluggers perhaps trying too hard to end the game with one swing.

A lot of ink and megabites have been devoted to Gagne's meltdown and, yes, Betancourt pitched a spectacular 2.1 innings of relief earlier in the game -– longer than any of his 68 regular-season outings -– but it was Mastny's scoreless 10th that put Cleveland in a position to win the game, tie the series and put serious pressure on the Sox to win tonight.

As much as a Game 3 can be a must-win game of a 1-1 best-of-seven series, tonight is just that for the Sox because of Tim Wakefield. The Boston Globe's Gordon Edes writes that the Sox will pitch Wakefield no matter what in Game 4. After Josh Beckett threw 80 pitches in his Game 1 win, there was speculation he might return on three days' rest -– a la Game 6 of the 2003 World Series -– to pitch in ALCS Game 4, which would set him up to also pitch Game 7 on normal rest.

Wakefield hasn't pitched since Sept. 29, just had a cortisone shot in the back of his right shoulder and was hurting too much to even be put on the ALDS roster. On good days, he's the best No. 4 starter in baseball; on bad days, well, those are really bad days. Of course, with the right Lake Erie breeze tomorrow night, maybe the knuckleball will be dancing around like he never stopped pitching, but he's facing the ever-steady Paul Byrd who showed again against New York that he's the type of pitcher who'll usually be good enough to win.

If the Sox win tonight, they are almost playing with house money in Game 4. As long as it's 2-2 entering Game 5, the series becomes a best-of-three with Beckett pitching, followed by two home games.

Of course, this all may be moot: the Rockies won't ever lose again.

  • Saturday night's -– excuse me, Sunday morning's -– game-winning hit came from Trot Nixon against his old team.

  • This fall has been a good return for Kenny Lofton to the Tribe.

  • Frank Mancini still works in the Cleveland clubhouse. He's the trusted Friend of Manny that Ramirez insisted come with him to Boston as a free agent. The Sox were willing but Mancini declined.

  • Dan Shaughnessy writes about the length of Game 2, complete with a blatant shot at Curt Schilling.

  • It's another big start for Dice-K, who made his name in big games in Japan.

  • The Indians are best late in games, writes the Plain-Dealer's Terry Pluto.


    posted by SI.com | View comments |  
  • Comments:

    Even if Beckett would win tonight (if he pitches and loses, the Sox would be finished), let's not get too far ahead of ourselves and think about a game seven. Let's look instead at games five and six. The game five starters would likely be Sabathia v. Wakefield, which is likely a disaster for Boston. The only other option is Schilling, but I think we can agree that he's just not up to that. Now you've got to ask yourself, can Boston afford to trade the next two games -- taking the Beckett win in four, but giving up five to Sabathia -- or do we want to give our offense a chance to win us both of them. It's that simple, Francona is giving Boston a chance to win both of the next two instead of playing for the split. Kudos to Francona for sticking with his decision.
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