10/06/08 1:39 AM ET
Chess Match: Faith in Aybar
Scioscia's decision to let struggling shortstop swing away is huge
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
There were a few, though, and here are some of the more intriguing situations that played out during the Angels' clutch 12-inning win at Fenway Park on Sunday:
Respecting the ace
The situation: Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, clearly laboring and with a pitch count closing in on 90, walked Vladimir Guerrero to load the bases with two out in the top of the fourth inning with the game tied. Up next: Torii Hunter, a career .455 (5-for-11) hitter against Beckett in the regular season.
The decision: Despite having a fresh Manny Delcarmen warmed up and ready to go, Boston manager Terry Francona sent pitching coach John Farrell out to talk to Beckett and kept him in the game.
The outcome: Hunter grounded into a forceout to end the inning on Beckett's 91st pitch of the game, but after striking out Juan Rivera on three pitches to open the fifth, Beckett gave up Mike Napoli's second homer of the game on pitch No. 94, giving the Angels a 4-3 lead. Delcarmen took over to start the sixth after the Red Sox tied it back up.
The analysis: Beckett, who was pushed back from Game 1 because of a strained side muscle, never looked like the dominator he's been in Octobers past. He frequently fell behind in the count and often seemed out of sync with catcher Jason Varitek, who had to visit the mound several times in the first few innings. Francona, however, gets a lot of respect from his players by showing faith in them during times of adversity, so it wasn't a surprise that he stuck with the proven playoff star.
The explanation: "They really made [Beckett] work ... but he looked healthy." -- Francona
The situation: Seventh inning, game tied, Jacoby Ellsbury draws a leadoff walk.
The decision: Francona eschews the sacrifice bunt and lets Dustin Pedroia swing away.
The outcome: Pedroia popped out to center field, Ellsbury got caught stealing, and after David Ortiz drew a walk, Kevin Youkilis struck out to end the inning.
The analysis: As one veteran Red Sox writer said, "Francona would rather eat hot coals than bunt," so Pedroia isn't often asked to do it. He's a big-time run producer, too, and Ellsbury actually had second base stolen; his pop-up slide took him off the bag and he was tagged out. Still, a successful bunt by Pedroia would have eliminated the need for Ellsbury to steal at all, putting the potential go-ahead run into scoring position with one out.
Explanation: "Dustin had a lot of extra-base hits this season; those are better than sacrifice bunts." --Francona
Save him for later
The situation: Ortiz draws a one-out walk in the bottom of the 10th and moves to second on Youkilis' single.
The decision: Francona, who has speedy Alex Cora available to pinch-run, leaves the lumbering Ortiz in the game.
The outcome: J.D. Drew strikes out, Mike Lowell walks to load the bases and Ortiz is stranded at third when Jed Lowrie flies out to right field.
The analysis: Some managers would have run for Ortiz as soon as he reached base. Even more would have run for Ortiz when he reached second. Francona, however, rarely runs for Ortiz, preferring to save his bat for later in case the rally doesn't pan out. This rally didn't, and there was Ortiz, still in the lineup, when his spot came up in the bottom of the 12th.
The explanation: "I like to keep my big guys in the game as long as possible." --Francona
The situation: One out, runner at second, top of the 12th inning, Angels shortstop Erick Aybar due up.
The decision: Halos skipper Mike Scioscia lets Aybar, hitless in 13 at-bats in the series, take his hacks.
The outcome: Aybar bloops an RBI single into center field
The analysis: Scioscia, who still had infielders Robb Quinlan and Brandon Wood on the bench, also could have batted for Aybar in the 10th. But as evidenced by the sacrifice bunt that got the go-ahead run into scoring position, Scioscia is more of a National League-style manager, so he tends to stick with the stronger defensive lineup when something's on the line. Quinlan, a third baseman, and Wood, a shortstop, clearly aren't as trusted with the glove under pressure.
The explanation: "I guess I am kind of an NL guy, but you need good defense in the AL, too. Especially in the playoffs. And Erick did a heckuva job." -- Scioscia
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.