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Chess Match: Bullpen comes into play

Chess Match: Bullpen comes into play

BOSTON -- Arguably the biggest challenge for a manager in the postseason is knowing how to use the bullpen, not only who the strongest arm is, but how to play the opponent.

Game 2 of the American League Championship Series saw Indians manager Eric Wedge trust his gifted young lefty, Rafael Perez, against the heart of the Red Sox order instead of just David Ortiz. But Wedge also had the trust to go with Tom Mastny in the 10th inning and save closer Joe Borowski for a save situation that actually became a seven-run lead once Red Sox skipper Terry Francona had to go to the weaker links of his once-deep bullpen.

Raffy vs. righties
The situation:
One out, bottom of the fifth inning, Ortiz on first base and Manny Ramirez at the plate with the Indians up, 5-3.

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The decision: Though Ramirez hit 65 points higher against left-handed pitchers than right-handers in the regular season (.344 compared to .279), Wedge sticks with the red-hot Perez, who had allowed just a .213 average to right-handed hitters in 2007.

The outcome: Perez puts Ramirez in an 0-2 hole before the slugger leans out for a breaking ball and launches it deep to center for a game-tying two-run homer. Perez then remains in the game to pitch to the right-handed-hitting Mike Lowell, who puts Boston ahead with a solo homer over the Green Monster.

The analysis: The numbers gave Wedge many reasons to trust Perez, who struck out Lowell and Magglio Ordonez in the regular season and held Paul Konerko hitless (0-for-4). But if Perez isn't a conventional reliever, Ramirez certainly isn't your conventional hitter by any standard. Getting Fausto Carmona out of the game before Ortiz could get to him was obvious, but as tough as it is to use two relievers for two hitters in such an early inning, it would've been understandable.

"He puts the ball on the ground. He has that heavy sinking fastball and a slider that gets under bats to right-handers. With Ortiz up in that situation, obviously, we wanted to go left on left. And at that point of the game, because it was only the fifth inning, we were hoping he could do for us what [Hideki] Okajima did for them and give us a couple innings. Unfortunately, he really didn't have his slider tonight and it didn't work out. That's where Jensen Lewis and [Rafael] Betancourt picked us up." -- pitching coach Carl Willis, on Perez

Schill out
The situation:
Top of the fifth, two outs, runners on first and second for Ryan Garko with the Indians up two.


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The decision: With Curt Schilling needing one out, Francona pulls him to go in favor of another right-hander, Manny Delcarmen, to face the right-handed-hitting Garko.

The outcome: Garko grounds into a fielder's choice to end the inning and keep Cleveland from breaking the game open. That turns out to be critical in the next half-inning when Ramirez and Lowell homer to put Boston ahead.

The analysis: Given Schilling's place in postseason lore, both with Boston and Arizona, it's an odd sight to see him taken out in a critical situation. But this is an older Schilling, and as the Yankees showed, the Indians' lineup is capable of pouncing on a reeling pitcher. With Grady Sizemore having homered earlier in the inning and back-to-back singles from Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez extending the frame, it was time.

"Fifth inning, you're asking your bullpen to come in and throw zeroes against that team for however long it was going to take, and that's just not fair to them. This was all about me coming up small in a big game." -- Schilling, on his struggles

Brought in to run
The situation:
Top of the ninth, two outs, Hafner on first and Martinez at the plate facing Jonathan Papelbon.


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The decision: Wedge lifts the slugging Hafner for pinch-runner Josh Barfield, then gives him the green light.

The outcome: Barfield steals second without a throw. It puts the potential go-ahead run in scoring position, but it leaves first base open for Papelbon to intentionally walk Martinez. Papelbon then induces an inning-ending ground ball from Garko.

The analysis: It's a tricky decision between putting the winning run a hit away and giving a cleanup hitter a chance to win it. The Indians have faith in Garko, but he was a .233 hitter with runners in scoring position in the regular season. Assuming the slow-footed Hafner wouldn't score on a Martinez double, however, there's a good chance Garko would have come up with the go-ahead run still on base anyway.

"It's more about us being on the road and late in the ballgame. I mean, we knew we were running thin in our bullpen, and I felt like if we could get a runner to second base, we're one single away from taking the lead there. We were able to get Barfield there. I knew they were going to walk Victor, but in that particular matchup with Garko, I felt pretty good about it. He hit the ball hard. It's tough to get a ball past that third baseman from Boston, Lowell, he's one of the best in the game defensively out there. We just missed it, but you always have to work hard to try to win the ballgame. You can't be defensive about it, and you're not trying not to lose." -- Wedge, on the move

Not against Trot
The situation:
Top of the 11th, one out, runners on first and second for Barfield in Hafner's old spot, with Eric Gagne on the mound.


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The decision: Wedge pinch-hits with former Red Sox player Trot Nixon. Francona, in turn, lifts the struggling Gagne for sidearming-lefty Javier Lopez.

The outcome: Nixon formally puts himself on the dark side of Red Sox Nation with an RBI single, and the bottom drops out on Boston's bullpen for a seven-run Cleveland rally.

The analysis: Both decisions were intriguing. By pinch-hitting with Nixon instead of Jason Michaels, Wedge essentially forced Francona to take out the struggling Gagne. But while Nixon struggles against left-handed pitchers, Lopez was actually far better this season against right-handed hitters (.176 average and .561 OPS allowed) than left-handed ones (.293 average and .805 OPS allowed). The only other choice was Jon Lester, who has more traditional splits this year, but he was hit hard by lefties in 2006.

"We're trying to have an answer for whatever they did, and both teams had used a lot of players. Under the circumstances for how many pitchers we had gone through, we were actually pretty happy to have a left on left in that situation. It didn't work out very well." -- Francona, on Nixon

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

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{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }