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Francona has stacked 'pen for Game 7

Francona has stacked 'pen for Game 7

ST. PETERSBURG -- In the hours leading up to Sunday night's Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was prepared to have his pitchers fighting for seating space in the bullpen.

Aside from Game 6 starter Josh Beckett, Francona anticipated having every other pitcher on his roster at the ready against the Tampa Bay Rays.

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"That's a pretty safe bet," said Francona. "Yeah, there will be all hands on deck."

So in addition to the usual bullpen of Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Mike Timlin and Paul Byrd, Francona also planned on having starters Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield at his disposal.

Matsuzaka threw 82 pitches in Game 5 on Thursday and had two days of rest coming into Game 7. Wakefield, the knuckleballer, threw just 44 pitches in his loss in Tuesday's Game 4, so he came into Sunday with his four days of rest.

Though Matsuzaka and Wakefield haven't been used as relievers all season, both have experience out there. Matsuzaka did it in two postseason games during his years with the Seibu Lions, and the 42-year-old Wakefield has done it numerous times in previous Octobers.

Of course, Francona's top choice would be to have starter Jon Lester go deep into the game and then be able to hand off to his top three relievers -- Papelbon, Okajima and Masterson.

Papelbon, whose velocity was in the low 90s in Game 6 instead of the usual 95 or 96 mph, admitted after the game that he's a little beat up. But both Papelbon and the Red Sox both feel that's more a symptom of the situation, and that virtually every pitcher on both teams is in the same state.

Even without the usual zip, Papelbon, who has never allowed a run in 25 postseason innings, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the save in Game 6.

"I didn't have my good fastball, my A-plus fastball, no," said Papelbon. "But I had my A-plus mind-set. It's a Major League Baseball season, [and] this is nothing new to me. The aches and pains are nothing new to me. For me, in these times, if I don't have my A-plus fastball, I better have my A-plus mental approach and my A-plus head-set."

Since Papelbon's right shoulder woes late in the 2006 season, Francona has taken every measure to make sure the team doesn't over-use the closer. That is still the case, even amid the desperation of a Game 7.

"He understands his responsibility pretty well," Francona said. "I don't know that you can get to this part of the year and have guys be fresh as a daisy. It just doesn't work that way sometimes, especially when you're trying to climb back. We know where we are. [Pitching coach] John [Farrell] and I spent a decent portion of the afternoon talking about where we are. We'll let the pitchers go out like they do every day and we'll get one more assessment of how they feel and then we'll map out the game."

Ian Browne 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" ] }