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Terry Francona had shown that he understands that he may need his closer in the 8th inning rather than hooking his wagon to a lesser arm and "saving" Papelbon for the 9th. But what would Tito do if the game was on the line in the 7th inning? Is he truly on board with Jamesian bullpen usage?
David Ortiz's three-run home run in the 4th inning gave Boston a 7-4 lead that Josh Beckett carried into the 7th. He needed only five pitches to retire Nieves and Cabrera, but he gave up a single to Jeter. Abreu was up and if he got on, it would bring Slappy to the plate as the potential tying run. (Okajim and Donnelly had been up for a little bit.) Beckett pitched carefully to Abreu, but walked him (bcbfbb).
I'm cool with leaving Beckett (at 102 pitches) in to face Slappy (2-for-12 against him with 0 HR and 3 K). Ball 1, then two low pitches, one called a strike, the other a ball. Then Rodriguez lined a single to right, bringing Abreu home.
There was no sign of Papelbon through any of this. If the Slappy AB wasn't the most important point of the game, then Giambi at the plate right now was.
And in came Okajima. Giambi (bsbc) struck out swinging.
Okajima got Cano to start the 8th, then Timlin retired Phelps and Thompson on pop-ups. Papelbon took the 9th: PH Damon (bcfbbf) 6-3, Cabrera (bbb) walked, Jeter (bscbb) struck out swinging (Snuffer hitting 98 a couple of times), Abreu (f) flied out to center.
So Francona did not go to his best arm at the highest-leverage moment in the game, but he did hand the ball to Okajima. I'm guessing, but it seems like Francona believes that Okajima is the 2nd best pitcher in the bullpen. He got the call to save the game last night and he was brought in with the tying runs aboard today.
He didn't use Papelbon until the 9th, but recent evidence shows that Tito understands and is applying intelligent and progressive thought to his bullpen choices. This makes me very happy.
Jeff Karstens (3.80 in 2006) / Josh Beckett (1.50, 0.833), 4 PM
Karstens comes off the disabled list (right elbow tightness) to make his 2007 debut.