"Playoff Tito" is here.
While Daisuke Matsuzaka was at nearly 100 pitches after 4.2 innings and Boston trailed only 3-2, it was surprising to see Francona bring the hook that early.
Then, with two outs in the top of the eighth, he went to Jonathan Papelbon. The Sox had the 6-7-8 hitters up in the home half of the eighth, then the top of the order in the bottom of the ninth. Francona was aggressive, determined to shut down the Angels with his best arm and assume that the offense could break the 3-3 tie.
In May or August, Francona likely does not do either of these things. But this is October. So for the final 16 LAA batters, we saw MDC, Jeemer and Bot. Only the best of the pen. (While Timlin was up in the seventh -- right about (or after) MDC plunked Vlad -- I'll bet he would have been in the game only if the Angels had scored a run).
Brilliant work by Francona.
Matsuzaka's second inning was rough -- three hits, a walk, three runs (59 pitches through two innings) -- but Dice did settle down a bit after that. After Garret Anderson's double and baserunning gaffe at third, Matsuzaka retired seven of eight batters on only 22 pitches. Then Macier Izturis lined a single off Kevin Youkilis's glove (and Dice was slow to cover first). After Matsuzaka threw a wild pitch and walked Casey Kotchman, Francona was quickly out of the dugout. In retrospect, it was the exact right time to go to the bullpen.
In the bottom of the ninth, Julio Lugo got things going with a first-pitch single to left. And Boston was immediately aggressive -- Lugo running on the first pitch to Dustin Pedroia -- which was a grounder to short. All of which led to the free pass to David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez's moon shot.
The players still had to do their jobs, but Francona pushed all the right buttons last night. Some SoSHers thought Tito might have been too aggressive, wondering what would have happened had the game remained tied into the 10th and 11th. But it was clear that Francona saw a good chance to win the game and he did not hesitate, putting in Papelbon and then almost challenging the hitters to get a run.