- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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CLEVELAND -- Thanks to the new postseason format, there is a day off between Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS, which is convenient. It will allow Boston radio stations ample time to take all the calls from angry Red Sox fans who want manager Terry Francona fired for not starting Josh Beckett in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
Well, probably not all the calls. But if the Red Sox don't come back from a daunting 3-1 deficit to Cleveland, those stations will have all winter to field such calls. Those, along with the requisite calls about oh, how much Boston fans have suffered over the years. After all, has any other team ever gone a long, long time without winning a World Series? (Feel free to jump in on this one, Cleveland fans.)
Should Francona have started Beckett on three days' rest instead of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield? Well, look at it this way. With the obvious exception of Grady Little, managers generally have a better idea than the fans do about what their pitchers are capable of on short rest. Or as Francona said before the game when asked about it, "I can't believe somebody asked me that question."
How long have you been managing in Boston, Tito?
"I think what we considered," he went on, "was trying to put our ballclub in the best position to win the series, and there's a lot of different reasons why we feel like that. Some of it certainly concerns Josh, some of it concerns the guys behind him."
Plus, except for that little home run shower after Cleveland starter Paul Byrd tightened up waiting through Cleveland's seven-run, 12-batter, 35-minute fifth inning ("It's a good problem to have," Byrd said of the long wait), Boston's offense did absolutely nothing in the 7-3 loss, their second consecutive poor showing at the plate. And this time the Red Sox got beat by a pitcher whose old-fashioned delivery is missing only the old one-arm triple windmill.
So even had Beckett pitched a good game -- which is no given on short rest, even with the way he's been throwing -- the Red Sox might very well have lost the game anyway. And in that case, they would be facing elimination without Beckett available, and the same fans undoubtedly would be blasting Francona for panicking and starting him on short rest.
And speaking of those home runs, Manny Ramirez's home plate pose and leap into David Ortiz's arms after his homer made it 7-3 was the equivalent of a linebacker dancing after a sack while trailing by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Then again, Manny being Manny, he may not have known what the score was, or for that matter, even that his team was behind. And it still wasn't as inappropriate as the Red Sox blasting Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" at Fenway after Manny broke the "postseason home run record" during the middle of what was at the time a very close Game 2. The baseball gods do not like such in-game celebratory salutes to individuals -- think Dusty Baker handing Russ Ortiz the game ball as a souvenir when he removed him in the 2002 World Series -- and the Red Sox have been outscored 19-5 since then.
Besides, the problem wasn't so much starting Wakefield as taking him out. Wakefield cruised through the first four innings, holding Cleveland to one hit and striking out six (it's safe to say that Travis Hafner is not a big fan of the knuckleball). He gave up a leadoff home run to Casey Blake in the fifth, but he could very easily have gotten out of the inning without any further damage. And he probably should have. With one out and runners at the corners, Asdrubal Cabrera first hit a foul popup that first baseman Kevin Youkilis bobbled and dropped. Given new life, Cabrera hit a ball back to the mound that Wakefield attempted to spear. Instead it glanced off his glove for a run-scoring infield single.
"If I catch that ball, it's a double play," Wakefield said, reasonably assuming he would have been able to double Grady Sizemore off first base. "If I let it go, it's a double-play ball (to Dustin Pedroia). But it was just a ball that wound up extending the inning.
"If I catch that ball, I'm still pitching."
Wakefield struck out Hafner for the second out, then gave up a run-scoring single to Victor Martinez and Francona chose to go to reliever Manny Delcarmen to stop the bleeding. "In a regular season game we would have stayed with him longer," Francona said, "but in a situation we're in, in a playoff game, we want to stop it right there."
Unfortunately for Boston, Delcarmen immediately served up a three-run homer to Jhonny Peralta. That was the killing blow of the game. Not the decision to start Wakefield, nor the several balls that just dropped in for hits.
"Breaks happen," Jason Varitek said. "That's the great thing about the playoffs. What happens today doesn't matter at all the next day."
Exactly. What matters now for the Red Sox is winning Thursday. And they have some things in their favor. First, there is the knowledge from 2004 that teams can and do come back from big deficits. "A lot of the guys have been through this more than once and it does help," Varitek said. More importantly, there is the knowledge that Thursday's starter was the majors' only 20-game winner during the regular season and has allowed only two runs in 15 innings this postseason. Which is good considering none of their other three starters have gotten out of the fifth inning.
Now, if only they can find a bloody stirrup sock and get Cleveland to sign Alex Rodriguez before Game 5, they're in business.
"Hopefully," third baseman Mike Lowell said, "the day off will be the day the good karma goes our way, and we can come play for Game 5."
Oh, and it would also be nice if they stop giving up seven-run innings.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
14hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com