Notes: Ellsbury gets Game 6 start
With Crisp in funk, Francona turns to highly touted rookie
BOSTON -- It was a move that Red Sox manager Terry Francona first contemplated before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, only to reconsider and opt to put his faith in center fielder Coco Crisp for two more games. But Crisp never came out of his funk, and Jacoby Ellsbury took over in center for the Red Sox for Saturday night's Game 6.
Ellsbury, a speedy September callup who gave the Red Sox plenty of energy down the stretch, was excited to make his first postseason start.
"I come out here every day for this opportunity. I've just got to go out there, be relaxed and let it take care of itself," said Ellsbury. "You know, there's nerves, but I think that's good. It keeps you alert, it keeps you on your toes, and it's healthy."
Ellsbury went 1-for-5 and scored a run in Boston's 12-2 romp that forced a Game 7 on Sunday night.
Crisp, meanwhile, has gone into a significant tailspin, producing just three hits in 21 at-bats and going 0-for-12 in the three games played at Jacobs Field. For the entire postseason, Crisp is hitting .161 (5-for-31) with no homers and two RBIs.
Telling Crisp, a mainstay for the Red Sox the past two seasons, that he would not be in the lineup for a potential elimination game wasn't the most enjoyable thing for Francona to do.
"But we always try to do the right thing," Francona said. "I didn't expect Coco to jump up and hug me. If I was him, I wouldn't either. So we try to do it correctly and with respect and give him reasons why."
For not only is Crisp not hitting, but the Red Sox had an extremely inviting alternative to turn to in Ellsbury. The left-handed hitter, who was essentially an everyday player in September while Manny Ramirez was injured, hit .361 in the season's final month, producing three homers and 17 RBIs.
Ellsbury, 24, proved his mental toughness enough that Francona didn't worry about putting him in the lineup for such a crucial time.
"He's got a chance to be a great player," Francona said of Ellsbury. "He does a lot of things. He can really run. You can get a guy playing and maybe get some hits to help you. But when you get a young kid that seems to understand Boston, what every game means, that has a chance to make him an even better player."
Francona resisted the temptation to pull Crisp in Game 4, because he was 5-for-11 lifetime against that night's starter, right-hander Paul Byrd. And with lefty C.C. Sabathia pitching Game 5, Ellsbury was not an option for that game.
"You get to the point where I always talk about doing the right thing," said Francona. "I felt like this was in the best interest of the ballclub."
Sticking with Lugo: If anyone on the Red Sox has struggled as much as Crisp recently, it is shortstop Julio Lugo. But Francona opted not to go with Alex Cora in Game 6, instead sticking with Lugo.
"There was some temptation, actually," said Francona. "And the reason I didn't is that Lugo always has his speed."
It wound up being a good move, as Lugo delivered a key two-run double during the six-run third inning.
Matsuzaka eager for another chance: A lot was made of how long Daisuke Matsuzaka sat at his locker in apparent agony after losing Game 3. However, Francona, after speaking with his Game 7 starter, feels that people made too much of the pitcher's initial reaction.
"He just wanted to get it out of his system," Francona said. "He said, 'I didn't want to go back to the hotel sitting on this one.' He sat there -- and I know he was dejected -- but he went back there with Masa [Hoshino], his interpreter, and they watched the [National League Championship Series] game. He's excited. He just needed to process it. He was frustrated, he was disappointed and he just wanted to get out it out of his system so he could kind of start fresh, which is what he needed to do."
All hands on deck: Ace Josh Beckett figures to be the bonus weapon out of the Boston bullpen in Game 7, when he will be on two days of rest following his masterpiece in Game 5 on Thursday.
Francona didn't want to divulge his plans for Beckett before Game 6.
"We always discuss everything with everybody," Francona said. "The best way I can answer it is, I hope we're in a situation where we can discuss it."
By the time Game 6 had ended, there seemed to be a sense from within the clubhouse that Beckett will be ready to take the ball if needed.
"You have to bring everything you have," said Sox slugger David Ortiz. "I heard Josh, he wants to be in the 'pen [Sunday]. That's how it is. There's no tomorrow."
Mueller returns, Millar on deck: The Red Sox brought back one of the core members of their 2004 World Series championship team to throw out the first pitch for Game 6. It was none other than former third baseman Bill Mueller, who is now a special assistant to Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. Mueller, in fact, spent the latter part of 2007 as the interim hitting coach after Eddie Murray was dismissed.
Mueller earned an impeccable reputation during his three years in Boston, winning a batting title in 2003 and making his mark as the ultimate pro during his stint with the Red Sox.
When Dave Roberts delivered the historic stolen base for the Red Sox in Game 4 of that ALCS against the Yankees, it was Mueller that drove Roberts in with the game-tying single up the middle against Mariano Rivera.
And it was Kevin Millar who drew the walk to lead off that inning, before Roberts pinch-ran for him. Right on cue, it will be Millar, currently with the Orioles, who will throw out Sunday's first pitch.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.