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10/17/07 12:33 AM ET

Chess Match: To Wake or not to Wake

Sox's decision to go with knuckler may prove decisive in end

CLEVELAND -- The second-guessing for Game 4 was going on before Game 3, centering on Red Sox manager Terry Francona's decision to start Tim Wakefield rather than bring back Josh Beckett on three days' rest, and thus have Beckett available for a potential Game 7 on normal rest. For four innings, Wakefield and his dancing knuckleball silenced the critics with his pitching. Then the bottom dropped out, and not on his knuckler.

Before the game, Beckett declined to answer whether he could've started on short rest, saying simply that it's not his decision to make and that he supported Francona's choice. But Beckett has made just one start on short rest in his career, a seven-inning, one-run performance in 2004 for the Marlins. He made two relief appearances on short rest, including one in the playoffs back in 2003.

Once it was decided that he wouldn't do it this time, there were still plenty of moves to make, starting with Wakefield's first outing in 16 days and how hitters would adjust to him.

Switching up versus Wakefield
The situation:
Bottom of the first inning, nobody out, Grady Sizemore on first and Asbrubal Cabrera up.

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The decision: The switch-hitting Cabrera bats right-handed against the right-handed Wakefield. Two batters later, the switch-hitting Victor Martinez does the same.

The outcome: Both Cabrera and Martinez are retired their first two times at the plate, but they both hit RBI singles off Wakefield in the decisive seven-run fifth.

The analysis: The move to bat righty-on-righty against Wakefield is nothing new. Some switch-hitters have done it for several years under the idea that it's easier to see his knuckleball that way out of his short-armed delivery. Others have caught on as word has spread around. Hard to tell if it made a difference, but both singles from Cabrera and Martinez came on knuckleballs.

"You've got to give credit to the guys coming up later, some of the two-strike base hits, Asdrubal and Vic. Those guys were battling up there and came up with some huge hits." -- Blake, on Cabrera and Martinez

Herrrrrre's Jhonny!
The situation:
Bottom of the fifth, two outs, runners at first and second for Jhonny Peralta in a 3-0 game.

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The decision: Francona takes out Wakefield in favor of reliever Manny Delcarmen.

The outcome: Four consecutive Indians batters reach base safely, starting with Peralta's three-run homer and continuing with a Blake RBI single.

The analysis: Wakefield's darting knuckleball wasn't fooling anybody anymore besides Travis Hafner, and Francona went to the hard-throwing Delcarmen in hopes that the transition would overpower Peralta. Delcarmen was throwing gas, but it went right onto the fire that Wakefield left, making it a 7-0 Cleveland lead by the time he finally recorded the third out.

"The formula that we used tonight, bringing in Manny Delcarmen behind Wake, is something we've done a lot this year because just of the differential and the speeds giving hitters different looks. He fell behind 2-1, tried to go up and away, really elevated a ball that Jhonny caught up with. I know I'm stating the obvious, it's a big blow in the game. If we can stop the bleeding right there, it certainly gives us a much better chance." -- Francona

Nothing personal about the catcher
The situation:
Middle of the sixth with a 7-3 Indians lead after Coco Crisp flies out to end the top of the inning, with Jason Varitek on deck to pinch-hit.

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The decision: Francona inserts Varitek to catch, thus ensuing that he'll lead off the top of the seventh.

The outcome: Varitek catches a scoreless sixth, then slaps a single through the left side leading off the seventh. He's retired two pitches later when Julio Lugo hits into a double play.

The analysis: If it were a one- or two-run game, maybe Francona would've had a reason to give Mirabelli another half-inning behind the plate and pinch-hit a traditional leadoff man such as Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom half. But down four runs in the seventh, the Red Sox simply needed hits and runners, not run manufacturing.

"We still came back with a lot of energy and swung the bats the next inning, but we really dug ourselves a big hole." -- Francona, on rebounding from the fifth

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.