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Ellsbury gets nod in center

Ellsbury gets nod in center

BOSTON -- His high-speed chase of a Casey Blake fly ball, which ended spectacularly -- in a wall-banging, pennant-clinching catch -- seemed to herald Coco Crisp's return to the Red Sox center field picture.

Instead, it will keep him on the bench.

Crisp's left knee felt fine on Monday, but he will not be in the Red Sox's lineup for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday, said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Instead, rookie Jacoby Ellsbury will make his third consecutive postseason start.

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"And part of that is Coco banged himself pretty good the other night," Francona said on Tuesday. "He was actually unavailable for most of our workout today. He's getting treatment."

In four simulated innings against possible Game 4 starter Jon Lester on Tuesday, Crisp took batting practice, with his final swing produced a bounding ground ball up the middle of the infield. He ran gingerly around the bases before returning to the home clubhouse, declining a reporter's interview request.

"He's not feeling real good," Francona said. "Not to the point where we'll take him off the roster, but probably to the point where we -- it made a very difficult decision maybe not quite as difficult."

Ellsbury, who played center field during Oregon State's run to the 2005 College World Series, will play the same spot for the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series.

It's been a quick ascent for the 24-year-old from Madras, Ore., the first Native American of Navajo descent to play in the Majors. Ellsbury hit .353 in 116 at-bats in his first Major League tour. When Crisp struggled through a 3-for-16 stretch in Games 1-5 of the American League Championship Series, it was Ellsbury who started Games 6 and 7, going 2-for-8 while playing a dazzling center field.

"What he brought was pretty much the same thing he brought in the month of September -- a speed factor [and] a much more mature attitude towards the game."

With fewer than 130 at-bats this year, Ellsbury won't even qualify for Rookie of the Year voting until 2008.

"[Assistant to the GM] Allard Baird described it in Spring Training as having survival skills," Francona said. "And I think what he meant by that is, [Ellsbury] is not just here to be on the ride, or ... at the party. He's here to win. And for a young player, that's kind of rare. For us to put him in Game 6 [of the ALCS] after not playing, I think that shows the amount of confidence we do have in his ability to compete."

With rest in Game 1, Crisp could still return to center field during the World Series as a defensive replacement and potentially as a starter. His switch-hitting stance offers a bonus in a prospective Game 5 against Colorado southpaw Jeff Francis. Still, the left-handed-hitting Ellsbury hit .346 in 26 at-bats against Major League southpaws.

Crisp, a Gold Glove contender in center, could also prove valuable when the Series moves to Colorado's cavernous Coors Field.

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"It's very deep," said Red Sox reliever Javier Lopez, who pitched for the Rockies from 2003-05. "It's going to be very important. It's a big outfield."

Having said speedsters Ellsbury, Crisp and right fielder J.D. Drew, who can cover a lot of ground, is a big plus, added Lopez.

Still, Ellsbury has shown himself more than capable of covering that ground. There remains little chance that the Red Sox will choose to start both Ellsbury and Crisp in future World Series games.

"Maybe late in the games, with the defense," first baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "But I don't see [left-fielder] Manny [Ramirez] coming out of the lineup, or J.D. So we're pretty good with the guys we have out there."

Jonathan Papelbon threw the pitch that ended up in Crisp's glove on Sunday night. On Crisp and Ellsbury, Papelbon wasn't mincing words on Tuesday.

"They're going to be huge," he said.

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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