Chess Match: Boston nears checkmate

Chess Match: Boston nears checkmate

DENVER -- The switch to the National League ballpark certainly didn't rein in the World Series offenses at all, but it did up the degree of difficulty for the managers. Here's how some of the pivotal tactical moments unfolded.

Playing for one, getting a lot more
The situation:
Jacoby Ellsbury leads off the third inning with a double, bringing up No. 2 hitter Dustin Pedroia in a scoreless game.


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The decision: Pedroia puts a bunt down, hoping to get Ellsbury to third base with one out.

The outcome: Pedroia actually beats out the bunt for a base hit, giving the Red Sox men on the corners with nobody out. It mushrooms into a decisive six-run inning.

The analysis: It's definitely a good thing that Pedroia was safe. Three runs scored after the second out, which would have been the third out if he had sacrificed. Mostly, though, it's something of a dubious decision to play for one run in the third inning, especially with the heart of your order coming up and the chance for a big inning. If anything, the result of the inning showed that the right play was not to play for one run, but rather to play for the crooked number.

"They [Ellsbury and Pedroia] are on base like that, and then you've got to face the middle of our order. It created a lot of opportunities. We cashed in early." -- Terry Francona

Channeling Earl Weaver
The situation:
Entering the bottom of the sixth inning, the Red Sox hold a 6-0 lead.


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The decision: Slugger David Ortiz is removed for Kevin Youkilis at first base.

The outcome: Things got close, and it started to look like the Red Sox might regret having removed Ortiz's bat from the order. But the lead holds, and in the eighth, Boston adds on.

The analysis: The Red Sox play Earl Weaver baseball in a lot of ways, and one of them is the way Francona is willing to use offense-defense platoons. With the defensively challenged Ortiz batting third and playing first base, the Red Sox built a 6-0 lead. Once the offense had done its job, and after Ortiz got one last chance to bat in the sixth, Francona turned to his Gold Glove-caliber regular first baseman, Youkilis. It's exactly the way Francona would have drawn it up before the game.

"In our opinion, that's the right thing to do. Youk can handle himself out there. They'll be just fine." -- Francona

Stand by your man
The situation:
Boston leads by four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Mike Timlin has struggled, barely getting out of the sixth before allowing two hits to open the seventh. Matt Holliday is the hitter for Colorado.


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The decision: Eschewing right-left concerns, Francona goes to the man who has been his best pitcher in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon -- lefty Hideki Okajima.

The outcome: Holliday hits another huge home run, drilling a three-run shot to center that cuts the lead to a single run.

The analysis: Leaving Timlin in was a non-option. He got two outs in the sixth, but both were absolute screamers, and when he followed that by allowing two hits, it was time to get him out. Once that decision was made, the question was who comes in for him. And Okajima, despite conventional left-right thinking, was the best choice. He actually had a reverse platoon split this year, and Holliday has never had more than negligible right-left splits.

As much as anything, the sequence highlights an issue with this Red Sox team -- a limited number of relievers whom Francona trusts. It's pretty much Papelbon, Okajima and sometimes Timlin.

"Oki came in, threw a first-pitch changeup, [and] Holliday hit it a long way. He's done that to a lot of people this year." -- Francona

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