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Chess Match: Late moves crucial

Chess Match: Late moves crucial

ST. PETERSBURG -- What seemed like an American League Championship Series opener almost devoid of strategy early on -- while Daisuke Matsuzaka kept the Rays devoid of hits -- became a closely matched effort of execution the longer the game went with the score still low.

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The decisions made earlier in the game suggested the teams knew runs wouldn't be in abundance. The resulting performances from Matsuzaka and Rays starter James Shields proved them right. In the end, the Rays needed a big hit, and Boston's dominant bullpen didn't allow them one after Tampa Bay put Matsuzaka in trouble to end his outing in the eighth.

Playing for no more
The situation:
Jed Lowrie's fifth-inning sacrifice fly drives in the game's first run and moves Mark Kotsay to third with one out for Jason Varitek.

The decision: Rays manager Joe Maddon plays the infield in, hoping to keep Kotsay at third on any ground ball.


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The outcome: Varitek hits a sharp grounder that second baseman Akinori Iwamura smothers between second and first. Kotsay stays put, then Shields retires Jacoby Ellsbury to end the inning with one run allowed.

The analysis: Not much debate here. Varitek was 1-for-11 lifetime off Shields heading into the at-bat, and only one of those outs came on a fly ball. The way Matsuzaka was pitching, both sides could already tell it was going to be a low-scoring game.

The explanation: "It was really a well pitched game on both sides. Our guys did a good job. It was a clean game. It was a good game. There was not a lot of hitting, but they just got the couple runs, and we had some opportunities and were not able to take advantage of them." -- Maddon

The shifter, not the shiftee
The situation:
Matsuzaka has a no-hitter going with one out in the sixth when Carlos Pena steps to the plate.


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The decision: The Red Sox, who normally see opposing teams shift their infield to the right side against slugger David Ortiz, pull the same shift against Pena, as they've done before. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia moves into short right field.

The outcome: Pena hits a sharp grounder seemingly heading towards the gap in right-center field, but Pedroia makes a sliding stop and fires to first for the out.

The analysis: Other teams have done the same thing on Pena this season, so it wasn't altogether surprising that the Red Sox would use it on Pena this night. The play that Pedoria made thanks in part to his positioning was more impressive.

Crawford corraled
The situation:
Back-to-back singles from Carl Crawford and Cliff Floyd put the potential tying run at third base with nobody out in the seventh and Dioner Navarro at the plate.


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The decision: Third-base coach Tom Foley decides not to send Crawford home on Navarro's fly ball to shallow left field.

The outcome: Matsuzaka erases the Rays' sacrifice fly opportunity by striking out Gabe Gross, and then ends the inning with a Jason Bartlett ground ball.

The analysis: The fly ball was shallow enough that even the speedy Crawford would've been hard-pressed to beat strong-armed left fielder Jason Bay, who has piled up 31 outfield assists over the last three years. Plus, Gross was 2-for-6 off of Matsuzaka heading into that at-bat. The one argument in favor of sending Crawford would be more than Matsuzaka's effectiveness, but the notion of forcing players to make plays in the postseason -- in this case, forcing Bay to make an accurate throw home.

The reaction: "Listen, it happens. When you're facing very good pitching at this time of the year, they can stifle you even with nobody out. We can do the same thing to them. It just takes a good at bat. You've got to score runs with outs in these situations, also. We weren't able to do it tonight. They beat us straight up." -- Maddon

Eighth more than enough?
The situation:
Matsuzaka uses 107 pitches over seven innings before the Red Sox stretch their lead to 2-0 entering the eighth. The Rays bring up the top of their order in the bottom of the inning, starting with Akinori Iwamura.

The decision: Manager Terry Francona lets Matsuzaka start the inning.

The outcome: Back-to-back singles from Iwamura and B.J. Upton put the potential tying runs on base with nobody out, forcing Francona to his bullpen. Hideki Okajima retires Pena before Justin Masterson ends the threat with a double-play grounder.

The analysis: Iwamura was 0-for-2 with a walk against Matzusaka entering the at-bat, but he was 9-for-24 off Matsuzaka heading into the night. Beyond him, however, was Upton, 1-for-13 against Matsuzaka in the regular season and 0-for-3 that night. Upton hurt the White Sox enough in the ALDS that the Red Sox wanted their best shot to keep him from doing the same.

The explanation: "That was the big factor. We actually warmed up Masterson a little bit before the inning started just so we could keep all of our options open." -- Francona, on Upton

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

{"content":["ALCS" ] }
{"content":["ALCS" ] }