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Skipper's dilemma

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  October 13, 2008 10:49 AM

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When managers remind you that players can either make you look smart or look dumb, they're saying it only because it's the gospel truth.

It is the morning of Game 3 and we're all wondering what Terry Francona will do with his lineup tonight. Assuming J.D. Drew is a go -- and with J.D. Drew, who knows -- he would be in right field against righthanded Rays starter Matt Garza.

So who will be in center?

Jacoby Ellsbury is working on an 0 for 17 dating from a double in the fifth inning of Game 3 against the Angels. There are O-fers and there are O-fers. When Dustin Pedroia was having his O-fer, anyone watching him knew it was unjustified. He had hit one ball over the fence in Anaheim, for heaven's sake. He had smashed a few others, including that vicious thing that almost ate up Chone Figgins for the final out in the final out in the 11th inning of that 12-inning Game 3 against the Angels.

Yeah, he had a couple of bat at-bats, but he wasn't in a slump. He was just in an unlucky mode, which was perfectly justifiable in the cosmic scheme of things. When a guy hits .400 for two months, as Pedroia did this year, you know that just about everything that could fall in, or stay fair, or be an inch out of a fielder's reach, does so. It all evens out in the end.

But Ellsbury has had a pretty legit 0 for 17. He looks bad. And Francona does have an alternative. Coco Crisp had three hits in Game 2.

Francona has been here before. Think back to 2004. Mark Bellhorn wasn't going so well. After Game 3 of the Yankee series (the infamous 19-8 game) Bellhorn was working on a 1 for 12. He had struck out four times in that dreadful game. There was a strong sentiment on the part of fans and media to bench him in favor of Pokey Reese. But Francona stuck with Bellhorn.

You know Francona thought long and hard about it, but he decided to stick with Bellhorn. He came alive a little bit with two hits in Game 5 and then he hit that memorable three-run homer in Game 6. He walked twice and hit an icing-on-the-cake eighth-inning homer in Game 7. He hit the game-winning home run in Game 1 of the World Series.

Boy, what a smart manager, huh?

Let's move to 2007. Coco Crisp is not going well in the ALCS against Cleveland. Francona decides to insert Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup for Game 6. The kid goes 1 for 5, scoring a run and knocking in a run. He goes 1 for 3 and scores another run in Game 7. He appears to have energized the team. He remains in the lineup as the World Series unfolds.

Elevated to the leadoff spot for Game 3, he goes 4 for 5 with three doubles, scoring a run and knocking in a run. He gets two more hits and scores two more runs in a 4-3 victory in Game 4.

Boy, what a smart manager, huh?

There is no magic formula. A manager either gets lucky or he doesn't. Francona guessed right by sticking with Bellhorn four years ago. Francona guessed right by trying The Kid a year ago. In a week or so we'll know if he has guessed right in this current Ellsbury/Crisp situation.

One more thing . . . It is hard to believe that the Red Sox have no better candidates to be an 11th pitcher on the roster than Mike Timlin, who simply cannot be used when the outcome of a game is in doubt. It's too late now, but I'm just throwing out a name here. Devern Hansack? Somebody.

I know what was going on out there in Red Sox Nation when Timlin came into the game to face Tampa Bay in the bottom of the 11th. People were switching off their sets because they pretty much knew the game was over. Was Timlin squeezed by umpire Sam Holbrook? John Farrell sure thought so. But he was beefing during the Ben Zobrist at-bat, which was after the horse had already left the barn. The damage had been done when Timlin walked the leadoff man. Zobrist was trying to sacrifice. Timlin was going to find a way to give up that run; we all knew it.

There are, in fact, two deads roster spots on the team. Timlin cannot be used unless the Red Sox are either 10 up or 10 down. And Sean Casey might as well be home. Francona has not found a spot for him to hit in six games. His last AB was Sept. 28 against the Yankees. Sean Casey is a great guy, a media favorite, but you really have to ask yourself: Why is he on the roster?

Of course, now that I've said that he'll probably get a game-winning pinch hit tonight and, boy, won't that make Terry Francona a smart manager?

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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