Terry Francona certainly has Josh Beckett’s best interests in heart, not wanting to overtax his best pitcher. However, the Red Sox manager might have cost his team a shot at the World Series by not pitching his ace on short rest in Game Four of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night. Francona opted to stick with his original plan and started knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, but the Red Sox lost 7-3 to the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field to fall behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Beckett, instead, will pitch Thursday night in Game Five with the Red Sox facing elimination.
Beckett was dominant in winning Game One as he allowed two runs and two hits in six innings. Francona pulled him after just 80 pitches with the Red Sox holding an 8-2 lead in a game they eventually won 10-3 The low pitch count would have seemingly made it easier for Beckett to pitch on three days of rest, one short of normal, then would have been able to pitch a potential Game Seven on normal rest. Beckett will instead have five days between starts on Thursday and will have no chance of coming back to pitch a seventh game, which would be played Sunday night in Boston.
Francona would not second-guess himself Tuesday, though. “We’re trying to put our ballclub in the best position to win the series and there are a lot of different reasons why we felt it was best to keep all the starting pitchers on their normal turn,” Francona said. “Some of it certainly concerns Josh, some of it concerns the guys behind him. When you set your rotation and roster prior to a series, it’s to give your team the best chance to win. To alter that at this point in a series doesn’t make sense to me. Now, certainly when you get down towards the of the series and there are no more games to play then it’s all hands on deck.”
That is the situation the Red Sox will be in Thursday and for however much longer they stay alive in the ALCS. Beckett has pitched on short rest in just three of his 166 career starts in the regular season. However, he only had three days off before pitching a five-hit shutout in the clinching Game Six of the 2003 World Series for the Florida Marlins against the New York Yankees.
Despite having that on his resume, Beckett also refused to do any second-guessing. “He’s the manager and I support his decisions just like he supports what we do as players,” Beckett said. “Terry always has our backs and, in return, we always have his back.”