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Chess Match: Can't blame the skippers

Chess Match: Can't blame the skippers

CLEVELAND -- Game 5 of the American League Championship Series could've easily been a larger margin of victory than it ended, what with the opportunities the Red Sox and Indians had to break the game wide open throughout the first five innings on Thursday. They couldn't do it, but it wasn't a matter of managerial mistakes.

Both Boston manager Terry Francona and his Cleveland counterpart, Eric Wedge, made the right moves for such a clutch game. They forced key players to make plays. The Red Sox didn't make all of them, but they made more than enough.

It's not the end of the world or something
The situation:
Top of the first inning, two outs, Manny Ramirez at second base and Mike Lowell at the plate.

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The decision: Third-base coach DeMarlo Hale sends Ramirez home on Lowell's line-drive single to right field.

The outcome: Indians right fielder Franklin Gutierrez unfurls a strong-armed, on-target throw to catcher Victor Martinez, who tags out Ramirez as he tries to cross the plate standing up.

The analysis: Maybe it was an aggressive call so early in the game, but it also forced the rookie Gutierrez to make a good throw, which is generally the rule of thumb in those situations. In that aspect, the credit goes to Gutierrez, but it would've been a tougher tag for Martinez had Ramirez tried to slide instead.

"We really did a good job getting runners on base early, but we didn't do a whole lot. But we stayed at it and stayed at it, and finally cashed in." -- Francona, on Boston's offense

A sacrifice wasted
The situation:
Top of the fourth, runners on first and second and nobody out.


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The decision: Francona calls for Coco Crisp to lay down a sacrifice bunt and move the runners up for Julio Lugo.

The outcome: Crisp fouls off two bunt attempts, then he strikes out swinging. With runners on first and second, Lugo promptly hits into an inning-ending double play.

The analysis: The call was sound, but the execution was not. With that play part of Crisp's 0-for-5 performance, his continued struggles will have Red Sox Nation wondering whether Jacoby Ellsbury might get a start in center field in Game 6 on Saturday at Fenway Park.

Conference call
The situation:
Top of the fifth, David Ortiz on second, two outs and a 3-2 count on Ramirez.


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The decision: Pitching coach Carl Willis visits the mound for a lengthy chat with C.C. Sabathia on strategy.

The outcome: Sabathia throws a payoff fastball off the outside corner that Ramirez lays off for a walk. A hit by pitch to Lowell loads the bases before Bobby Kielty flies out to end the threat.

The analysis: It's not a situation where you normally see a pitching coach take the mound, but, of course, few situations are normal when Ramirez is at the plate. The visit ensured that pitcher and catcher were on the same page, but it also prevented Willis from coming out to calm down Sabathia once the bases were loaded. Fortunately, for Cleveland, Martinez kept Sabathia on task.

"He was just trying to see where I was at and see what I was thinking right there. I was thinking fastball away, and that's what I threw. I just missed. I got ahead on Lowell and ended up hitting him on a pitch where I got a little too spread out, and tried to throw the ball a little too hard and ended up getting in on him. But I was able to get out of it." -- Sabathia, on the situation

A change would do you good
The situation:
Start of the seventh and the top of the Red Sox order due up.


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The decision: Wedge keeps Sabathia in the game with 106 pitches thrown through six frames.

The outcome: Dustin Pedroia hits a leadoff double, then Kevin Youkilis triples him in. Wedge then comes out to pull Sabathia for Rafael Betancourt as the Sheryl Crow song "My Favorite Mistake" coincidentally plays on the stadium sound system.

The analysis: Sabathia has racked up plenty of bigger pitch counts, and he has earned the slow hook as the staff workhorse. Still, this was a game in which the lefty threw a lot of high-90s fastballs and all sorts of pitches in stressful situations with runners on base.

"We had a couple decisions to make there. One, C.C. pitched probably as good as he pitched the prior inning. He was pretty efficient. If you go straight to Betancourt, you're talking about Betancourt throwing two innings down. And the way C.C. was throwing, it was not something I was interested in, because it's going to weaken us over the weekend if everything remains the same." -- Wedge, on the decision

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

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