The Red Sox have had to approach the past two games as if they could be their last, and they've survived each time, improving to 13-3 in elimination games since 1999. The Indians have had the luxury of another chance to eliminate Boston each time, but Sunday is their last.
"When you're in a fistfight and your back is to the wall, that's a pretty good position to be in," Trot Nixon said. "The Red Sox were there the past few days, and now both teams are."
For all the talk about tension and atmosphere, however, the one tangible difference is the strategy. Instead of worrying about the next game, managers have to approach it without the next game being on the schedule. Relievers who might normally be saved for a certain inning could become a potential third-inning setup man. Starting pitchers who might otherwise be on turn for three days from now suddenly become relievers.
Depending on the manager, the whole concept of managing a pitching staff changes. It might as well be a one-man rotation and a 10-man bullpen.
"Obviously, everybody is on hand, pitching-wise," Red Sox skipper Terry Francona said. "You use everybody. You certainly go to different guys in the bullpen maybe earlier than you would in the regular season."
Francona faces potentially the most intriguing decision of the contest. Though Daisuke Matsuzaka has the starting assignment Sunday night, Josh Beckett will have had two days' rest since he tossed seven innings in Game 5 on Thursday to send this American League Championship Series back to Fenway Park.
Not only did Beckett pull off the feat for the Marlins in the NLCS four years ago, he also pitched four innings of relief in Game 7 in the process. As former manager Jack McKeon recalled a few days ago, he only planned on using Beckett an inning or two before extending him as he kept on mowing down hitters.
"We didn't think about, if he had enough rest or not," McKeon said. "You've got to win. You've got the whole winter to rest."
As soon as Game 5 was over, Beckett said in the postgame press conference that he was preparing himself to face the same situation this time around. He, for one, felt as if he could do it.
"Hopefully, we don't have to," David Ortiz said. "I don't want to waste my man out there tomorrow. Hopefully, we score 10 runs in the first, so we have my man dressing up for something else."
History shows that when given that choice, managers usually will go with the starter out of the 'pen and deal with the consequences in the rotation later. Among the great starters to pitch in relief when an LCS goes the distance are Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez, Brad Penny, Dwight Gooden, Mike Mussina and David Wells. Back when it was a best-of-five series, Jim Palmer pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief in Game 5 of the 1973 ALCS one day after making the start in Game 4, though he only lasted 1 1/3 innings in the start.
If having Beckett as a potential long reliever isn't enough, Tim Wakefield could pitch in relief on the same four days of rest he usually gets as a starter. He hasn't pitched in relief since 2004, when he made three appearances for 14 total innings in the ALCS and picked up two victories in the Red Sox's comeback. He was also part of a Boston postseason low point when he gave up Aaron Boone's walk-off home run in Game 7 of the '03 ALCS.
The Indians have their own starter from Game 4 waiting in the bullpen. Paul Byrd pitched twice in relief for Atlanta in the Braves' 2004 National League Division Series loss to the Astros. He made an emergency appearance in Game 3 when starter John Thomson was knocked out with a muscle strain in the first inning.
As for the real relievers, well, they're all waiting by the phone. In 21 situations where an LCS has gone the distance, the average deciding game has featured about seven total pitchers combined. In the past 20 years, the average is above seven.
The only reliever on either side who would seemingly be ruled out of Game 7 is Aaron Laffey, who tossed 4 2/3 innings Saturday to save the rest of the Indians' bullpen. That leaves plenty of arms on hand. The World Series can wait.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.