ALDS Rotation A Mystery For Baseball's Best

BOSTON—For the first and last time this season, the Red Sox will play a meaningless game today.

Less than an hour after the Sox beat the Twins 6-4 Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 36,619, the Royals beat the Indians in Kansas City, 4-3. That assured the Sox (96-65) will finish with the best record in baseball—the Indians are 95-66 but lose the tiebreaker by virtue of the Sox' 5-2 edge in the head-to-head series—and gave them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the chance to choose which schedule they wanted for their AL Division Series against the Angels.

Within 45 minutes of the Royals' win, the Sox chose the eight-day schedule. Games One and Two of the ALDS will be played at Fenway Wednesday and Friday. Games Three and, if necessary, Four will be played in Anaheim Oct. 7-8 and a decisive Game Five would be played in Boston Oct. 10.

There was no dramatic gathering to watch the Indians or learn the Sox' decision—unlike Friday, when the Sox watched in the clubhouse as the Orioles beat the Yankees and then wildly celebrated their AL East title. "I've got a 13-year-old here—that takes precedence over sticking around," Terry Francona said, referring to his daughter. "I'm going home."

Today's regular season finale will carry about as much significance as a Mayor's Cup meeting between the Sox and Twins in Fort Myers (expect lots of early cameos by the core players and plenty of at-bats and innings for players who won't make the postseason roster), but there's still some intrigue surrounding the Sox—namely the composition of the ALDS rotation.

Francona said the Sox knew what they were going to do but that he wasn't ready to reveal it yet. "We wanted to just kind of let the natural course take its shape," Francona said. "And then well be ready to say what we're going to do."

Of course, in the spirit of pre-series gamesmanship, they could still wait two or three days to reveal the rotation. But the pregame decision Saturday to scratch Curt Schilling from his scheduled start today would seem to indicate the Sox will start Josh Beckett and Schilling in Games One and Two and Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game Three. That would relegate Tim Wakefield—who tied a career high by earning his 17th win Saturday, when he allowed four runs, three earned, in seven innings—to long relief.

"We talked to [Schilling] all week about what could happen and how we wanted it to happen and we finally came to the decision that rather than cut him short [today] we'll just not pitch him and let him throw some sides and things like that for preparation when he starts," Francona said.

If Schilling—who is 8-2 with a 2.06 ERA and four complete games in 15 career postseason starts—were to be held back until Game Three, he'd be going on 11 days rest. "We wouldn't have done this if we didn't think it was in our best interests, in his [best interests]— and it comes right back to [his best interest] being ours," Francona said. "We thought through [things] pretty extensively for the last four or five days."


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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