Cold Coco: Crisp Benched For Ellsbury

BOSTON—Coco Crisp's time with the Red Sox may have ended with a game in his old hometown of Cleveland.

Crisp's postseason slump hit a low point Thursday, when he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts—including once after he twice failed to lay down a bunt in the fourth inning—in the Red Sox' season-extending 7-1 win over the Indians in Game Five of the AL Championship Series.

The 0-fer—the only one endured by a Sox player Thursday—dropped Crisp's average to .161 (5-for-31) this month and finally exhausted Terry Francona's patience. Francona, whose loyalty to struggling starters in October is well-established, benched Crisp in favor of rookie Jacoby Ellsbury for tonight's Game Six.

Francona said during a pre-game press conference this afternoon that he'd been pondering a change for days. "I thought about it the other day because of his history with [Paul] Byrd [Crisp entered the game 5-for-11 lifetime against Byrd] and his defense," Francona said. "And the fact that [C.C.] Sabathia was pitching the next day—didn't want to do it.

"But you get to a point where—I always talk about doing the right thing, and I felt like this was in the best interest of our ballclub."

Like Crisp, Ellsbury will play centerfield and bat eighth. The Sox hope Ellsbury, who began the season in Double-A with Portland and hit .323 with 41 stolen bases between the Sea Dogs and Triple-A Pawtucket, can provide the type of spark he contributed in September, when he hit .361 with three homers and 17 RBI in 97 at-bats and eight stolen bases in eight attempts for the Sox.

Starting him in an elimination game can only raise the already-high expectations for Ellsbury, but Francona is confident the moment won't be too big for the quietly confident 24-year-old. "[Sox assistant general manager] Allard Baird said in one of our meetings: ‘This kid has survival skills,'" Francona said. "I think what he meant by that is kind of like a [Dustin] Pedroia—he's not up here for the ride, he's up here to win. When you get a young player like that, that's pretty special. You can get a guy playing and maybe get some hits that help you.

"But when you get a young kid that seems to understand Boston, what every game means, that has a chance to make him even a better player."

Crisp, on the other hand, has never appeared completely comfortable under the microscope since he was acquired from the Indians in January 2006. Though he's never met expectations offensively (.266 with 14 homers, 90 RBI and 50 stolen bases), he played Gold Glove-caliber defense this season, which made it a possibility the Sox could go forward with both Crisp and Ellsbury in their outfield.

That seems remote after tonight's benching. "We always try to do the right thing, we try to do it in the right way," Francona said. "That's what we do. I didn't expect Coco to jump up and hug me. If I was him, I wouldn't either. So we try to do it correctly and with respect and give him reasons why."


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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