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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 09/30/2011

Terry Francona and Tampa Bay Rays pitching: A newsy start to the postseason

I’m sure my editor would prefer that I were working on my NLDS capsules this morning (here, by the way, are the ALDS ones, which ran in the paper this morning). But before I do that, I wanted to weigh in on a couple of significant developments from last night and this morning.


Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona, left, listens as General Manager Theo Epstein speaks during a news conference on Thursday. (Elise Amendola - AP)
*First, the Boston Red Sox, who just completed the biggest September collapse in baseball history, are preparing to part ways with Manager Terry Francona. I think it’s a terrible move for the Red Sox, who appear to lost all perspective on what success means. He’s the only manager in the past 92 years to lead the franchise to a World Series title — and he did it twice! — and yet now, after his front office spends a ton of money on some free agent busts and his team is crushed by injuries down the stretch, he isn’t good enough?

A question: If Jonathan Papelbon gets that third strike on Chris Davis on Wednesday night, instead of blowing the save, and if Tampa Bay’s Dan Johnson strikes out instead of hitting that homer in the bottom of the ninth in St. Petersburg, Fla. — two twists that, when taken together, would have given the Red Sox the wild card — would Francona have been good enought then?

Francona was a perfect fit Boston, and all the angst and drama and scrutiny that comes with it. You and I only know a fraction of the intrigue and internal strife that went on in his eight years there, because he, perhaps better than anyone I’ve ever seen, managed to keep it away from the public.

I expect there will be countless teams lining up to hire Francona, and I wonder if one of them won’t be the Washington Nationals. Unless they see Davey Johnson as a long-term solution (which doesn’t seem likely), there won’t be anybody better out there to hire a year or two from now when they would be looking for their go-for-it-all manager.

*Also, Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon has tabbed rookie left-hander Matt Moore for the Game 1 start at Texas — a bold move, but the right move.

When I spoke with Maddon about Moore on the day the 22-year-old flamethrower was called up to the majors a little more than two weeks ago, Maddon said Moore was already pushing up against his innings limit (he was at 155 2/3 when he arrived; the Rays were hoping to limit him to 160), leaving Maddon with little “wiggle room” in terms of Moore’s usage.

Obviously, things have changed. The Rays made an improbable surge into the postseason, but burned through their pitching staff in the final few days of the season to do so. Also, David Price has had a couple of awful starts in a row.

And here the Rays were, with this awesome weapon at their disposal. Obviously, they felt it was worth pushing Moore’s innings-count beyond their original target to give themselves a chance in October. The interesting question will be what they do if he throws seven shutout innings against Texas in his first start. There will be a lot of pressure, and a lot of temptation, to leave him in the rotation for the rest of the postseason — but that could wind up being 30-40 innings, if they advance all the way to the World Series. I doubt they would go that far. This may be a one-off thing, just to get the Rays through a tough stretch.

If you haven’t seen Moore pitch, don’t miss him. He’s as electrifying as Stephen Strasburg in some ways.

I’m off to Yankee Stadium tonight. Here, in case you missed it, is my preview piece, which focuses on the Philadelphia Phillies and their collection of aces. At the end of the piece, I picked the Phillies over the Tigers in the World Series. I’d love to hear your picks in the comments section below. And here is one last look back at Wednesday night’s drama.

By  |  10:54 AM ET, 09/30/2011

 
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