AL East rivals meet again, but this time the stakes are higher

Updated: October 6, 2008

Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire

On Friday night, the Red Sox will face the Rays for the 19th time this season in ALCS Game 1.


The Red Sox and Rays dispatched their respective opponents in Game 4 on Monday to set up a showdown for the right to go to the World Series. Boston and Tampa Bay matched up almost evenly wins-wise during the regular season, though the contrast in approach was stark.

The Rays won with timely hitting, their starters and bullpen thriving in close games. When the Red Sox won, they did so with an overpowering offense. Boston has the edge in experience, but the Rays seem to have the kind of magic that wins in October -- and that makes for a fascinating matchup.

2008: Red Sox vs. Rays
  Red Sox Rays
Wins 8 10
One-run wins 0 6
Home record 7-2 8-1
Runs 87 67
Batting average .253 .233
Home runs 18 18


I think the job Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has done this year has been so underappreciated. I've known Charlie for a long time. He doesn't pontificate and is pretty plainspoken, but he's a lot sharper than most people give him credit for. He understands the game and the personalities involved. He understands the ebb and flow of the long season and the finality of the shortened postseason.

The best managers in the postseason understand the finality of it. It's not like you are setting things up for the long haul. You have to recognize the immediacy and do what's best for your team's chances that night and, if your players don't understand that, then they don't understand a manager's job description. Sometimes you have to be willing to step out of the box a little bit in the postseason, and that's what Charlie's done. Look at how he flipped his lineup around in the Division Series against Milwaukee. It worked like a charm, and they swept the Brewers.

He's sly like a fox and I guarantee you that's just the way Charlie wants it. Back home they call it "laying in the weeds." If you underestimate him, you'll pay a price.

The postseason is full of people that step up and play unexpected roles. Who says that can't include the manager? They have had obvious success so far, but they are far from satisfied, and it'll be interesting to see if the Phillies make any changes to their roster heading into the best-of-seven NLCS.

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Inside EdgeThe playoffs have been a case study in the importance of throwing first-pitch strikes. Only one playoff team, the Phillies, advanced to the LCS despite throwing fewer first-pitch strikes in the playoffs than in the regular season. The Dodgers, Rays and Red Sox exceeded the league average and their own regular-season first-pitch proficiency in the playoffs. The Cubs, Brewers and White Sox did not meet the league standard, or their typical first-pitch strike percentage while being eliminated from postseason play:

First-pitch strike efficiency
Team Playoffs Reg. season
Dodgers 67.3 58.9
Rays 62.9 58.6
Red Sox 61.3 58.1
Angels 59.4 61.1
League avg. 59.4 58.5
Phillies 58.5 58.8
Cubs 56.7 59.5
Brewers 54.9 60.6
White Sox 54.5 57.8



1977: The Dodgers rally for three runs in the top of the ninth inning against Phillies reliever Gene Garber and win 6-5 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five NLCS. The Dodgers won the next day, as well, to advance to the World Series.

1978: Bill Russell's RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning off Phillies reliever Tug McGraw scores Ron Cey and sends the Dodgers to the World Series for the second straight year with a 4-3 victory in Game 4 of the NLCS.

2005: Paul Konerko's two-run homer in the sixth inning puts the White Sox ahead to stay as they win 5-3 to complete a three-game division series sweep of the Red Sox and capture their first postseason series since 1917.