Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ALCS means fresh start for some

The plastic tarps were down, the room smelled more like carpet cleaner than Bud Light, and there were no oversized blue goggles in sight. (Closer Jonathan Papelbon sauntered into the clubhouse in some pretty sharp sunglasses, but that was it.)

The clubhouse was clean, and so too is the slate for the Red Sox as they prepare to open the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. Some players -- Jason Bay, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie -- are looking to carry over momentum from last week's victories over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Others, though, welcome the chance to start as fresh as the aroma in the clubhouse on Wednesday:

Tim Wakefield: The knuckleballer was announced by Terry Francona on Wednesday as the Game 4 starter in the series; he did not appear in the American League Division Series. Wakefield is 19-5 with a 3.32 ERA in his career against Tampa Bay, but much of that success came before the Rays were, you know, good; he surrendered 12 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay this season.

He also hasn't pitched in a game since Sept. 28, and when he pitches, it'll be on more than two weeks' rest.

"They'll probably simulate a game here, today or tomorrow, but I don't know that for sure," catcher Jason Varitek said.

Mike Timlin: He's made more appearances than any other right-handed pitcher in baseball history, but a rough end to the season -- his ERA was 9.39 in September -- resulted in Francona leaving him off the roster for the ALDS against the Angels. The roster for the ALCS won't be announced until Thursday, but Timlin could have a shot to make the roster as the 11th pitcher for the seven-game series.

He wasn't happy when Francona left him off the roster initially.

"I can't say the whole conversation was professional," he said, "but that's between he and I. If you don't have passion to play the game, you need to stop."

But he came to grips with his role as the series began.

"It was frustrating at the beginning, but I've got to accept my role, got to help the team when I can," he said. "It's not going to do any good to be moping on the bench, so be positive, go get 'em, help the guys out."

Sean Casey: The veteran first baseman was the lone position player not to see any action in the series. Even when Kevin Youkilis moved to third base to replace an injured Mike Lowell, Casey remained on the bench in favor of the more athletic Mark Kotsay.

He's spent a lot of time on the bench this season, particularly in the second half -- he had just 73 at-bats in 26 games after the All-Star break, and he hit just .233 in that span. But he knew when he joined the team that he wasn't going to be playing every day.

"I'm ready to do whatever (Francona) wants me to do," he said. "My role, if I'm not in there, is to come off (the bench) and pinch-hit in a certain situation. That didn't happen in the last series, but we'll see what happens in this series. ... I know Tito has his reasons, and he's had good reasons all year long, so I don't really question anything he's done or anything he ever does."

Dustin Pedroia: The MVP candidate was hitless in his first 15 at-bats of the ALDS before ringing a big double off the Green Monster for a big run in Game 4. He could be primed for a big series against the Rays: He was 5-for-10 with a walk this season against anticipated Game 1 starter James Shields, and he was 5-for-9 with a double, a triple and a home run against ace Scott Kazmir.

As far as he's concerned, the series against the Angels is over and done with.

"We won that series, and that's all in the past," he said. "I'm just excited to go out there and help our team win. I don't care a lot about personal achievements."

Said Varitek, "That guy played phenomenal defense for us and had good at-bats. He could have walked out there with five hits, easy, and a home run. The ball didn't carry. ... Pedey is a huge part, whether he hits or not, because he's going to have quality at-bats. He doesn't waste at-bats. He plays phenomenal defense. He's our stud."

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