Sunday, October 5, 2008

Playoff newcomers getting comfortable

The Red Sox introduced a new generation to postseason baseball a year ago -- second baseman Dustin Pedroia and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury were among those who got their first taste of the playoffs and had to rise to the occasion for a team with championship aspirations.

This season, players like left fielder Jason Bay -- a veteran who spent the first five seasons of his career with the cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates -- and relief pitcher Justin Masterson are among those thriving in their trial by fire.

There's no particular science to playing in the postseason, manager Terry Francona said. In faact, when Bay came on board, the two-time World Series champion said he specifically avoided talking to him a out the pressure and excitement of playoff baseball in Boston after years of meaningless late-season games.

"I have been through it as a manager and a player -- you get into September, and it's a grind," Francona said. "You have professional pride, and you're trying to play. But when you get into games that are this meaningful and you wake up and you're nervous, it's a lot of fun. ... I talk about being nervous, but it's great. 'I was so nervous the other night.' Not so nervous where you can't do your job, but it's nervous energy where it's (expletive) exciting. I'm probably not doing a good job of explaining it, but it's a good feeling. ...

"We don't try to change much. We did meet, but it was only because we wanted to tighten up our signs and go over some bunting things. We didn't have that Knute Rockne speech because I don't think I believe in it. If that's what it takes, we haven't made our point during the season. You could set off some alarm bells. We don't need to do that. We just need to play the best we can. They know these are significant games. That doesn't take a rocket scientist. They know that."

Masterson has evolved into the primary right-handed arm out of the Red Sox bullpen, something Francona said worked perfectly against the righty-stacked Angels lineup. (That was the plan ahead of time; right-handed hitters hit .196 against Masterson this season.) He's had his ups and downs, including a bases-loaded walk in Game 2, but Francona said he's more than pleased by what he's seen from the 23-year-old reliever.

"We've been impressed," Francona said. "We've been pretty open about the fact that this is how we envisioned this working. It doesn't mean you do it his first time out -- we tried to go slow, tried to allow him a route: Send him back to Triple-A, let him do it, and it's worked out really well."

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