The intentional walk, in many ways, is an outdated and often misused managerial move. All too often, it's used to set up lefty-righty matchups that don't matter or set up a force play that isn't really necessary. (Others would say it even more forcefully than that.)
Still, though, there are times -- times like Friday night's sixth inning -- when the intentional walk is exactly what a team needs to settle everything down.
Here's the scene: Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields had pretty much handled the Red Sox through five innings, surrendering six hits but no runs and striking out five. Every time the Red Sox had threatened -- they'd put a runner on third base in the second and fourth innings -- he'd wiggled out of danger.
But he'd been hit hard in the sixth inning. Dustin Pedroia had started things off with an infield single that skipped off Shields' glove, and David Ortiz had worked a seven-pitch walk. Jason Bay had followed with a bomb of a home run over the Green Monster to tie the game at 3.
"It just happened very fast," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Even then, though, things kept slipping away. Mike Lowell was out in front of a cutter on the outside half of the plate but still yanked it up against the CVS sign along the left-field line for a double.
J.D. Drew -- a guy who was hitting .400 (8-for-20) in his career against Shields (with four doubles and a home run to boot) -- was up next. Drew had an .843 OPS coming into the game, good for fourth on one of the league's best-hitting teams. He also had been hitting the ball hard all night; he roped a line drive straight at Carlos Pena in the fourth, a shot that otherwise would have scored a run.
On deck, though, was recent call-up Jeff Bailey, a former International League MVP who was hitting .167 in limited action entering play on Friday. After Bailey was Jason Varitek, an aging catcher who was hitting .231. After Varitek was Julio Lugo, a shortstop less than two weeks into his second after having his knee repaired during spring training.
In other words, there was a pretty distinct divide between Drew and the group due to follow him.
On top of that, Drew was a lefty -- and lefties have slugged almost 100 points higher than righties against Shields since the Tampa Bay ace reached the major leagues.
First base, as they say, was open.
If there ever was a time to give a free pass, to put a guy on and collect your thoughts and go after a hitter against whom you've got a far better chance of success, this was the time.
Maddon -- we'll assume that this was his decision -- elected to have Shields pitch to Drew.
"I didn't know what the situation held," Drew said. "I just knew that I wanted to get a ball up in the zone, something I could really handle, and try to drive it."
Shields left a changeup up in the zone.
Drew hit it into the Rays' bullpen in right field.
A tie game turned into a 5-3 lead for the Red Sox.
"I wanted it up in the zone, but it was at the very top for me," Drew said. "I was able to get the barrel up there to it and get enough carry to get it out."
Maddon has never been a big intentional-walk guy. The Rays ranked 12th in the American League in IBBs issued in 2007 (31) and 11th in 2008 (29); so far this year, the Rays have issued five in 30 games, higher than normal but still below the league average.
But his decision to let Shields pitch to Drew might have cost his team the game.