Francona Pushes the Right Buttons From the Bench

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Terry Francona has learned to never count out the Red Sox in his five-plus years as manager.

After starter Paul Byrd allowed two runs in five innings to the Orioles on Wednesday, Francona called on reliever Manny Delcarmen, who quickly gave up two runs in one-third of an inning. With the Red Sox down 4-3, the O’s looked like they might steal a win and split the series.

But then Francona turned to his bench and Victor Martinez. The trade deadline acquisition, who sat in favor of captain Jason Varitek (he went 2-for-3 with an RBI), pinch hit in the seventh inning and delivered a three-run double to put the Red Sox on top 7-4. They went on to win 7-5 to stay two games ahead of the Rangers in the wild-card standings.

Francona's tenure has been marked by a judicious use of his bench, and that trend continues this season. Martinez provides a valuable option to either spell Varitek or Kevin Youkilis (Martinez played first after pinch hitting), and brings a career .455 batting average as a pinch hitter to the table. He's also an All-Star catcher used to handling a pitching staff.

The success of the Red Sox in recent years has had much to do with the contributions of bench players — be they Kevin Millar, Eric Hinske or Dave Roberts. Francona's use of Martinez in Wednesday’s pinch-hitting situation shows he has confidence in his players, and this trust will be important as the playoff race comes down to the wire.

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