For all the lip service paid to so-called "mavericks" in this endless political season, baseball's playoffs have demonstrated that the nation contains at least one citizen who has truly earned that epithet, and that he resides in the Tampa Bay Rays' dugout. Two weeks ago in
By virtually any measure, the best relief pitcher that Maddon and pitching coach
After the Rays recalled Balfour in late May, he continued to put up statistics that suggested
Instead, Maddon decided to use Balfour as a "relief ace" -- a reliever who is to be called upon when his skills are most desperately needed, no matter the inning. The "relief ace" concept is not a new one.
Still, the experiment undoubtedly drew the attention of Maddon, who was then the Angels' bench coach. The '03 Sox might not have had anyone on their roster who qualified as a "relief ace," but the '08 Rays do, and with Percival on the shelf so far this postseason, here are the situations in which Maddon had deployed Balfour so far in these playoffs, prior to Saturday night's Game 2 of the ALCS:
• Game 1, ALDS: Top of the 7th, bases loaded, one out, Rays up 6-3.
Balfour didn't allow a run in any of those high-leverage appearances, and didn't permit any of the runners he had inherited to score, either. By 1:35 a.m. on Sunday, when the ALCS's Game 2 finally ended, it was difficult to recall everything that had transpired over the previous 5 hours and 27 minutes -- one imagines that the early services at churches throughout New England and central Florida were sparsely attended in the morning -- but Maddon had again called upon Balfour when he was most desperately needed, after Sox hitters had battered starter
This time, as even the greatest of relievers sometimes do, Balfour failed to get the job done: he gave up a solo homer to
Early Sunday morning, Maddon explained that he wasn't doing anything that he hadn't all along. "That might be the most critical part of the game, the fifth or six inning," Maddon said. "We're willing to utilize either one of those two guys in the middle of the game so that you actually have a chance to win it in the eighth and the ninth inning. We've done that not only in the postseason, we've done that during the season." Maddon admitted, though, that the playoffs made him more willing to use Balfour and his other top relievers even earlier than usual. That willingness might have been the reason why the Rays left for Boston early Sunday morning with the ALCS tied 1-1. Had he gone the conventional route and inserted a lesser long reliever like