Let me get one thing straight before I get going here.
I believe that Terry Francona is the best Red Sox manager in my lifetime. He's brought two World Series titles to Boston, and is an excellent manager, especially in the postseason, when he has a knack for pushing the right buttons. He has my eternal respect and admiration. And I'm not one of those Internet yahoos who calls him "Francoma" and demands he be fired every time one of his decisions backfires and costs the Red Sox a game.
But you can put last night's 9-8 loss on him.
It was apparent to everyone who can see that Josh Beckett was getting torched last night. He gave up three homers in four innings, all bombs, and even some the outs were long and loud. He's clearly hurt, no matter what he says publicly. His fastball rarely went above 92 MPH. So when the Red Sox blasted three solo homers off Scott Kazmir in the fifth inning to make it 6-5 Sox (Kazmir was just as awful as Beckett), Tito should have turned the game over to his pen. Granted it's a lot to ask of them to give him 5 innings, but Beckett had nothing, and only had one unscored inning (the second) last night. The Red Sox regaining the lead should been enough to bring the bullpen in at that point.
I don't know if it was Tito's undying loyalty to Beckett, and he wanted him to get through the fifth so he could get a win. The pen was not overtaxed lately, and the next day was an off-day. So there's no reason to preserve the pen. But Beckett gave the lead back for the second time, as Tampa Bay grabbed three more runs to make it 8-6 before Francona pulled the plug on Beckett.
And the bullpen was very good. Javier Lopez threw one pitch to bring in the eighth run, but everyone else until the 11th inning was terrific.
And now to Tito's other rotten decision: bringing in Mike Timlin in the 11th inning instead of Paul Byrd.
I love Mike Timlin. He's another Sox player I will always admire and respect, for his toughness and grit in his first years as a Red Sox pitcher. But Sarge is clearly done. He was left off the ALDS roster for a reason. I really hope he calls it a career after the postseason concludes. But as soon as I saw him in the game, I (and about 15 million other Red Sox fans) knew that this one was ending before it could reach the 12th inning. (And why did he pull Jonathan Papelbon after the tenth, when he had thrown just 18 pitches in 1 1/3 innings?)
I believe Tito was hoping Timlin could give him one inning before turning the game over to Byrd in 12th, and he could go as far as the game went, Byrd being a starter. But two walks and another intentional one led to a B.J. Upton sac fly that won it for Tampa Bay, 9-8.
It was a big night for Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis (they hit the homers). But David Ortiz has to get it going, as he was held hitless. The bottom of the order did next-to-nothing also (Mark Kotsay and Jed Lowrie were hitless too). The Sox left 13 men on last night. Again, the lack of a timely hit cost the Red Sox dearly last night.
But not as much as Terry Francona's questionable decision-making.
The Red Sox accomplished what they needed to this weekend. They split the two games in St. Pete, and now have Jon Lester waiting in the wings for the Rays on Monday afternoon.
It was a pleasure last night to see Jere Smith in Thom's, along with his family, as they were in-house with copies of their book, "Dirty Water: A Red Sox Mystery." They had a good time and sold some books. It's a terrific book and I recommend to all Red Sox fans, especially those who love a good mystery.