I suppose this is not the most appropriate time for analysis given the urge simply to celebrate. But the 7th inning today reminded me of one of my pet peeves in bullpen usage.
The orthodox approach for the past 20 years or so is to save the closer for the ninth inning. Now I am not second guessing here. I am pretty sure all 30 managers would have done exactly what Francona did tonight. And while nobody can be sure of hypothetical results, it is possible that is why Boston lost the game.
In the 7th inning with a 3 run lead the Rays got the first 3 men on base cutting the lead to 2 with no outs and 2 men on. What could be a more critical situation than that? In my view, you call on your best pitcher in that situation, i.e. Papelbon. Sure, he might have surrendered the tying and go-ahead runs anyway, but whom do you trust more to hold the lead there, Papelbon or Hansen? And was it likely he would walk 2 more men forcing in another run? At least bring him in when the run was forced in and you still had a 1 run lead with no outs and men on base.
Of course, it is also true that Papelbon probably could not have gone 3 innings-or even 2 (I am not sure if he ever does or not)-so the other relievers might have ceded the lead anyway. But it makes little sense to me to save him for an eventuality that may never occur, as it happened, when you have the possible turning point in front of you.
As I said, I am quite sure Maddon and every other manager would have done the same thing, but I think it is a foolish and inefficient use of the bullpen, and in this case may have cost Boston the game.