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Rays again go with Shields for Game 1

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn't see any reason to mess with the success they had in the playoffs' first round, deciding to start James Shields in Friday's ALCS opener. Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine will follow.

With the championship series a seven-game affair, and an off-day between Games 4 and 5 in addition to the standard travel days after Games 2 and 5, the Rays had other options, including a three-man rotation.

And manager Joe Maddon left open the possibility of using Sonnanstine in relief early in the series and bringing Shields back for Game 4, as well as tinkering with the rotation for potential Games 6 and 7 (which in this order would be Kazmir and Garza).

But he said they wanted to start this way for the reasons they did against the White Sox in the ALDS last week: Shields is good at home (10-2, including his ALDS win), typically pitches at least seven innings and usually keeps the Rays in the game.

"I like it," Maddon said. "It's no different than the first round, in a sense: Shieldsy in the first game because he normally gets a little deeper in the game. Kaz in the second game. If he goes through a little bit of a pitch-count problem, you've got the bullpen fresher. … A day off, and then the next two guys."

Shields said he likes it, too. "Hopefully we'll start it out like we did last series. I'm excited. I like to take on these challenges."

The Sox will start 18-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka in the opener and Josh Beckett in Game 2. Lefty Jon Lester, their most consistent pitcher of late, will go in Game 3 and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 4.

"It gives people rest, not too much rest, not too little," manager Terry Francona said in Boston. "Keep everybody somewhat in line. Rest at this time of year is huge, and we'll take advantage of it while trying not to give too much."

The Sox will use veteran Paul Byrd out of the bullpen, figuring he offers more flexibility in that role than Wakefield.

Maddon said the Rays could reassess after the first few games. Kazmir, who has pitched well at Fenway Park (4-4, 3.02), could move up to Game 5 on normal rest. Sonnanstine could be available on full rest for Game 7. "We'll keep it open," Maddon said.

Rays again go with Shields for Game 1 10/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 9, 2008 3:14pm]

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