Joe Maddon has decided who will pitch the sixth inning for the Rays 177 times this year, but this is a special case. People have had nearly 48 hours to speculate on how Maddon will, and should, deploy his relievers over the last 12 outs. Here's one take from DRaysBay, in a post titled, "Grant Balfour Needs to 'Start' Game 5":
1) Cole Hamels spot will be due up, expect Matt Stairs to pinch hit. From there Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth are due up. Allowing Balfour to exit before the lefties comup because...
2) In the 7th the Rays will send 6-7-8 to the plate, if one reaches the Rays could pinch-hit for Balfour, if not the Rays could double-switch and take Rocco Baldelli out. Then bring in Price/Howell/whomever while getting an extra inning from a rested Balfour.
The fact that the pitcher's spot is due up fourth in the Rays' half of the seven is very important here. If they were to bring in a new reliever--say, David Price--for the sixth, with the intention of having record more than three outs, he'd likely have to hit for himself. In the late innings of a tie game, that's just not acceptable.
So having Balfour "start" the game does make sense. And he should certainly pitch to the first three batters--the pinch hitter, Jimmy Rollins, and Jayson Werth. If he gets through that 1-2-3, great. If there are two outs and a runner on when Chase Utley comes up, Balfour should probably face Utley, who only has a small platoon split in his career. If there are two on and one out, with both Utley and Ryan Howard due up, the Rays should definitely go to one of their three lefties to finish off the inning.
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia