Could the Indians season hinge on Kelly Shoppach's performance tonight?
Eric Wedge has opened the door to critics since the series shifted to New York. First, it was Trot Nixon in right. Since Trot had fared well against Roger Clemens prior to this series (13-for-35 career), Wedge went with his gut and trotted Nixon out. It started well with a Nixon homer, ended well with a Nixon RBI double, but in between there was an error that allowed two runs to score. Wedge came out even on the decision; Trot had no one to smack with a pie.
Tonight, Wedge plays it like a regular-season game by leaving Paul Byrd's personal catcher in. Shoppach has caught Byrd every time out since the middle of July. The problem is that this sends Ryan Garko to the bench as Victor Martinez moves to first.
The other problem is that Shoppach hit just .167 in 90 at-bats since the beginning of July. So now the Tribe has weakened its offense at a time they might just need some big bats. After all, Paul Byrd is on the mound.
We'll see how apt Wedge is to manage as if it's a regular-season game once the game starts. If Byrd is shaky, he should be replaced fairly quickly. But if Byrd does leave early, does Shoppach stay in? And if Shoppach comes out early, that hurts the Tribe's versatility later in the game.