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Mercker Gets Surprise Start

Boston Red Sox manager Jimy Williams spread the surprising news at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday: Kent Mercker is king of the hill, top of the scrap heap.

Deemed the best option on Boston's depleted pitching staff, Mercker will pitch Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees.

"I guess I was getting to start by default, if you will," Mercker acknowledged as his team worked out for Wednesday's series opener. "But I don't think Jimy is doing it just out of necessity; that there is no one else that can pitch. I think he has confidence in me."

In Game 2, the Red Sox plan to start Ramon Martinez against David Cone. Pedro Martinez would start Game 3 at Fenway Park against former Red Sox ace Roger Clemens, with Bret Saberhagen in Game 4 against Andy Pettitte.

Mercker went 6-5 with a 5.12 ERA as a starter and reliever with the St. Louis Cardinals before Boston acquired him at the trading deadline. With the Red Sox, he went 2-2 with a 3.51 ERA in five starts.

But he spent half of September on the disabled list with a strain in his rib cage, then didn't pitch for 11 days while waiting for his turn in the playoffs. He started Game 4 of the first-round series against Cleveland and lasted just 1 2-3 innings, allowing two runs in a game the Red Sox eventually won 23-7.

"It probably sounds funny, but I felt too good out there," Mercker said. "You put all the things together the rest, the not feeling pain, the adrenaline, the situation and I was just out there trying to throw as hard as Pedro can."

"I think two days' rest is going to be good for me because I am not going to feel like Superman."

Williams dismissed questions about the rotation with a terse, "managerial decision." But he did show a little bit of emotion when asked about the team's other moves notably the decision to drop Tim Wakefield from the postseason roster.

Kent Mercker gets the call to start Game One of the ALCS for Boston.
Williams has been effusive this season in his praise of Wakefield, who went from starter to closer to starter to closer and back to starter this season because of injuries to reliever Tom Gordon.

Although his teammates compliment Wakefield's versatility and his ability to "eat up innings," he posted a 6-11 record and 5.08 ERA in the regular season and allowed three runs over two innings in two relief appearances against Cleveland.

Still, when asked if he might keep Wakefield out of Game 4 against Cleveland so that he could start Game 5, Williams misunderstood or pretended to and said that he had every confidence in the knuckleballer.

"If it wasn't for Timmy, I wouldn't be here talking to you guys tonight," Williams said.

But the Red Sox are unlikely to survive more shaky performances like Wakefield delivered in Games 2 and 4 against Cleveland. In the latter, he faces four batters and did not record an out.

The Red Sox also dropped John Wasdin and added Pat Rapp and Bryce Florie.

"Tough decisions," Williams said, "but (I) have to make them."

Williams said he talked to all of the pitchers involved. But Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette noted that the rosters aren't due until noon Wednesday, and they could still change.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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