Stock up on espresso and Red Bull. The autumn of dreams can be a sleepless season.
The Red Sox and Indians will play a seventh game at Fenway Park tonight to crown the 2007 American League champion. It’ll be $103 million man Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook. First pitch, 8:23 p.m.
The Sox moved a step closer to a second World Series in four years with a shockingly easy 12-2 victory over the Indians last night at Fenway. On the third anniversary of Boston’s Baseball Bastille Day - the day they completed the historic come-from-behind-sweep against the Yankees, the Sox rode the broad shoulders of Curt Schilling and the grand slam bat of much-maligned J.D. Drew to move a step closer to another improbable comeback.
Three days ago the Sox were on the brink of elimination, down, 3-1, to the muscle-flexing Tribe. But Boston pummeled Cleveland’s 19-game winners, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, in back-to-back blowouts and the locals are nine innings away from making more history and earning a ticket to the 103d World Series, which starts Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies.
Three years ago it was Schilling oozing blood into his sock against the Yankees. This time it’s the Indians who are bleeding.
“It just has to stop and it has to stop tonight,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. “They need to go to bed tonight with a clear head and think good thoughts. They have experienced a lot. It’s another step for us, but it’s not completely unchartered. We handle these things pretty well.”
“We’re excited,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We’d be crazy not to be excited to have a Game 7 at Fenway. We get to play. I’m glad we’re playing at home. As far as the game goes, the momentum will be with both starting pitchers. What happened tonight won’t dictate tomorrow.”
Last night’s game was over before the end of the third. On the heels of their season-saving 7-1 win in Cleveland Thursday, the Sox blasted to a 10-1 lead before making a second out in the third inning. It was then that the aptly named Aaron Laffey was summoned for mopup duty in a game that could have sent the Indians to the World Series for only the third time since 1948.
The emergence of Drew as Mr. October was sprinkled with irony. The passive right fielder has been a target of Sox fans since he came aboard for $70 million last winter and did little during the season to change opinions that he is overrated and overpaid. It was a mind-numbing moment for most of the Nation to see Drew crush a 3-1 pitch in the first inning and round the bases with the third grand slam in Sox postseason history.
“It was a great feeling,” said Drew. “It has been a tough year. I just wanted to go into the playoffs and have good at-bats.”
“J.D. certainly played a big part in this,” said Francona. “One pitch and we got four on the board. That was huge.”
Two innings after the slam, Drew’s single off the pathetic Carmona ignited a six-run inning and triggered a parade of Cleveland pitchers and errors. It was 10-1 when Kevin Youkilis got his third hit in three innings and there was little doubt that Schilling (10-2, 2.25 career postseason ERA) would be able to hold the lead.
“The game plan was perfect and I’m glad it worked out,” said Schilling (two earned runs, six hits, seven innings). “It’s nice. We’re playing a Game 7. It was a very gratifying night.”
Sox choreographer Dr. Charles Steinberg treated the sellout to most of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album before Game 6 and there was a lot of Schilling video on the big board while “A Day In The Life” played over the sound system. After the famous final chord, old friend Bill Mueller came out for the ceremonial first pitch. It was one more reminder of the magic ride of 2004, something the Sox still seek to replicate. No doubt the good doctor is trying to get Paul and Ringo for tonight.
It was pretty clear the baseball gods were on Boston’s side when Grady Sizemore led off the game with a towering shot to right that might have been a homer but was ruled a foul ball. Replays were inconclusive and the Tribe went down in order.
The game was over when Drew connected in the first. Dustin Pedroia and Youkilis got things going with back-to-back infield singles, then David Ortiz walked to load the bases. After Manny Ramirez fanned and Mike Lowell flied to shallow right, Drew cleared the bases with a shot into the camera box in left-center. General manager Theo Epstein and senior baseball operations adviser Bill James had to be smiling while their $14 million per year white elephant went into his home run trot. It was arguably Drew’s first memorable hit of the season, and certainly the highlight of his professional career.
The Sox blew it open and drove Carmona from the hill in the third. The overwhelmed righty walked Ramirez and Lowell to start the inning, then hit the showers after Drew’s RBI single. Jacoby Ellsbury, starting in place of Coco Crisp, singled off Rafael Perez to make it 6-1, then Julio Lugo doubled to left and it was 8-1.
“We were trying to control damage, but obviously it didn’t work out tonight,” said Wedge.
The Indians were embarrassed after that. Youkilis drove a ball off the Wall and escaped being out when he headed the baseball, soccer-style, while caught in a pickle. There were a couple of Cleveland errors and two more runs before the end of the third.
The drama was gone, especially with Schilling dealing from his office. The big righty threw 90 pitches, 60 for strikes, and turned the ball over to Javier Lopez in the eighth and Eric Gagne in the ninth.
As easy at it was, and as bad as the Indians looked in Games 5 and 6 (outscored, 19-3), it’s a mistake for Sox fans to assume the Series is over. Westbrook beat the Red Sox, 4-2, in Game 3. Matsuzaka, meanwhile, failed to get out of the fifth inning in either of his postseason starts and the rookie righty was visibly distraught after his failure in Cleveland.
With the pennant on the line tonight, Francona will have his starter on a short leash. That means Jon Lester will be ready. Tim Wakefield will be ready. And Josh Beckett, winner of Games 1 and 5, the most dominant player in the postseason thus far, will have his spikes on in the Sox bullpen.
Beckett threw 109 pitches Thursday night, but this is no time to worry about that. There’ll be no rest for anyone around here until the 2007 baseball season is over.