There are no shortcuts, this path to the World Series, and no shortage of suspense.
The Red Sox traced their return passage to the Series through Yokohama and Kyoto, Sacramento and Starksville, Miss., the hamlets of Georgia and the suburbs of Houston, a city kid from Cincinnati joining forces with a Dominican muscleman who joined with a son of Cuba who connected with a Native American, all put together by a brainy decision-maker from Brookline and paid for by a reclusive moneyman from Arkansas.
The Sox won their 12th American League pennant by beating the Cleveland Indians by the deceptive score of 11-2, before a crowd of 37,165 at Fenway Park, the first congregation since 1986 with the chance to celebrate a championship at home. The Sox, who broke open last night’s game with eight runs in their last two at-bats, come back to Fenway Park to open the 103d World Series Wednesday night against the Colorado Rockies, the National League champions who have won 10 straight and 21 of 22.
The Sox won the last three games by the combined score of 30-5, becoming the 12th team in big-league history to win a best-of-seven (or best-of-nine) series after trailing, 3 games to 1. Red Sox teams have done it three times - 1986, 2004, and now this.
“I think when you’re in this kind of pressure cooker, you can either fold or implode or you can relax and be yourself,” said general manager Theo Epstein. “That’s what our guys do. None of the circumstances bother them.”
Daisuke Matsuzaka, son of Japan, was the winner, going the first five innings and allowing both Cleveland runs.
“Daisuke did all we wanted, giving up two runs in five innings in the most important game of the year for him,” said Sox chairman Tom Werner, who last December hosted the dinner with Daisuke and his agent, Scott Boras, that greased his way to Boston. “He had the weight of two countries on him.”
Fellow countryman Hideki Okajima picked him up with two scoreless innings, inducing a huge double-play ball in the seventh. Dustin Pedroia, the rookie from northern California, singled and scored the first run, hit a two-run home run that gave the Sox a 5-2 lead in the seventh, and hit a bases-loaded double in the eighth, scoring three more.
“I’m proud of the whole organization for drafting that kid and developing him,” Epstein said. “I’m so proud of him for all the hard work, defying the odds, not listening to his critics along the way. Every time he gets criticized for being too small or something, he does something. It makes him try harder. Obviously, the kid’s a great player.”
Jonathan Papelbon entered with two on and two outs in the eighth with the game still in the balance and applied the crusher, setting the side down in order, then reprising his “Riverdance” during the madcap celebration that followed.
Kevin Youkilis, the Cincinnati kid, had three hits, including a climactic home run off the Coke bottles, batted .500 in the series (14 for 28) with three home runs and seven RBIs, and could easily have won the MVP that went to Josh Beckett, winner of two games in the series, including Game 5 that brought the series back to Boston.
The Sox led by only a run, 3-2, and dodged potential calamity in the seventh, helped in part by a decision by Indians third base coach Joel Skinner that will be lamented in Cleveland with the same distress that surrounded Grady Little’s Game 7 decision to stick with Pedro Martinez in 2003. Skinner elected to hold up speedster Kenny Lofton at third on a one-out single by Franklin Gutierrez that caromed off the field boxes and kicked back into short left field. Instead of the tying run scoring and the potential go-ahead run on second, the Indians had runners on first and third.
They came up empty when Okajima induced the next batter, Casey Blake, to ground into a double play started by Mike Lowell.
“It had some topspin on it,” Lowell said. “I wanted to make sure I caught it. It wasn’t the greatest feed in the world to Dustin, but thank God he’s like 4 foot 8, which made it easy. Big play, obviously a big play. It started at the beginning. Oki had to make a pitch, and induce the ground ball, and we were able to turn it.”
How surprised was Lowell to see Lofton remain at third?
“They held him up, so it wasn’t him. But sometimes that ball comes right to the shortstop. That’s a tough angle. I had a tough angle. After the fact, maybe you say he had a chance, but I don’t think you can second-guess that play.”
The Sox had not trailed since the end of Game 4, outscoring the Indians, 19-3, in winning Games 5 and 6, and last night they wasted little time seizing the advantage.
Pedroia and Youkilis, who combined to be on base 13 times in the last two Sox wins and scored seven times, were at it again against Indians starter Jake Westbrook. Pedroia hit a leadoff single, and Youkilis followed with a ground single through the left side. David Ortiz struck out, and Manny Ramirez scorched what would have been a double-play one-hopper. But the ball bounced over the head of Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the ball skipping off his glove into left field as Pedroia scored, Youkilis stopping at second.
Lowell ripped a line single to left so hard that Youkilis could advance just one base. For the second straight night, J.D. Drew’s first at-bat would come with the bases loaded, but this time there would be no grand slam. Drew’s ground ball up the middle was speared by Peralta, whose flip to second was barehanded by Asdrubal Cabrera, the time saved on the exchange just enough to catch Drew hustling down the line.
It would be the first of three double plays turned by the Indians in the first four innings, the Sox setting a record for most GIDPs in a postseason. They were at 20 and counting after four; the Cardinals with 17 in 2006 held the record, but that didn’t keep them from celebrating a World Series title.
The Sox added another run in the second. Jason Varitek lined an opposite-field double off the Monster to open the inning and rookie Jacoby Ellsbury flared a base hit just beyond shortstop to put runners on the corners with no outs. Julio Lugo grounded into double play No. 2, Varitek scoring.
The Sox had Westbrook on the ropes again in the fourth, when Lugo’s perfectly executed hit-and-run single sent Ellsbury to third with one out. But Westbrook stiffened, Pedroia rolling into double play No. 3 to end the inning.