Tribe-Sox clash a breath of fresh air
Both teams quietly let their winning ways do the talking
BOSTON -- This is an American League Championship Series. It is supposed to come with subplots neatly attached.
But with the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians, you don't have a lot of intrigue, in the Alfred Hitchcock sense of the word. What you have here instead are two teams with identical regular-season records, tied for the best in the Major Leagues. This may have to do. In fact, this will do.
Much of the potential for extraneous stuff departed with the New York Yankees. The Yankees-Red Sox material is pretty much "War and Peace" length by now. There may have been people, even apart from Yankees fans, who wanted to see another round of this rivalry, for the heat, for the controversy, for old times' sake.
But you won't get that and the reason is simple: Both of these clubs were better than the Yanks; the Red Sox in winning the AL East, ending the Yankees' nine-year run atop that division, and the Indians in taking three out of four from the Bronx Bombers in a Division Series.
So we're missing the animosity. What you have here instead is a mutual admiration society. You cannot sensationalize two teams having a genuine admiration for each other's abilities and performance. Tough break.
"There's a lot of danger in their lineup," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said of the Indians. "There are a lot of guys swinging the bats and swinging the bats well. They have a very good team, a very good lineup, and we have to focus on what this team has, and what has made our team good, and that's pitching the ball well."
"They've got great pitching and we do, too," said Cleveland's Game 1 starter, C.C. Sabatha. "They've got huge bats and we do, too. You look at the numbers, you look at the pitching, you look at the offenses, and I think we're dead even. It's just going to take who wants it more, who executes little things and gets runners over and gets them in, and I think that'll determine the series."
Perfect. In the past, a Boston postseason series was accompanied by considerable historical baggage. But the 86-year wait for a World Series championship ended for the Sox three Octobers ago, so the historical angst angle is out the window. We do have a less-publicized dry spell on the Cleveland side, 59 years since the last World Series championship for the Indians.
Nobody got as much emotional and even literary mileage out of a championship drought as Red Sox Nation. It was like seasonal employment for poets and playwrights. It was bemoaned and celebrated at the same time. The Cleveland gap between championships has been substantial, but much less noticed by the remainder of the world. It may be a regional thing, Midwesterners typically suffering in something much more like silence.
There isn't a lot that can be done with the traditional comparison of the two cities, either. They are apples and oranges at the very least, possibly Volvos and Chevys, maybe even salmon and sauerkraut, but it does not matter. Both places are just swell in their own unique fashions. This is one more non-baseball aspect that should be jettisoned at the earliest convenience.
These teams haven't already played each other 18 times this season, and that's all right, too. There are real baseball fans outside of Red Sox Nation and the Yankees' vast fan base who believe, in the face of relentless media hype, that the two teams seem to play roughly 88 times a year, and that enough was already enough some time ago.
The Red Sox vs. the Indians might be, in that context, a breath of fresh baseball air, a non-traditional matchup that will depend upon the quality of play itself and not pretending that somehow the series is another round in the endless battle between good and evil.
Yes, outfielder Coco Crisp was traded from the Indians to the Red Sox, and catcher Kelly Shoppach went in the opposite direction in the same deal. But it is hard to go from this directly to a vendetta.
We may have to settle for baseball here, although there have been unconfirmed reports that this is all that ever mattered, anyway.
On that side of the ledger, Boston and Cleveland bring us the team ranked first in AL team earned run average vs. the team ranked third. This is what really matters in postseason baseball. Both of these clubs put some additional luster on their pitching credentials in the Division Series, the Red Sox limiting the Angels to four runs in three games, the Indians putting up a laudable 3.41 ERA against the mighty Yankees' offense.
There will pitching matchups worthy of this October or any October. Two Cy Young candidates, Josh Beckett and Sabathia open the festivities in Game 1. Game 2 has Curt Schilling, one of the finest postseason performers available (9-2, 1.93) against the breakthrough pitcher of the 2007 regular season, Fausto Carmona, who led the AL in ERA at 3.06.
There are sluggers of on both sides. These are also highly capable defensive clubs. Both of them appear to be fit and playing at or near their best form.
"I think what's important is you try to get your team healthy, and feeling good about themselves," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Thursday. "And I think both teams are probably there right now."
That is good new for baseball fans. And this whole series, the best two teams in the game by record, unburdened by either history or hysteria, should be good for baseball itself.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.