ALCS boasts first dose of playoff drama
Series featuring baseball's best nothing short of compelling
BOSTON -- This is the only game in town, and by town we do not mean Beantown.
This 2007 American League Championship Series is the summit for baseball so far in this October of our lives. It has achieved this higher elevation because it still entertains two possibilities for ultimate victory.
Certainly, there have been other great stories emerging in this postseason -- the nearly surreal success of the Colorado Rockies fairly gallops to mind in that category. But elsewhere, there has not been any of what could fairly be called drama. You know, the really compelling, down-to-the-wire, 11th-hour, do-or-die stuff that is supposed to be the best of October baseball.
It is ironic. The regular season was characterized by as much competitive balance as the game has ever known; for just the second time in the modern era, no team had a winning percentage above .600, no team had a winning percentage below .400. And the National League race for the postseason, with seven teams in genuine contention with just days to go, was as frantic as it was fascinating.
And then the postseason comes and there are wonderful stories, individual and collective. But drama? Not really. Of the first six postseason series, four were outright sweeps and one finished 3-1. Maybe the drama quota had already been exceeded. Maybe everything does even out in life, although try telling that to the Chicago Cubs.
Now, late in the day, like an October specialty, really, comes a candidate for a fitting October scenario. And precisely enough, the ALCS features by record, the two best teams in baseball, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians.
Finally, some legitimate back-and-forth. The Red Sox looked nothing less than dominant in Game 1. Game 2 was a five-hour, 14-minute marathon, a feast of baseball, maybe even a surplus of baseball, finally ended by a seven-run 11th inning for the Tribe.
That turned the tide, because it became the Indians who appeared unstoppable. With three straight victories, built on strong pitching from the third and fourth starters, seemingly impenetrable work by the bullpen, and the occasional offensive explosion, the Indians came to Game 5 at Jacobs Field one victory away from the World Series.
And then Josh Beckett completely reversed the direction of this event again, with what is becoming for him the standard postseason pitching gem.
Now, mid-October turns to late October and the teams return to Fenway Park and we return to the atmosphere that we always hope to get out of baseball in this month. Saturday night, if it won't be the ultimate experience, at least it will be the penultimate experience, a Game 6.
The Indians are on still on the brink of the World Series. The Red Sox are still on the brink of elimination. Even for the fan with no specific rooting interest, this is much more like it.
Now, Curt Schilling, a longstanding postseason ace, will face Fausto Carmona, whose power sinker made him a 19-game winner this season. Neither pitcher succeeded nobly in Game 2, but one or both are fully capable of producing a postseason gem.
The storylines are in place, the preliminaries have been suitably played out, and now we come to real postseason deal. Either the Red Sox will stage a comeback that will be reminiscent of their epic achievement of 2004, or the Cleveland club of the new generation will have a postseason breakthrough.
This is good stuff. And despite the Red Sox being the favorites in this series, it is not unexpected. There is not a great deal of distance between these two clubs, both of them certifiably good, bidding to be good enough to be the best.
This is baseball that you hope for from the competitors and from October. When Indians manager Eric Wedge was asked on Friday if he had expected this series to go the distance or close to the distance, he was willing to budge from his typical one-game-at-a-time stance in favor of the big picture. And the big picture in this series is compelling.
"I'll answer that now because we're far enough into it," Wedge said. "I think prior to this series we felt like it was going to go pretty deep into it. We really did.
"You look at just how well both teams performed in the regular season, as well as the postseason matchups prior to this series and just looking at the matchups.
"You've got two pretty good teams that are going to battle it out and work hard to create opportunities for themselves, and take advantage of opportunities. And I think that's what you've seen so far."
What we've seen so far has mostly whetted the baseball appetite for what will come on Saturday night, and, who knows, perhaps Sunday night as well.
There had to be one postseason series that brought us these possibilities, didn't there? And this is the one best suited to it -- the two 96-victory outfits, the last two American League clubs standing, the best two clubs over the long pull of the regular season.
The two-way postseason street turns out to be the road less traveled this October. But the Indians and the Red Sox are the right clubs to be taking this route.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.