Bring on the Rockies
Red Sox heading back to World Series after downing Tribe
BOSTON -- Much like the flow of this entire American League Championship Series, Game 7 had teetering momentum, leaving die-hards and casual observers alike to wonder which team was in control. But just when doubt began to creep in for the home team, the Red Sox got a couple of breaks and then created some of their own, advancing to the World Series with an 11-2 victory Sunday night over the hard-fighting and talented Cleveland Indians.
And thus, Boston completed its dramatic comeback from 3-1 down in this series, becoming the first team in Major League history to pull off that feat three times. Just like the Red Sox of 1986 and 2004, the '07 team is going to the World Series, where they will face the sizzling Colorado Rockies, beginning Wednesday night at Fenway Park. In all, 66 teams have faced a 3-1 deficit in the postseason and the Red Sox became just the 11th to crawl out of it.
"We were down, 3-1, and still felt that we could win," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, whose two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning was arguably the biggest hit of the night. "There's obviously those three nights you go to bed and you don't sleep. All you think about is trying to win and trying to figure out how we're going to turn this around. We figured it out."
Only then was the battle between two teams, who both went 96-66 during the regular season, settled. It all ended in a hard-fought Game 7 that was by no means indicative of the final score.
The Red Sox broke it open with Pedroia's two-run blast in the seventh, and then a big six-spot in the eighth. Before that, it was a night full of anxious moments.
"It was a real close game, just like the whole series," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "There were a lot of wide margins [in the scores], but it seemed like a real close series the whole way."
The Red Sox, their season on the brink after Game 4, didn't trail once in the final three games, a span in which they outscored the Indians, 30-5.
But by the seventh inning of Game 7, it was anybody's series. In fact, it was far too close for comfort for the Red Sox. Clinging to a 3-2 lead with one out in the seventh and Kenny Lofton standing on second, Franklin Gutierrez struck a 1-2 pitch from Hideki Okajima down the third-base line and just fair, hitting a camera well and taking a strange bounce. It appeared Lofton could have scored, but he was held by third-base coach Joel Skinner, leaving the Fenway crowd shocked in a happy sort of way.
Then again, it was a play that looked easier on replays and in hindsight than in real time.
"Sometimes that ball caroms right to the shortstop," said third baseman Mike Lowell. "I don't know, that's a tough angle. I had a tough angle at it. After the fact, maybe you say he has a chance. But I don't think you can second-guess that play."
Like clockwork, the momentum of the game shifted thereafter. Casey Blake hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning, eliciting a deafening roar from the Fenway crowd.
It would only get louder in the bottom of the seventh. With Rafael Betancourt on for the Indians, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a grounder to third. But Blake bobbled it, turning it into a two-base error. Julio Lugo bunted Ellsbury to third, and then Pedroia hit that rocket of a two-run homer to left-center, giving the Sox some breathing room at 5-2.
"I hit it good and the wind was kind of blowing it out to center, and it kind of pushed it," said Pedroia. "So I was like, 'Geez, don't hit the top of the fence.' Once it went out, I was so excited and had so much adrenaline going on, I don't even remember running around the bases, to tell you the truth. I just got around there. It was the biggest at-bat of my life, and I'll never forget it."
And, without question, one of the biggest hits the Red Sox had all year.
"We felt like we had a cushion," said Lowell.
An inning later, Pedroia roped a three-run double to put the game on ice.
With two on and nobody out in the eighth, Jonathan Papelbon came on and put out the fire, sending down three in a row. Papelbon finished off the ninth and clinched the AL pennant for the Red Sox, the 12th in the history of the club. After going 86 years without a World Series championship, Boston now has a chance of winning its second in the past four seasons.
And just like in '04, they got there the hard way.
"It's unbelievable. It's a great feeling just to go out there and play so well," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who merely hit .500 (14-for-28) in the series, with three homers and seven RBIs. "Just to win here at home, it was unbelievable. A lot of people doubted us, but we didn't doubt ourselves."
Daisuke Matsuzaka started strong for Boston, limiting Cleveland to one run over the first four innings. He wound up getting the win by giving up six hits and two runs over five innings, walking none and striking out three.
It was sweet redemption for Matsuzaka, who was bitter about the way he pitched in his Game 3 loss.
"After our three straight losses, the team kept telling me to get ready to pitch in Game 7," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. "And I think everybody on the team worked very well together to bring us into Game 7, and I just wanted to respond as best as I could for my teammates today."
Okajima, Boston's other rookie from Japan, got six big outs, leaving Papelbon to get the last six.
The Red Sox never did use dominant ace Josh Beckett -- who was named MVP of the series -- seemingly making him available for Game 1 against the Rockies.
For the third straight game, the Red Sox made some early noise against the opposing starter. This time, Pedroia and Youkilis led off the first with singles against Jake Westbrook, who wound up producing a gritty performance. After David Ortiz struck out, Manny Ramirez hit a hard liner that took a vicious hop over shortstop Jhonny Peralta and into left for an RBI single. If Peralta had fielded the ball, it would have been a sure double play.
The Red Sox again got something started in the second. Jason Varitek led off with a double off the Green Monster and Ellsbury's single made it runners at the corners with nobody out. Westbrook got Lugo on a 6-4-3 double play, on which Varitek scored to make it 2-0.
A similar theme developed in the third when the red-hot Youkilis led off with a double down the third-base line. After an Ortiz grounder moved him to third, Indians manager Eric Wedge opted for an intentional walk to Ramirez. Lowell got a run home, hitting a sac fly to right to make it 3-0.
After that, Westbrook was nasty and the Red Sox had to wonder if they had wasted an opportunity.
"It seems like we wasted some opportunities with all those double plays, but after Dustin's big hit, we were able to pour it on in the eighth," said Lowell.
The pennant was finally Boston's when Coco Crisp made a spectacular catch in the triangle area of right-center for the final out.
The Red Sox mobbed each other before going through the obligatory champagne celebration in the clubhouse and interacting with their rabid fans on the field.
"We all believed in ourselves," said Papelbon. "This team has been through this situation before and we knew coming back home was going to be a different story."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.