10/21/07 1:15 AM ET
Plenty tied up in Game 7
Red Sox's momentum nice, but all Tribe needs is one, too
Game 6 of the 2007 American League Championship Series may be long remembered in New England as part of an epic comeback. If it is remembered in northeastern Ohio, it will be remembered in the same way that a flood or a major tax increased is remembered.
The ALCS is tied, 3-3, now, but you have a hard time looking at these clubs as equal on the strength of Saturday night's 12-2 Red Sox victory. How well were things going for the Red Sox? The single most publicly maligned player on this Boston team, J.D. Drew, drilled a grand slam in the first inning.
Drew was signed to a five-year, $70-million deal with the Sox, but his regular-season performance did not approach the value suggested by that sort of money. And his low-key style of play didn't exactly suggest that his intangibles were more valuable than his tangibles. Thus, he was something other than a fan favorite here, where the citizens like their heroes to have both production and a uniform with some dirt on it.
"This is not," as Red Sox manager Terry Francona put it, "an easy place to not do well."
Perhaps this perception will all change due to one swing of the bat, a swing that did, after all, give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead in a potential elimination game. And Drew encored with an RBI single in the third, giving him five RBIs for the night, five more than he had in the other five games of the ALCS.
Curt Schilling was, as usual, a virtual lock in a postseason elimination game. In four previous postseason elimination starts, Schilling was 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA and his club had won all four games. He was better than good again here, although Boston's domination of this game did not even require this sort of performance.
On the other side of the coin, the Indians did not much resemble the club that won 96 regular-season games, defeated the Yankees in the AL Division Series, and, in fact, had taken a 3-1 lead in this very series. There were errors of commission, errors of omission and nothing like the pitching that had brought the Indians to the brink of the World Series.
Rafael Perez was one of the most effective relievers in the game this summer. But he has not been up to the task of pitching in a Championship Series, as his 45.00 ERA might subtly suggest. He threw gasoline on this particular bonfire, giving up three runs, two earned, in one-third of an inning, as the Sox took a 10-1 lead in the third. His appearance in Game 7 would be the Cleveland equivalent of waving a white flag.
The utter disappearance of designated hitter Travis Hafner has also been notable. He is hitting .130 here, with 10 strikeouts in 24 at-bats, and does not resemble himself at the plate. Saturday night, he got the ball out of the infield for the first time since Game 2. The Indians typically have a productive lineup, but with the No. 3 hitter in complete non-function mode, it is a reduced commodity.
But it must be said that some of the Indians' initial problems seemed to be the result of random misfortune. Starter Fausto Carmona gets grounders when his power sinker is working and this is just exactly what he got from the first two hitters of the game. But the grounders in question were either too soft or too well-placed to result in outs.
This does not excuse the home run pitch to Drew, but it does throw an element of bad luck into the mix of this Cleveland catastrophe. But after that, Carmona was his own worst enemy in the third, losing command of both the strike zone and the game.
Maybe it is perversely encouraging for the Indians that they have managed to take the series this far when their top two starters, Carmona and C.C. Sabathia, have flopped. Maybe not.
What next? If you simply looked at this game, you would not suspect that the Indians had much chance of beating somebody in any contest weightier than a game of tic-tac-toe. And you could not imagine the Red Sox, with the memory of the 2004 epic comeback in their minds and the cheers of the Fenway faithful in their ears, losing anything much more important than a coin flip.
After outscoring the Indians 19-3 in the last two games, playing a Game 7 at home, the Red Sox appear to have everything going in their direction. But it is not automatically like that, because, as you know -- all together and in four-part harmony -- momentum in baseball is no better than the next night's starting pitcher.
"Things didn't work out today, but it's one game," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "We're going to put it behind us and be ready to go [Sunday night]."
"As far as the next game goes, the momentum will be with the starting pitchers," Francona said.
In this case, for Game 7 of this series, those will be Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has not yet succeeded in this postseason, against Jake Westbrook, who won Game 3 of this series for the Indians.
"Hey, it's going to come to Game 7 [with] the two teams that won more baseball games than anybody in the regular season, two teams that have beat up on each other over the course of the past week, and that's the way it should be," said Wedge. "It's something everybody should look forward to."
The postseason is rarely as simple as it seemed on Saturday night, when the Red Sox were rolling, Fenway Park was rocking and the Indians were reeling. The memorable moments of October baseball don't usually occur with 10-run margins attached.
But the victory bought the Red Sox a chance at the World Series. And as badly as things went for the Indians in this one, the consolation prize was the same thing -- one more chance to get it right and move on to the ultimate prize.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.