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BOSTON -- They were up 3-1 and needed only one more victory to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
They never got there. Instead, the Cleveland Indians will watch the World Series on television, if they can bear watching it all. Their season came to an end with an 11-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on Sunday.
The question is, what went wrong? How did the Indians let this ALCS get away after they held such a commanding lead just a few days ago?
The answer? Plenty.
Travis Hafner had a terrible ALCS. The Indians designated hitter ended up 4-for-27 (.148) with one home run and two RBIs and set an ALCS record by striking out 12 times.
No. 12 came in the eighth inning Sunday. The Indians were trailing, 5-2, when Hafner came up in the eighth with two on and nobody out and struck out on three pitches against Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon.
But Hafner was hardly the only hitter to go missing in action, as the Indians were outscored in the final three games of the Series, 30-5. There were others struggling to find hits at the end.
Grady Sizemore, after a three-hit game in Game 2, had three hits in his last 17 at-bats over his last five games, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko both had four hits in their last 16 at-bats over their last four games, and Jhonny Peralta, who at one point looked like the ALCS MVP, had one hit in 10 at-bats in the final three games of the series.
The Indians hit .222 over the final three games as a team, including .176 (3-for-17) with runners in scoring position.
"I thought we played well, we just weren't able to get the big hit," Sizemore said. "Sometimes they made a big pitch or made a big play. I thought we played hard, they just played better."
Little ball lacking:
The Red Sox had plenty of memorable big hits. But they also outplayed the Indians when it came to "small ball."
The Red Sox drew 31 walks to the Indians' 16 over the series' seven games. The Red Sox also struck out 20 times fewer (63-43) than the Indians. They had five sacrifice flies and two sacrifice hits. The Indians had three sacrifice flies and no sacrifice hits. The Red Sox also hit .348 with runners in scoring position while the Indians hit .286.
One more statistic: The Indians allowed four unearned runs. The Red Sox did not allow any.
"You knew whoever took advantage of opportunities, or if mistakes were made, that was going to be the difference," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
No leads to go on:
The Indians finished off Game 4 with a 7-3 victory. That's the last time they had a lead of any kind. They never led again in the final three games and were trailing after 25 of the final 27 innings.
The Red Sox led 2-1 after three innings in Game 5 and 4-0 after the first inning in Game 6. On Sunday night they scored single runs in each of the first three innings to take a 3-0 lead.
The Indians' late-inning relievers were terrific in the first half of the series. But they were a non-factor in the final three games because the Indians could never get them a lead to protect.
"We needed something special to happen," third baseman Casey Blake said. "We needed things to go our way, and they didn't."
Decline and fall of the aces:
Might as well bring up the most obvious: never in the history of the League Championship Series has a team had two starters struggle as much as C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona did for the Indians.
They combined for 38 wins in the regular season, but together they were 0-3 with a 12.67 ERA in four starts in the ALCS. Carmona was 0-1 with a 16.50 ERA in his two starts and Sabathia was 0-2 with a 10.45 in his two.
It's the first time in LCS history that a team has had two pitchers start two games each and both finish with an ERA higher than 10.00. It happened once in the World Series, when Livan Hernandez had a 14.29 ERA and Russ Ortiz had a 10.13 ERA for the San Francisco Giants in 2002.
"It's a tough loss to take right now," Sabathia said. "We had the upper hand, and then let it slip away. We tried to do our best but it wasn't enough. But when I review this year when I'm relaxed, I'm going to realize how good this season was."
Rafael Betancourt was a big reason why the Indians led 3-1 after four games. What happened to him over the final three games is part of what went wrong for the Indians.
Go back to Game 5 on Thursday when the Indians trailed 2-1 going into the seventh. Sabathia had thrown 106 pitches, but Wedge sent him out to the seventh instead of bringing in Betancourt. Wedge said he did not want to use Betancourt for two innings, but the Indians had been off Wednesday and had another day off Friday.
Sabathia gave up a double to Dustin Pedroia and a triple to Kevin Youkilis. Wedge then went to Betancourt before David Ortiz's sacrifice fly gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.
In almost the same situation in Game 7, Betancourt was brought in to pitch the seventh with the Indians trailing, 3-2. This time Betancourt couldn't do the job. Pedroia hit a two-run home run off him in the seventh and the Red Sox scored five more off him in the eighth.
"I tried my best," Betancourt said. "This time I couldn't get it done. I'm still proud of what we did."