Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ALCS Game 4: Boston 3, Cleveland 7

...and the crowd goes wild!Wow. For four solid innings tonight, we actually had a real, honest-to-Goat scoreless pitcher's duel going. Then, all hell broke loose ... but we're getting ahead of ourselves ...

Almost from the instant Game 2 of the American League Championship Series finished in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona had found himself in the same spot occupied by Cleveland Indians skipper Eric Wedge a week and change before as the national media (and many in the Red Sox Nation) wondered if he was going to move staff ace Josh Beckett forward in the rotation to face the Tribe on short rest in Game 4, instead of sticking with veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield as originally scheduled. A week earlier, Wedge stuck with Paul Byrd to start Game 4 of the ALDS, ignoring the cries of many who wanted C.C. Sabathia starting in that situation instead, and the Tribe manager's decision paid off as Byrd's Houdini-like performance led the Indians to eliminating the New York Yankees, and served up a heapin' helpin' of crow to everyone who doubted him (including this writer). Ignoring similar protests from the press and the fans, Francona, like Wedge a week before, stuck to his planned rotation.

Asdrubal hates knuckleballs. Yup.The problems the doubters have with Wakefield run the gamut from physical issues (he had been sidelined from the ALDS due to nagging back problems and was making his first start in 2 weeks), to his less-than-stellar postseason record, and perhaps most importantly to the unpredictable nature of his specialty: any pitcher specializing in tossing knuckleballs has to basically do a high wire act on the mound in order to keep the opposing team at bay, with weather conditions and skill playing into the effectiveness of the pitch during the course of the game. As Game 4 got started, the weather was definitely on Wakefield's side (breezy, unseasonably warm mid-sixties temperatures with some clammy humidity from rain showers earlier -- perfect for knuckleballs), and his command was devastating.

Casey, on the other hand, like knuckleballs.Then along came the fifth inning and the roof caved in on the Sox in a hurry. "Mountain Man" Casey Blake blasted a pitch onto the Home Run Porch to break the scoreless tie, and it seemed like Wakefield's control seemed to waver afterwards as he then gave up a single to Franklin Gutierrez, hit Kelly Shoppach with a pitch, gave up a fielder's choice to Grady Sizemore, misplayed what should have been a double-play ball by Asdrubal Cabrera (which scored a run) and then gave up a RBI single to Victor Martinez.

Jhonny makes the Sox regret the day their fathers met their mothers.With the score now 3-0, Francona lifted Wakefield in an attempt to cease the onslaught, but the Red Sox pitching only continued to melt down as reliever Manny Delcarmen suddenly lost his ability to throw his usually effective curve ball for a strike, giving up a three-run bomb to Cleveland's own Mr. October, followed by a single to Kenny Lofton (who then stole second base), a Blake RBI single and a walk to Gutierrez before finally getting a third out. Throughout Boston's 35-minute ordeal, 12 Indians batted, and 7 touched home plate. Oh my ...

The Cobra returns to his lair.For the Indians, starting Byrd was nowhere near as risky a move in this situation as it seemed to be in New York, but one of the devout veteran's more interesting stats is that is home ERA during the regular season was nearly two points higher than his road total, which seemed to indicate a possible shooting gallery for the Red Sox offense, who had been held to two runs over the previous 14 innings. Said shooting gallery arrived at the top of the sixth, when Byrd (probably feeling the effects of an unplanned half-hour of inactivity) suddenly gave up two consecutive home runs. Wedge, not taking any chances, pulled his starter immediately and replaced him with Jensen Lewis, who allowed yet another Boston home run before settling down and ending the inning.

Raffy B. Damn, son.Once the mid game offensive freak out was over, the rest of the contest was as barren of runs as the first half as the bullpens for both teams clamped down and prevented either side from mounting additional rallies. By the end of the night (on top of two perfect innings from Rafael Betancourt) Cleveland, the underdog coming into the ALCS, now stood atop a reeling Boston by a 3-1 margin.

Victor Martinez makes a fist.And so, the postseason continues in two days: with the Red Sox now facing elimination on unfriendly turf unless they can somehow pull off three victories in a row (one more at Jacobs' Field, and then two at Fenway Park), while the Indians need only to win one of the next three games to take the American League pennant. Meanwhile, way out west, the white-hot 2007 National League champion Colorado Rockies are forced to idle for the next week, waiting to find out who they'll be facing in the 2007 World Series.

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