American League Championship Series – Game 7
Red Sox 11, Indians 2
Red Sox win American League Championship, 4-3
“It’s baseball, man. Silly damn game.”
Those words are as true this morning as they were when I first wrote them a few days ago. Then, I was lamenting the number of bounces that went against the Sox. Today, I’m unclenching my fists, trying to find intact fingernails, and taking a series of relieved deep breaths after a great number of fortunate occurrences in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS broke for the Red Sox.
A cursory glance at the record books will show that the Sox hammered the Indians to win the American League pennant in Game 7 of the 2007 Championship Series. Somehow, though, I think the heart-stopping action in the top of the 7th inning will remain etched more deeply in my memories than will the Sox’ late-game explosion. With 1 out and Kenny Lofton on 2nd, courtesy of the Sox’ only real defensive miscue of the series, Franklin Gutierrez rifled a grounder over the 3rd-base bag. The ball caromed off Fenway’s jutting stands into shallow left field, and I sagged, physically and mentally, knowing that the Indians had just tied the game at 3.
And then, the Ghost of Wendall Kim Past whispered into Indians’3rd-base coach Joel Skinner’s ear. I’ve got no better explanation for Skinner’s decision to hold Lofton at 3rd. Replays showed that Lofton would have scored easily, barring a detour into a concession stand. After the game, Manny Ramirez told the media that he wasn’t planning to make a throw home, saying, “I was going to hit my cutoff and let him handle it.” Ours not to wonder why, I suppose, but just to give silent thanks. When Casey Blake grounded sharply into an inning-ending and rally-killing double play, Fenway erupted and the stunned Indians squandered their best chance to win the series’ final game.
Speaking of Manny being canny, his stellar play on Lofton’s 5th-inning drive to left kept the Sox from deeper trouble. The Indians’ left fielder led off the frame against the obviously tiring Daisuke Matsusaka by rifling a liner over Manny’s head. Manny calmly turned, played the ball on the bounce with his bare hand, and whirled gracefully to fire a one-hop seed to Dustin Pedroia at 2nd. Though replays showed Lofton to be (barely) safe, the Manny-to-Pedroia wizardry made the play close enough for the umpire to call the fleet runner out. When the next 2 Tribe batters singled, Manny’s play took on even greater significance, and then again when Matsuzaka wriggled out of the inning allowing only a single Cleveland tally.
The worn Indians bullpen finally cracked after the Tribe failed to score in the 7th, with Dustin Pedroia battering Rafael Betancourt for a 2-run homer and a 3-run double in consecutive innings. Pedroia’s blast gave the Sox a 5-2 lead, but the Indians kept coming, leading off the bottom of the 8th with back-to-back singles against Hideki Okajima. Only after Jonathan Papelbon retired the heart of the Indian order, with each of Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Garko representing the tying run, did the Sox finally blow the game open with 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th.
The 9-run cushion proved both boon and bane for the Fenway crowd and the Sox’ players. Obviously, it’s much easier on the psyche to count down the final outs with a big lead, and a relieved Nation was clearly reveling in the moment. On the other hand, the Na Na Na Na Hey Hey chants that reverberated around the old ballpark were bush league, especially galling given the Indians’ gritty efforts throughout the series. And when David Ortiz appeared in the dugout wearing a t-shirt and goggles before the final out was recorded, I cringed. I haven’t scanned the blogosphere yet this morning, but I’m quite certain that the Sox and their fans will be on the receiving end of well-deserved scorn from all corners. This notion of entitlement is growing wearisome, and quickly. And I’ll freely admit that it soured me ever so slightly on last night’s win.
I got over it when Papelbon, that glorious moron, celebrated the win with another goofball Riverdance, and when Pedroia answered the media’s questions with a veteran’s poise and a rookie’s honesty, admitting that he had been nervous during the postseason’s opening days. I got over it a little more watching Josh Beckett give credit to Jason Varitek and his teammates when accepting the ALCS MVP award (which Kevin Youkilis nearly stole from him with 3 more hits and another long homer). And I got nearly all the way over it when every Sox player and executive talked about the Indians’ heart and the Rockies’ solid roster. But it still pissed me off, and I’m a little bummed to be pissed off when recounting the Sox’ second American League Championship in 4 years. In the words of the great Sam Wyche, you people aren’t from…mmm, yeah, that one doesn’t work quite as well in this situation. Alright, then, you people aren’t from New York. How ‘bout a little class next time, eh?
In the final accounting, I’m much happier to bemoan a hopefully isolated lapse in decorum during the celebration of the AL championship than I would be to eulogize the 2007 Sox today. World Series baseball at Fenway again, with the memories of 2004 still mostly fresh (and moreso if Kevin Millar keeps worming his way back onstage). Lotta ball left, stay on target.