By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
CLEVELAND, Oct. 16 -- For a few fleeting moments Tuesday night, there seemed to be two games going on at Jacobs Field. There was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between 49 players representing the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. And there was the one going on inside Manny Ramirez's head.
In the former, the one that truly matters, the Indians exploded for a seven-run fifth inning to power to a 7-3 victory that put them one victory from a trip to the World Series. In the latter, only Ramirez, the Red Sox' famously goofy left fielder, knows the score. Because he doesn't speak to reporters, one can only assume his team won.
A towel-waving crowd of 44,008 at the stadium known as the Jake willed Paul Byrd, the Indians' crafty veteran pitcher, to an effective five-inning start. It exploded just as the Indians' offense did, turning home runs by Casey Blake and Jhonny Peralta into a seven-run inning. And it jeered and hissed at Ramirez -- once a beloved member of the Indians, now a hated enemy -- for a gross violation of baseball decorum following a sixth-inning homer.
And finally, the crowd roared as reliever Rafael Betancourt closed out the Indians' victory, giving them a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series and a chance to clinch the pennant at home Thursday night in Game 5 -- after an oddly timed off-day on Wednesday -- with ace C.C. Sabathia facing Red Sox counterpart Josh Beckett.
"We have a chance to close it out at home," reliever Jensen Lewis said. "You have to feel excited about that, more than anything. There are a lot of people in here who have never been to the World Series."
Even after the Indians broke open a scoreless game with seven runs off starter Tim Wakefield and reliever Manny Delcarmen -- the Indians' second seven-run inning in the series -- there would be serious work left to do, because in the top of the sixth, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Ramirez hit back-to-back-to-back solo home runs. The first two came against Byrd, while the last -- a majestic, 451-foot blast -- was off Lewis.
Incongruously, Ramirez thrust his arms in the air -- walk-off style -- and watched his homer sail over the wall before starting his run around the bases, throwing in a couple of finger-points toward the stands on his way around the bases, the glaring eyes of several Indians following him around.
"I didn't see it," Lewis said of Ramirez's reaction. "I was told what happened. I don't know -- it was Manny being Manny, I guess."
When Ramirez came up again in the eighth, with bloodthirsty fans perhaps craving a heater at his head, the Indians instead played it smart, and Betancourt retired him on an easy fly to left to end the inning.
"In a game like that, I don't care what another player does," Indians first baseman Victor Martinez said of Ramirez. "We don't pay attention to the other team."
It is one of the wonderful mysteries of baseball: Why a collection of expert hitters like the Red Sox' can pound some of the more purely talented pitchers in the game -- like John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Francisco Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona -- yet do virtually nothing these last two nights against Jake Westbrook and Byrd, more pedestrian throwers.
Byrd, the most accurate pitcher in the AL this season (1.31 walks per nine innings), scattered a few singles, but did not walk a batter and held the Red Sox scoreless until the home run binge in the sixth.
"There's a reason he won 15 games -- and two more in the postseason," Lewis said. "The guy is a warrior. He leaves everything out there."
The Red Sox chose to start an exceedingly well-rested Wakefield -- who hadn't pitched in 16 days -- over ace Josh Beckett on short rest, a decision that was dissected intensely in the days leading up to the game.
Pitching on the fourth anniversary of the pennant-losing home run he gave up to Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Wakefield matched Byrd zero for zero for four innings.
But when it unraveled for Wakefield in the fifth, it did so with astonishing quickness. Blake's homer broke the scoreless tie, but it was two more subtle plays during an at-bat by Indians second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera later that inning that turned the game around.
With runners on the corners and one out, Cabrera lifted a shallow fly ball down the right field line. Youkilis, the first baseman, ran it down in foul territory but failed to make an over-the-shoulder catch, juggling the ball until it dropped to the ground.
Still alive, Cabrera rifled the next pitch up the middle. Had Wakefield either speared the liner in the air or let it go past him so that second baseman Dustin Pedroia could scoop it up, he would have been out of the inning with a double play. Instead, he merely deflected it into the no-man's land between the mound and second base, and another run scored.
From there, the onslaught was on. Martinez, a switch-hitter who went against convention by batted right-handed against the right-handed Wakefield, yanked an RBI single to left one out later, ending Wakefield's night.
It was the third straight game in which the Red Sox have had to go to their bullpen in the fifth inning, and it was the first time the move failed miserably. Delcarmen entered and immediately surrendered the crushing blow -- Peralta's three-run homer. Suddenly, a game that moments ago had been a scoreless tie was a six-run game -- soon to be seven, when Blake singled in another run.
It was looking bleak for the Red Sox -- less so when Youkilis homered, even less so when Ortiz did, too. And when Ramirez made it three straight homers, it seemed a little less bleak still.
Except for Ramirez, that is, for whom there was nothing bleak about the situation at all. Oh, for the Red Sox to have been playing in Ramirez's game, instead of the other way around.