By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2007
BOSTON, Oct. 20 -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Boston Red Sox have gone to great lengths in recent days in an attempt to recapture the magic of their exalted 2004 forebears, the ones who staged the epic comeback, the ones who called themselves "Idiots," the ones who broke the curse and brought Boston its first World Series title in 86 years. All over Fenway Park are reminders of 2004, from the video tributes, to the hand-picked ceremonial-first-pitch chuckers, to the goofy left fielder, the sturdy catcher, the burly designated hitter and, on Saturday night, the impregnable starting pitcher.
Finally, then, came a game and a feeling that fully invoked 2004, that made everyone in New England believe it may be happening again -- that this team, down by two games just a few days ago but playing its best baseball when cornered, possesses whatever indefinable quality it was that propelled the 2004 team into lore.
Saturday night brought a definitive 12-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, a win constructed by the unlikeliest offensive heroes -- embattled right fielder J.D. Drew and light-hitting shortstop Julio Lugo -- and underlined by a solid, seven-inning performance from noted big-game hunter Curt Schilling, who tipped his cap to the 37,163 adoring fans as he came off the mound for possibly the last time in a Red Sox uniform.
There was no iconic bloody sock this time, as in 2004, but Schilling improved his career record to 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA in the postseason, including 4-0 with a 1.37 when facing elimination.
And so, on Sunday night, there will be a Game 7 at old Fenway for the first time since the 1986 ALCS, when a young Roger Clemens pitched the Red Sox into the World Series -- where, of course, an awful fate awaited them.
"You have to bring everything you have," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said. "I like to be in this situation. This is it. No tomorrow. If you make a mistake, you have to wait 'til next year."
For this Game 7, the Red Sox will send Japanese rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound for the third time this postseason, and will pray he is better than he was the first two times. It will be all-hands-on-deck in the bullpen, with Game 4 starter Tim Wakefield and Game 5 starter Josh Beckett ready to pitch, should Matsuzaka falter.
The Indians, meantime, will start veteran right-hander Jake Westbrook, who delivered 6 2/3 solid innings in their Game 3 win. Also at their disposable will be Game 4 starter Paul Byrd and Game 5 starter C.C. Sabathia, who confirmed late Saturday night that he will be in the bullpen.
It feels like weeks since the Indians blasted Wakefield and the Red Sox in Game 4 in Cleveland, taking a 3-1 lead in the series and taking the field for Game 5 believing the night would end with them celebrating the clinching of the pennant. Instead, Sabathia was crushed in Game 5, and on Saturday night, Fausto Carmona -- right-handed lightning to Sabathia's left-handed thunder -- gave up a grand slam to Drew in the first inning and failed to retire a batter in the third.
"He was a little tight," Indians catcher Victor Martinez said of Carmona. "We were trying to calm him down."
Martinez also criticized the strike zone of home plate umpire Dana DeMuth, who, he said, "had a tough game." Martinez was particularly upset about the first pitch Carmona threw to Drew, a 96-mph fastball that was called a ball.
"I told [DeMuth] he missed a lot of pitches that really changed the game," Martinez said. "The first pitch [to Drew] was huge. That pitch was right there, and unfortunately we didn't get the call."
All of a sudden, the Indians have seen many of their most dependable players disappear. In the regular season, Sabathia and Carmona combined to go 38-15 with a 3.14 ERA. In a combined six starts this postseason, however, they are 1-3 with an 8.01 ERA. Designated hitter Travis Hafner has gone from a feared slugger to a lost soul who went 15 straight plate appearances without hitting a ball out of the infield before flying out in the ninth.
Worse, they suffered a defensive breakdown Saturday night during an ugly third inning in which they made two errors, botched a rundown and set the stage for Carmona's exit -- which came after an RBI single by Drew. Three batters later, Lugo ripped a two-run double off reliever Rafael Perez, and the Red Sox were on their way to a six-run inning that broke the game open.
"It just has to stop," Indians Manager Eric Wedge said, "and it has to stop tonight. They need to go to bed tonight with clear heads, and think good thoughts, and come here [Sunday] expecting to win."
Drew strode to the plate in the first inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Already labeled a failure in Boston less than one year into the five-year, $70 million deal, he had been benched twice in this series. Nobody needed a big hit more than him. And on a 3-1 pitch from Carmona, Drew hit a rocket to deep center field. As the ball cleared the 18-foot-high fence, Drew, often criticized for the emotionless, robotic way in which he plays the game, made the subtlest of gestures, a clenched fist, held in front of his chest for no more than a second as he rounded the bases.
There would be eight more innings, but Game 7 already was coming into view, and Sunday night it will be here. Kevin Millar, 2004 stalwart and current Baltimore Oriole, will throw out the first pitch. (Apparently, Johnny Damon was not available.) There will be dog-tired starting pitchers in the bullpen begging to pitch.
There will be champagne sprayed, a league champion crowned.
"We go home, or they go home," Lugo said late Saturday night. "And we're not expecting to go home."