Red Sox Roll, Make Date With the Rockies
Monday, October 22, 2007
BOSTON, Oct. 21 -- They will tell the story of 2007 for generations in New England, along with all the others, the great Game 7s in Boston Red Sox lore -- 2004, 1986, 1975, 1967 and on down the line, some wins, most losses. They will tell of the way Fenway Park bulged and creaked beneath all the drama Sunday night, the way the players gladly performed duties beyond their normal calls, and the way all those blessed rookies, too young even to remember most of the previous Game 7s, took to this grand stage, sent the Red Sox to the World Series and became part of the never-ending story.
Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched five innings, Hideki Okajima added two. Dustin Pedroia had the night's biggest hit, a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, scoring Jacoby Ellsbury ahead of him. Matsuzaka, Okajima, Pedroia, Ellsbury -- rookies, every one.
Thanks to that fresh-faced quartet, and a few of their more experienced brethren, the Red Sox are back in the World Series, following their 11-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
For the sake of the Colorado Rockies, whom the Red Sox will meet in the World Series beginning here Wednesday night, one hopes they weren't watching these past few nights, as the Red Sox, down three games to one and facing three straight elimination games, outscored the Indians by a staggering 30-5 in Games 5, 6 and 7 -- absolutely overpowering the very sound, 96-win champions of the AL Central.
"When your season is almost over, and you're down 3-1," said Pedroia, who, besides his two-run homer in the seventh, added a three-run double in the eighth, as the Red Sox broke the game open, "you get that sense of urgency that we're going to play every inning, every pitch, everything as hard as we can."
Despite the final score -- which reflects the Indians' meltdown in the eighth, and a piling on of runs by Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis (two-run homer) and Co. -- the game itself was a classic for much of the night, full of subtle twists, mind-blowing turns and, in the pivotal seventh inning, a heaping dose of drama on every pitch.
There was an early, fortuitous sign -- a bad bounce on a grounder by Manny Ramirez, which shot past Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the first inning, bringing home the Red Sox' first run.
There was a redemptive performance from Matsuzaka, the Red Sox' $103 million import, whose reputation, constructed in his native Japan, for big-game heroics had taken a serious nose dive with sub-par performances in his first two postseason starts. His five innings Sunday night were not always pretty, but he became only the fourth rookie in history to win a Game 7.
"I thought he pitched his heart out," Manager Terry Francona said. "They were some tough innings."
There was a defensive gem from -- of all people -- Ramirez, the Red Sox' goofy left fielder, who gathered in Kenny Lofton's smash off the Green Monster leading off the fifth inning and gunned out the speedster as he tried to leg out a double.
There was bullpen drama, as Francona called upon lefty Okajima -- typically his eighth-inning man -- to replace Matsuzaka in the sixth, ordered ace Josh Beckett to warm up twice in the middle innings (Beckett, named the most valuable player of the series, never got in the game), and had closer Jonathan Papelbon up in the seventh.
There was a potentially devastating fielding error by Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, who dropped Lofton's pop up in shallow left with one out in the seventh, allowing Lofton, the tying run, to advance to second.