Nothing went according to plan tonight, but the 45,182 chilly fans who jammed Jacobs Field happily embraced all of the unexpected when their Cleveland Indians defeated the Boston Red Sox, 3-2, in Game 1 of their best-of-five American League first-round playoff series.
Most of the big bats in Cleveland's vaunted lineup fell silent, but No. 8 hitter Travis Fryman came through with the game-winner, a bases-loaded single with one out in the ninth inning that drove in Manny Ramirez and broke a 2-2 tie.
"To get a chance to win the ballgame tonight, to come up in that situation, believe me, I've been thinking about that for a few months now," Fryman said.
A big performance from a starting pitcher was expected tonight, but not from the Indians' Bartolo Colon, one of the stars of the game. Colon struck out 11 in eight innings and yielded a pair of runs, including a second-inning home run by Nomar Garciaparra.
Meantime, Boston ace Pedro Martinez, an AL most valuable player contender, left the game after four innings after straining his back. Martinez is listed as day-to-day, and Boston Manager Jimy Williams said the right-hander would be re-examined Thursday.
With tonight's victory, the Indians broke a string of eight straight Game 1 losses in playoff series dating from 1995. They also warmed the bundled-up crowd, which weathered temperatures in the low forties.
"It feels good to be one game up," Indians Manager Mike Hargrove said. "It beats the alternative. When you play two games at home, you don't want to give up the first game."
Given tonight's pitchers' battle, a hit batsman, a single punched to right field and a walk amounted to a full-blown rally--and that's what Cleveland got in the ninth. Ramirez was hit on the hip by Derek Lowe to lead off the inning. Pinch hitter Wilfredo Cordero struck a one-out single off of Rheal Cormier. Boston right-hander Rich Garces then walked pinch hitter Richie Sexson on four pitches. That loaded the bases for Fryman.
Fryman's single came on a 1-2 count. The two strikes came on checked swings. The tentativeness so exasperated Fryman, he chastised himself between pitches. Finally, he nailed a fastball into short left field.
"The only thing good about that at-bat was the result," he said. "I did everything up there I don't want to do."
The crowd booed when Hargrove sent reliever Paul Shuey out for the ninth inning in place of Colon. Though Colon had thrown 118 pitches by that point, he had struck out four of the last six Red Sox he had faced. His last pitch was clocked at 99 mph. Shuey responded by retiring the Red Sox in order. He earned the victory.
"Bartolo was absolutely outstanding," Hargrove said. Shuey "probably saved me from getting buried by our fans. He can be very, very dominant, as he was in that one inning."
Tonight's game offered a compelling early matchup: the right arm of Martinez vs. the imposing bats in Cleveland's lineup. Martinez brought an incredible statistical line for any pitcher, let alone one in the American League: a 23-4 record and a 2.07 earned run average. He is all but guaranteed the Cy Young Award, which is fitting, as Martinez is the first Boston pitcher to lead the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA since 1901. That's when Cy Young did it.
Against Martinez, who showed impeccable control, Cleveland could do nothing other than slap around a few singles. Martinez was having a typically dominant performance, throwing a mere 18 balls among 58 pitches and giving up three hits, when his back spasms began. Williams immediately called upon Lowe and sent Martinez to the showers.
"I heard Nomar say, 'There's a new pitcher in the game,' " Fryman said. "I thought he was joking around. . . . [Then] I was like, 'Hey, we've got a chance to get back in this game.' "
In Martinez's stead, Lowe performed well--for a while.
He retired the first five batters he faced. He struck out one and did not allow a ball out of the infield. But in the sixth inning, Lowe and the Red Sox ran into trouble. With two out, Ramirez struck a bouncer down the third-base line. Third baseman John Valentin was charged with an error when he misfired on the throw, allowing Ramirez to reach first.
On Lowe's next pitch, Jim Thome made Valentin and his teammates pay. Thome drove the ball over the center field wall for a 2-2 tie. Both runs were unearned.
"Thome took advantage of it," Williams said. "He got a big hit in a crucial situation."
Fryman's was even bigger.
"That was not a textbook at-bat," he said, "but the result was good."