After a narrow loss in Game 1 of their first-round American League playoff series against the Cleveland Indians, the Boston Red Sox seemed justified in cursing their misfortune. After today's 11-1 loss in Game 2, they had no one to curse but themselves.
Today's feeble performance left the Red Sox in a customary but uncomfortable position: on the verge of elimination from the playoffs. The Indians, meanwhile, are one victory away from their fourth AL championship series appearance since 1995.
Since Bill Buckner's infamous misplay during the 1986 World Series, Boston has lost 17 postseason games to only one victory. Given today's performance, some would say the Red Sox jinx has cemented itself for the close of the century.
Others would say that Boston simply was lousy.
A pitching meltdown and poor all-around play in the third and fourth innings allowed the Indians to build the winning margin and cruise to victory in front of 45,184 fans. Game 3 of this best-of-five series will take place Saturday in Boston.
"I don't know if I can get ahold of George Herman [Ruth]," Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams said during a somber postgame news conference. "What do you want me to do? What we do here, boys and girls, we're going to go with the same group that brung us."
Runs rained so hard on Red Sox starter Bret Saberhagen that he didn't make it out of the third inning. Right-hander John Wasdin, called upon to relieve Saberhagen, didn't make it to the fifth. By the end of the evening, not only had Boston been embarrassed, but the bullpen also had been partially depleted. Williams was forced to use five pitchers.
"A play or a walk or a pitch or a hit can certainly turn a game very quickly," Williams said. "It's like you're going through a city with all of the stoplights, and all of the sudden you get on the Autobahn and there's no speed limit."
Saberhagen's final pitch resulted in a three-run home run by designated hitter Harold Baines. Wasdin gave up a grand slam to slugger Jim Thome, who has homered in four straight postseason games dating from last season.
The offensive splurge was characteristic of an Indians club that led the majors in runs scored and tallied five or more runs in one inning 33 times this season. Cleveland, though, got a little help from starter Charles Nagy, who held Boston off for seven innings. Nagy allowed just five hits and one run, which came on a third-inning single by Jose Offerman.
"The 11 runs was a great help," Nagy said. "After you get a lead like that, you want to just go out there and throw strikes and get the guys back in the dugout as fast as you can."
Relievers Steve Karsay and Mike Jackson closed out the victory with two scoreless innings. In two games against Boston, Cleveland's bullpen has given up no runs and one hit in three innings.
"We scored over 1,000 runs this year in the regular season, and everything has a tendency to be overlooked beyond that," Indians Manager Mike Hargrove said. "We feel like we have good solid pitching and a solid bullpen."
The Indians' third-inning rally was capped by Baines's home run, but he never would have gotten to the plate if not for a poor throw from Offerman, the Boston second baseman, on a double-play attempt.
Had Offerman's throw not drawn first baseman Mike Stanley off the bag, Cleveland would have scored three instead of six times in the third. Both of the Indians' big innings were further inflated by walks given up by Saberhagen and Wasdin. Five of the six Indians who reached first on walks later scored.
Saberhagen's three walks in 2 2/3 innings were surprising--he had allowed 11 bases on balls during the regular season.
"I felt very good today," Saberhagen said. "Maybe the one thing I didn't do enough was mix my pitches. I threw a lot of fastballs because I felt like I had decent velocity. . . . They're a good-hitting team over there."
In the fourth inning, Wasdin sandwiched two walks around a strikeout of Sandy Alomar. He then allowed a single to Omar Vizquel, a sacrifice fly to Roberto Alomar, a walk to Manny Ramirez and Thome's grand slam--or, as the Jacobs Field scoreboard referred to it, a Thome Run.
Game 1 of the series was not nearly so decisive. Boston held a 2-0 advantage before starting pitcher Pedro Martinez left the game with a mid-back strain. After that, the Indians tied the score, and eventually won on a ninth-inning, bases-loaded single by Travis Fryman.
"We know we still have a fight on our hands," Hargrove said. "We haven't finished the job by any stretch of the imagination."
Said Saberhagen: "The pressure is on us. We can't afford to make any more mistakes. But the way this team has fought all year, I don't think we're going to go home and give up."
CAPTION: "We can't afford to make any more mistakes," said Boston's Bret Saberhagen, who gave up six runs.