No sooner had the citizens of Red Sox Nation begun to agonize over another lost October than their heroes reminded them why they're one of baseball's most intriguing teams. They reminded them why they won 94 games with guys named Daubach and O'Leary and why they won the respect of dozens of opposing players and managers for their approach and professionalism.
Tonight, the Boston Red Sox wrote another surprising chapter in this surprising season. In a performance as impressive as any in the long history of the Old Towne Team, they set an array of records in pounding the Cleveland Indians, 23-7, in front of 33,898 at Fenway Park.
After opening this best-of-five first-round playoff series with a pair of lifeless losses in Cleveland, the Red Sox were on the verge of elimination. As if the defeats weren't enough, they lost ace Pedro Martinez to a back injury in Game 1. Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is limited by a sore wrist.
And nothing has seemed to matter. In winning for a second straight day at Fenway Park and forcing a deciding Game 5 Monday night in Cleveland, the Red Sox scored the most runs in the history of postseason baseball, including the World Series. They collected 24 hits, also the most ever in a postseason game. And they scored in every inning except the sixth.
"It was like a snowball effect," Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon said. "This team has been through a lot. This season has been a roller-coaster ride. Here we are having battled back from two games down."
Among a long list of hitting stars was Red Sox third baseman John Valentin, who homered twice and drove in seven runs. Catcher Jason Varitek had four hits and scored five runs, first baseman Mike Stanley had five hits and second baseman Jose Offerman and Nixon had five RBI apiece.
The Indians must hope they can regroup after a night in which they fell behind 8-2 after two innings and 15-2 after four. Indians Manager Mike Hargrove tried desperately to turn the ship around tonight, even calling an impromptu team meeting during the third inning.
"It was embarrassing and humiliating," Indians catcher Sandy Alomar said. "The good part is that none of those runs mean anything tomorrow."
After Indians starter Dave Burba got hurt early in Game 3, Hargrove gambled by using scheduled Game 4 starter Jaret Wright in relief. That strategy blew up in his face, along with tonight's gamble.
Hargrove sent his ace, Bartolo Colon, to the mound on three days' rest instead of the usual four for the first time in Colon's career. Colon had nothing, departing after getting no one out in the second inning and allowing seven runs and six hits.
"I don't think the short rest had anything to do with it," Hargrove said. "I think it was just one of those nights for him."
Colon allowed a two-run home run to the second batter he faced--Valentin--and was gone after Offerman finished a five-run, second-inning rally with a two-run home run.
Hargrove is taking another chance in Game 5 by giving the ball to right-hander Charles Nagy, who will be pitching on three days' rest for only the second time in his career. The other time he did it was against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1996 playoffs. Nagy got a no-decision that day but pitched well, allowing two runs in six innings.
Not that the Red Sox are in much better shape. Unless Martinez makes a surprising recovery from a back injury, Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams will give the ball to sore-shouldered Bret Saberhagen, who will be pitching on three days' rest as well.
Williams went through his bullpen tonight after starter Kent Mercker was knocked out in the second inning. A parade of relievers followed, including knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who didn't retire any of the four hitters he faced in the fifth. He'd been a candidate to start Game 5.
But if nothing else, the Red Sox have momentum. The 23 runs broke the all-time postseason record of 18 scored by the 1936 Yankees.
By the eighth, the fans were chanting "Pedro, Pedro," apparently hoping they could encourage the injured ace to get back on the mound. When they were done with Martinez, they began taunting Indians right fielder Manny Ramirez, screaming: "Manny's hitless!" Ramirez is 0 for 15 in the series.
"We continue to battle," Williams said. "We have all year. It's been a tough battle coming back against that type of ballclub. We're right back in the hunt now. We'll savor this victory."
THE RECORD BOOK
Postseason Marks Broken in Game 4
23 runs by Boston.
24 hits by Boston.
48 at-bats by Boston.
44 total bases by Boston.
16-run margin of victory.
Cleveland reliever Steve Reed set a postseason record by allowing eight earned runs.