Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Weird and Wonderful Night

This entire series seems dedicated to proving the truth of the proposition that "baseball is a funny game." If I'd said before the game that Sizemore, Cabrera, Hafner and Martinez would combine for a 2 for 16 performance at the plate, while their counterparts at the top of the Red Sox batting order would go 7 for 16 with three home runs, you probably wouldn't have given the Indians much of a chance. For that matter, neither would I.

Terry Francona gambled on Tim Wakefield last night, and for four innings, he looked like a genius. In fact, but for Wakefield's deflection of Cabrera's infield hit -- which may have prevented a double play-- the Sox might well have escaped the 5th trailing by only a run. That didn't happen. Instead, the Tribe broke the game open by scoring 7 runs, 4 of them coming after the second out.

I was one of the lucky ones who got to see last night's game in person. I don't know if they talked about it on television, but it was interesting to see the change in approach to Wakefield that Tribe batters took in the 5th inning. Cleveland hitters had been sitting back in the box and swinging from their heels, but in the 5th inning they moved up in the box and assumed a wider stance in order to give them a better shot at making contact with Wakefield's floater. That adjustment, together with Wakefield's sudden inability to get the ball down in the zone, allowed the Tribe to feast on the knuckleball that had frustrated them in prior at bats.

And then, just as suddenly as they had awakened, the Tribe's bats went back to sleep. The Indians got a total of nine hits last night, seven of them came in their 5th inning explosion. Aside from that, Wakefield and the Boston bullpen combined for a two hitter. Like I said, it's a funny game.

It's hard to say enough good things about Paul Byrd's performance last night. It was another smart, gutsy outing from a guy who nobody was entirely comfortable with going into the postseason, and it kept the Tribe in the game long enough for their offense to put the game out of reach. Okay, the game didn't seem quite that out of reach after he and Jensen Lewis combined to give up the back to back to back home runs to Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramirez.

It's kind of a shame that after pitching so well to keep the Tribe in the game through five innings, Byrd may have become a victim of the Tribe's success. After all, he sat through a 35 minute bottom of the 5th, and this extended period of inactivity may have been the biggest factor in transforming him into a launching pad in the 6th inning.

After Byrd departed, the bullpen came in and, aside from Manny's home run, pretty much shut the Sox down with another stellar performance. Lewis gave up the dinger, but after that retired the Sox in order in the 6th and allowed only a single hit in the 7th. Then Betancourt came on and retired Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez in order in the 8th, and did the same thing to Lowell, Drew and Crisp in the 9th.

Now, the Indians find themselves in the unlikely position of being up 3-1 on the Red Sox, and with a chance to close out the series here in Cleveland. But to do that, they've got to figure out a way to get past Josh Beckett, who made them look ridiculous in Game 1. The Tribe is tantalizingly close to getting back to the World Series for the first time in a decade, but they know the Red Sox aren't going to roll over. After all, having their backs to the wall is nothing new to these guys, most of whom were there for the miraculous comeback against New York in 2004.

I like the Tribe's chances, but despite the 3-1 lead, this one isn't over yet. Not by a longshot. Remember, baseball is a funny game.

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