October 2007

Make some noise

It’s obvious that certain Red Sox players think that the Fenway crowd can be a little more boisterous than it was in the first two games of this series. Jacobs Field was by far the rowdier bunch. I think that the Sox feel that fans have lost a little of their passion since 2003.

Well, Jason Varitek wants to hear you.

"We’re going to need our crowd, every bit of it," Varitek said.
"Whether they feel like it or not at a point in the game, we need them
to feel like it."

Does anyone remember when Larry Bird used to do this exact same thing in the ’80s? I know the crowd always came out in force behind Larry, so I imagine they will behind Jason also.

And the Red Sox are encouraging fans to wear red to Game 6. So paint it black, all of you!

Schilling sounded fairly confident heading into tomorrow, and is there any pitcher besides Beckett you’d rather have in this spot? Carmona has blazing stuff. Can he control it?

I suspect Ellsbury is going to start Game 6 in place of Coco, but we won’t know that for sure until Saturday.

Until then, all the fans should rest up their voices and get very rowdy in Game 6. The Captain wants to hear you, and so do his teammates.

Ian.

Flying home

Another Josh Beckett masterpiece later and the Red Sox packed their bags and headed home with confidence and a feeling of rejuvenation.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from covering the postseason over the years, it’s that the vibe of a team can change so much after one win.

I saw it 2001 when the Yankees won Game 3 of the Division Series in Oakland after losing the first two games of that series at home. I saw it two years later at Fenway Park when Trot Nixon’s walkoff homer beat those same A’s in Game 3 after Boston had lost the first two games. And clearly, we all saw it in 2004 when the Roberts steal and the Ortiz walkoff gave the Red Sox the life they needed to climb out of an 0-3 deficit.

Is that to say the Red Sox will win this series? Of course not. Nobody can know. But things are looking a lot better down 3-2 than down 3-1. And now they’re going home, and now they’ll have Fenway behind them.

If there’s anyone besides Josh Beckett you’d want to take the ball in a game like this, it would have to be Curt Schilling. I know he struggled in Game 2, but I also remember what he did on one leg in Game 6 in 2004.

The Indians have Carmona, who has great stuff. But the Red Sox were able to get to him a little in Game 2. Will that be the case again in Game 6? It depends on how well Carmona handles the pressure of the biggest game he’s ever pitched. This isn’t the biggest game Schilling has ever pitched, just one of the biggest.

And I leave you tonight-this morning with this line from Josh Beckett:

"We’re excited to get back to Boston," said Beckett. "This is not where
we want to be, but, obviously, we’re inching closer to where we want to
be. Kind of the motto in the clubhouse right now is, ‘It’s better to
die on your feet than live on your knees.’"

Win or go home

In Game No. 170, that is what it has come down to for the 2007 Red Sox. They have their best pitcher going, maybe the best in baseball. They have an offense ready to break out. But will Sabathia let them?

I’m surprised that the national talk shows seem to be rattled by Manny’s comments yesterday. I was standing right next to him when he was talking and it was pure Manny. He’s just a relaxed individual who was reminding people that this is baseball — not life or death.

As a regular e-mailer just typed to me, "Surprising? I
knew he didn’t feel pressure, have known that from watching him from
the beginning. So what? He’s a big, gifted kid, and I hope he keeps
having fun for another two weeks.

No lineup shakeups tonight.

Pedroia 2B
Youkilis 1B
Ortiz DH
Ramirez LF
Lowell 3B
Kielty RF
Varitek C
Crisp CF
Lugo SS

Beckett SP

More later.

The brink has arrived

What started in Fort Myers some eight months ago has the chance of ending in, of all places, Cleveland on Thursday.

How did things go this sour this fast for the Red Sox? Once Curt Schilling struggled in Game 2, the air seemed to come out of the Red Sox in this series. Dice-K again didn’t have command in Game 3 and the bats just seemed to be tight in the early innings of Game 4. Then there was that utter disaster of a fifth inning.

So now it comes down to this. The Sox are down 3-1 and a loss sends them golfing or fishing or hunting or whatever else.

Josh Beckett will try to pitch them to another baseball game on Thursday. The good news is that he’s absolutely the first person the Red Sox would want in a situation like this. The bad news is that C.C. Sabathia might have been the only pitcher in the game as effective as Beckett this season and that’s who the Red Sox face in this one.

Can Sabathia be mediocre for a third straight postseason start? Can the Red Sox finally get something going offensively?

The Red Sox have nine innings to get this season back to Boston and Beckett will try to make it happen. But what the Red Sox need is some early offense. All year long, the Red Sox have played their best when they set a tone. That’s what they need to do against Sabathia.

You get this thing back to Fenway where the crowd will be crazy and who knows what might happen.

It no longer matters how the Red Sox got into this predicament. They now must find a way out of it or it will be a disappointing winter.

Is the off day a good thing or a bad thing? I think maybe a day to get away from it all will help them entering Game 5. We shall see.

The negativity in this town …

OK, I’m not going to go Rick Pitino on all of you. There’s no need for that. But it’s amazing. By about the fifth inning of Game 2, everyone thought the Red Sox were going to the World Series. Now it seems as if nobody thinks they have a chance to beat the mighty Paul Byrd tonight and steal the momentum back in this series.

Well, I think this team still has a very good chance. What they have to do is be relentless against Byrd tonight. Don’t let him off the hook. Score five or six runs in the first two innings. Put Wakefield into a comfort zone.

I suspected Tito might go with Ellsbury tonight, but he’s sticking with the mainstays.

Pedroia looks edgy at the plate, according to his manager. They need him to get going. The lineup doesn’t have enough people producing right now.

They obviously need some innings out of Wakefield tonight. But the most vital part of this game tonight for the Red Sox is to push some runs across early.

If they can get the ball in Beckett’s hands with a tie series, will everyone be a little less negative by this time tomorrow?

This series is not over yet.

Ian.

Rolling the Dice for Game 3

Which Daisuke will it be tonight? The guy who fired a 1-0 shutout at the Indians here at the Jake in July or the guy who was wobbly in his first postseason start last week.

Matsuzaka seemed a little cheery at his press conference yesterday. He seemed confident, which is a good sign. He likes to pitch important games, and this is one of them.

Whichever team loses tonight will be feeling it in a big way entering Game 4.

Early game thoughts:

Dice-K looked very sharp in the bottom of the first.

That was a huge missed opportunity by the Red Sox in the second. Garko falls down on the job — literally — on Drew’s grounder to first to give the Sox bases loaded and nobody out and they get nothing? Varitek’s flyout was too shallow to get Manny home. And Coco hits the ball probably in the only spot where he can hit into a double play, right at short, and close to the bag.

Dice-K didn’t look so sharp in the bottom of the second. His 93-mph heater to Lofton was right down Broadway and Kenny knew what to do with it. The ball barely cleared the wall, and J.D. Drew just couldn’t get high enough to bring it back in. 2-0 Tribe. Now that lost opportunity in the top of the second really stings.

And talk about bad luck. Ortiz leads off the fourth with a double and Manny hits a single right on the nose, only it hits Ortiz on the leg on the way to the outfield?

On the plus side, Matsuzaka’s bottom of the fourth looked like his sharpest so far.

Schill can swing the series

Last night’s romp is over with. Nobody should read too much into one game. Unlike last series, this is best-of-seven. A seven-game series is an eternity and one game really means next to nothing.

Unless …. Unless … Unless, of course, Schilling makes it mean something. Tonight’s game is huge. I can not overstate the importance of it. Tonight we find out how competitive a series we are going to have. I think that if the Red Sox win tonight and go up 2-0, they’ll be licking their chops at the prospects of Westbrook and Byrd the next two games.

But if the Indians can ride Carmona to victory, suddenly the series is tied and the Red Sox have a recently wobbly Dice-K and a recovering Wakefield pitching the next two games, where there are clearly no certainties.

That said, the series could not have gotten off to a better start for the Red Sox. Beckett continues to be Man on Mission. Manny and Ortiz, to steal a tremendous line from Dan Shaughnessy in this morning’s Globe, really do look like high school seniors playing in the Little League World Series. Ortiz has made two outs in four games in these playoffs. That is SICK.

But things can change in a heartbeat in October. 2004 ALCS, anyone? I think the Indians are a very good team. They just brought nothing to the table last night. Let’s see what tonight brings.

There’s no reason to think Schilling won’t come through again. But Carmona can be downright nasty. Schilling’s press conference yesterday was pretty good. He was obviously going out of his way to toss verbal bouquets in Carmona’s direction. The man obviously is trying to soften his opponent. Will it work?

Lineups for tonight:

Sox
Pedroia 2B
Youkilis 1B
Ortiz DH
Ramirez LF
Lowell 3B
Drew RF
Varitek C
Crisp CF
Lugo SS

Schilling SP

Indians
Sizemore CF
Cabrera 2B
Hafner DH
Martinez C
Garko 1B
Peralta SS
Lofton LF
Gutierrez RF
Blake 3B

Carmona SP

Ian.

P.S. — Youkilis is blogging again this round. Check it out.

Winner goes to the World Series

And that headline is all you need to know about the League Championship Series, which in my mind, is the most exciting playoff round of them all.

I find the World Series to be a more festive occasion. Let’s face it, that is the last round you can play in, and as much of a cliche as it is, both teams are really happy to just be there.

But to fail in this round is to make for a long, disappointing winter for teams who set the bar high. The Red Sox are one of those teams. And the Indians, considering they haven’t tasted a World Championship in how long? – are equally hungry, even if their market isn’t nearly as intense.

We start out with a dream pitching matchup — Beckett against Sabathia. Let’s see, last two times Beckett had a matchup against a fellow Cy Young candidate, he outpitched his opponent by a lot. I speak of the Sept. 15 matchup at Fenway against Wang and the Yankees and the Game 1 ALDS matchup against Lackey.

I think Beckett is just on such a mission this year. It seems like, in his eyes, anything less than carrying this team to a championship is a failure.

The Red Sox start this series healthy, rested and confident. If David and Manny stay hot at the same time like they did last round, this could be a short series. Personally, I think it’s going to be a long series. I think the Indians have a lot of guts and a lot of underrated talent. If there’s a better player in baseball — pound for pound — then Grady Sizemore, please find him and let me know about it.

The Red Sox have one big advantage in this series and that’s at the closer position. Let’s face it, if the Sox have a lead entering the ninth and Paps comes in, everyone is pretty much assuming game over. If Borowski and his 5 ERA come trotting in, I think the Sox will feel confident they can make something happen.

Perhaps that ends up being the difference, at the end of the day, between two 96-win teams.

Bring it on! It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve had a baseball game. Fenway will be rocking I’m sure.

Game 1 lineup:
Pedroia 2B
Youkilis 1B
Ortiz DH
Ramirez LF
Lowell 3B
Kielty RF
Varitek C
Crisp CF
Lugo SS

Beckett SP

Get your trot cheers out during pregame intros because no Nixon in the Cleveland starting nine:

Indians

Sizemore, CF
Cabrera, 2B
Hafner, DH
Martinez, C
Garko, 1B
Peralta, SS
Lofton, LF
Gutierrez, RF
Blake, 2B

Sabathia, SP

Later.

Ian.

Three wins down, eight to go

Remember that Red Sox team everyone was so worried about in September. The team that looked old and tired. The team that one veteran Boston sports columnist felt was the FOURTH best American League team in the playoffs?

Well, that team is gone. It has been replaced by a team that looks like it’s on a certifiable roll and is clicking exactly when you want to click.

Seriously, could things have gone any better for the Red Sox in this series? Beckett was Beckett and even added another notch or two. Schilling was phenomenal. Dice-K struggled, but even that game didn’t get out of hand.

And Manny and Ortiz are absolutely on fire. A combined 8-for-15 in the series with four homers. When those two guys are hot at the same time, the Red Sox are an incredibly tough team to beat.

The rotation is fresh, the bullpen, aside from Game 2, was not asked to do any heavy lifting.

And now maybe the Yankees and Indians wear each other down these next few days while the Red Sox sit around and rest.

Quite frankly, the Red Sox are the healthiest they’ve been in weeks and they have championship swagger at the moment.

Will it last? We’ll have to wait until Friday to find out. But something special might be going on over these next couple of weeks. The Red Sox definitely have that look about them right now.

More later,

Ian.

Now that is playoff pitching

The game was over for about three seconds last night and one thought came to my mind. I’ve watched virtually every inning of every Red Sox playoff game since 1986 — so I guess last night was the 67th game that fits that category for me — and I was scratching my brain so hard to think if I had ever seen a Boston starter pitch a better playoff game than Josh Beckett did.

I remembered what Pedro and D. Lowe did in Games 3 and 4 of the 2004 World Series, but those were seven-inning performances. D. Lowe in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS was pretty special, but just six innings.

I’d say the closest thing that can compare in my time of watching Sox games is Game 1 of the ’86 World Series when Bruce Hurst spun a 1-0 shutout but was relieved by Calvin Schiraldi in the ninth.

Look at some of the all-time greats that have pitched for the Sox over the last 15 to 20 years and you can say this: Beckett out-rocketed Rocket; He out-Pedro’d Pedro. That’s pretty impressive!

This performance by Beckett stands in a class by itself. Not only did he pitch a dominant game, but the Angels hardly touched him. Four hits allowed, all singles. 108 pitches, 83 strikes. No walks. Eight strikeouts. Never more than one baserunner in a given inning.

This is when some players just step up. Ortiz — who by the way clocked one over the RF wall in Game 1 — is one of those guys. So, too, is Beckett.

I remember the first time I saw Beckett throw batting practice on a backfield in Fort Myers this spring, there was just something different about him. He carried a far bigger air of confidence and domination than he did last year. If it was as if he was saying, "There’s a new ace in town, albeit one year later than you all expected."

It seems that Beckett wants to do nothing short of willing this team as far as they can possibly go in October. Of course, he’ll need his offense and other guys in the rotation will have to step up.

To me, there was no question Beckett would fire a gem on Wednesday. But Dice-K’s start figures to be very intriguing. Can anyone really know what he will deliver on that stage? He definitely has a big game aura about him, but you don’t know until you see him really do it in October in the MLB playoffs.

I’m sure Red Sox Nation will enjoy the day off.

Youk write a nice blog entry entry about his first playoff start last night. Check it out.

Talk to you later,

Ian.

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