The last time the Boston Red Sox were in the AL Championship Series, they came back from a big deficit to win the pennant. They have the right guy on the mound to try to start another comeback.
Cleveland has won three straight since losing to Beckett in Game 1, and needs one victory to advance to its first World Series since 1997. The Indians haven’t won a championship since 1948.
Boston may be looking to its ALCS three years ago against the New York Yankees for inspiration. The Red Sox became the first team to win a postseason series after losing the first three games, then swept St. Louis for their first World Series title since 1918.
“When you see something that’s never been done before, you can believe in anything,” Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis said. “For us, it’s all about winning one game.”
Beckett (2-0, 1.20 ERA) wasn’t on that team, but he’s familiar with rallying from a 3-1 deficit. While with Florida, he struck out 11 and tossed a two-hitter in Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs as the Marlins won 4-0 before taking Games 6 and 7.
“It’s kind of like a party in 2003,” said Beckett, who also pitched a five-hitter against the Yankees in 2003 to clinch the franchise’s second World Series title. “It was fun. It was a bunch of young guys, and we were just out having fun.”
Beckett pitched a four-hitter to beat the Los Angeles Angels in Game 1 of that AL Division Series. The right-hander had another strong playoff effort when he allowed just two runs and four hits over six innings to beat C.C. Sabathia in a 10-3 victory on Friday in the ALCS opener. Though Beckett’s back stiffened in that contest, it’s not expected to be an issue.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the league that we’d prefer on the mound for our team in this situation,” Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said. “We can believe all we want, but we have to get hits off Sabathia and hold them down.”
This will be the first road start in this postseason for Beckett, who excelled away from Fenway Park in 2007 when he was 11-2 with a major league-best 2.18 ERA.
While Beckett has been a postseason ace, Sabathia (1-1, 10.61) hasn’t been sharp for Cleveland. A 19-game winner in the regular season, he was tagged for eight runs over 4 1-3 innings in Game 1, and has issued 11 walks in 9 1-3 innings in the postseason.
“You know, I was disappointed in the first game in Boston that I wasn’t able to keep us in the game,” Sabathia said. “That’s something that I’ve been able to do all year. I didn’t even give us a chance the other day, and that’s something that I was definitely disappointed about.”
The left-hander has claimed to be too excited to pitch in his last two outings. The Indians want Sabathia to focus on just keeping them in the game.
“I know that he feels like that he needs to do more, and hopefully he won’t feel like that (Thursday),” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “He doesn’t need to do more. All he needs to do is just go out there and be himself and pitch the way he’s capable of.”
The Red Sox plan to start switch-hitting Bobby Kielty in right field in place of left-handed J.D. Drew as they did in Game 1. Kielty had a run-scoring single off Sabathia as part of a four-run third inning.
Sabathia has also lost his last three home starts to Boston, posting a 6.87 ERA in the process.
Cleveland has used the back end of its postseason rotation to take control of this series. Jake Westbrook yielded just two runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 4-2 win in Game 3 on Monday while Paul Byrd gave up two runs over five-plus innings in a 7-3 win on Tuesday.
“I think they did stuff to inspire this whole team,” Sabathia said. “That’s a tough lineup over there, and the way they pitched was unbelievable. I think it was just going out and trusting their stuff, knowing what they do well and sticking with it.”
Sabathia was unable to solve Manny Ramirez in Game 1, as the Red Sox slugger went 2-for-2 with a walk against him. Ramirez is 6-for-13 with two homers and seven RBIs in the series, but may have irked some Indians by posing after his solo shot off Jensen Lewis in Tuesday’s loss.
Although Ramirez is swinging a hot bat, Boston has managed to score in just two of its last 24 innings in the series. The Red Sox have five runs in that span—a two-run homer by Jason Varitek in Game 3 and three straight solo homers by Youkilis, David Ortiz and Ramirez in Game 4.
“I think what we need to do is get ourselves in position where we do manufacture runs and not just lean on solo home runs,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t know that juggling people necessarily is going to make those solo home runs be different.”
Cleveland has won all four home playoff games this season with its pitchers posting a 2.13 ERA.