CLEVELAND (AP)—Hang tight, Colorado Rockies. There’s another team roaring through October.
And you just might see them in the World Series.
The Cleveland Indians, relying on a throwback pitcher who looks as if he stepped out of their 1948 team photo, moved one win from another crack at winning an elusive championship.
Pumping his arms with an old-school windup, Paul Byrd blanked Boston long enough and Casey Blake homered to start Cleveland’s seven-run rampage in the fifth inning as the Indians beat the Red Sox 7-3 Tuesday night for a 3-1 lead in the AL championship series.
“We want to put them away here,” Byrd said. “That’s a great team over there. They can easily come back and win three. We’re taking absolutely nothing for granted. We’ll enjoy the win for now, but we want to put them away.”
Just like those rockin’-and-rollin’ Rockies, who are awaiting their next opponent, these Indians are soaring like a team of destiny.
Everything is falling Cleveland’s way, and with a victory in Game 5 on Thursday night, the Indians will have another chance to bring this title-starved town something it hasn’t seen since the Browns won it all in 1964.
The Indians, who knocked out the New York Yankees and their monstrous payroll in the first round of the playoffs, now have the free-spending Red Sox on the ropes. Even three straight homers couldn’t rally Boston.
“To be in a position to put us in the World Series is unbelievable,” Sabathia said. “I’m going to go out and have fun.”
The Indians haven’t been to the Series since 1997 and haven’t won a title since ’48, when they beat the Boston Braves. Cleveland’s 59-year drought is only eclipsed by the Chicago Cubs, those lovable losers whose futility now extends to 99 years this fall after an early-October flame out.
While these Indians are burning brightly, the Red Sox are on the verge of being extinguished.
“The scene switched in a blink,” Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “Everything is kind of slipping away, but we’re still playing. If we don’t win, we go home. We’ve got to get to the ballpark and get a win.”
Blake homered leading off the fifth against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, whose now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t pitch had Cleveland’s hitters flailing at air for nearly four innings.
But in the fifth, helped by a dropped foul pop and a ball seemingly headed for an inning-ending double play that tipped off Wakefield’s glove, the Indians blew it open by hanging a seven spot on the scoreboard—just as they did in the 11th inning at Fenway Park to win Game 2.
“It’s one of those innings that everybody exploded,” Blake said. “I can’t really tell you what happened. We got some good swings on the ball and we were finding holes.”
Cleveland batted for 35 minutes in the fifth, and the down time seemed to hurt Byrd, who gave up back-to-back homers in a seven-pitch span to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to open the sixth before Indians manager Eric Wedge rescued him.
As Byrd walked to the dugout in favor of rookie Jensen Lewis, Cleveland’s towel-twirling fans saluted the 36-year-old, who instead of trying to blow pitches past hitters, uses off-speed stuff to fool them.
“My goal was to move the ball in and out,” said Byrd, who used the same strategy to beat the Yankees in the Bronx last week. “I really didn’t strike anybody out. I was hoping to jam some people.”
Byrd even found an extra mile or two on his fastball.
“I hit 90 mph,” he joked. “That happens a few times a year.”
Lewis replaced Byrd and gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez, who posed to admire his 451-foot shot, as the Red Sox became the first team in ALCS history to hit three straight homers.
They came too late as the Red Sox missed a chance to even the series and now must hope they can conjure up some of their 2004 magic when they came back from an 0-3 deficit, beat the Yankees four straight in the ALCS and swept the St. Louis Cardinals for their first Series title since 1918.
“We definitely got our work cut out for us,” third baseman Mike Lowell said. “But I don’t think we should look at it as we’ve got to win three games in a row. We’ve just got to win two days from now.”
Byrd found his unique windup almost by accident. Following shoulder surgery in 2002, he began swinging his arms, hoping the momentum it created might give him more velocity. After trying it out during batting practice, a few teammates told him they had a hard time picking up the ball.
That’s all he needed to hear.
Against the Red Sox, he even double-pumped a few times—once on a strikeout pitch to Ortiz.
“The double pump was 1-for-3 tonight. I gave up a couple hits,” Byrd said.
As he answered questions at the news conference podium with Byrd standing nearby, Blake called his teammate Cleveland’s postseason star.
“At least in my eyes, he’s the MVP of our team right now,” Blake said. “When we’ve needed a big ballgame out of somebody, he stepped up. And Jake (Westbrook) last night, too. Byrdie is the unsung hero.”
Rafael Betancourt needed just six pitches to get through Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez in the eighth, then the righty finished off the Red Sox in the ninth.
Boston has been haunted by past Oct. 16 failures, and Blake’s leadoff homer in the fifth must have stirred painful memories across Red Sox Nation. It was on that date that New York’s Aaron Boone opened the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS with a series-clinching homer—off Wakefield.
Blake, Cleveland’s clutch third baseman who has hit several big homers this season, drilled an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left. Franklin Gutierrez followed with a single and Wakefield plunked Kelly Shoppach. A groundout moved up Gutierrez, and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a foul pop toward the photographer’s pit next to Boston’s dugout.
Youkilis, the first baseman, seemed to have it under control, but the ball squirted from his glove. Cabrera then hit a liner—a possible double-play ball — that Wakefield deflected and trickled behind the mound.
“It was hit right at me, but Wake stuck out his glove,” Pedroia said. “Things like that kind of happened all night. But we’re still alive and still playing. The opportunity is there.”
Wakefield was pulled after 4 2-3 innings—the third straight Red Sox starter to last exactly that long in this series. Manny Delcarmen couldn’t stop the Indians’ onslaught, either.
Peralta, Cleveland’s Mr. October 2007 with a .406 average and nine RBIs in the postseason, homered over the wall in right to make it 6-0. Kenny Lofton singled and stole second, his record-setting 34th career swipe in the postseason, and Blake, who started the outburst, dumped an RBI single.
At that point, Indians fans started thinking about what’s on deck for Cleveland—a chance to clinch a pennant at home after winning AL titles on the road in 1995 and 1997.
“It means a lot for us,” Victor Martinez said. “We’ve come a long way. To be in this spot right now, it’s amazing.”
By scoring seven runs in an inning twice in one series, the Indians matched the 1970 Baltimore Orioles, who did it against Minnesota. … Of Cleveland’s 51 runs in the postseason, 27 have come with two outs. … Youkilis was charged with an error on a pickoff attempt in the sixth, his first miscue in 1,644 chances dating to July 4, 2006.