CLEVELAND (AP)—He blocked out everything: the screaming crowd, Kenny Lofton’s chirping, even his ex-girlfriend singing only a few feet away.
Josh Beckett, standing tall as ever on the mound, rose above it all— October’s biggest star.
Beckett dominated the Cleveland Indians for the second time and Manny Ramirez drove in the go-ahead run with a 390-foot single as the Boston Red Sox stayed alive in the AL championship series with a 7-1 win Thursday night in Game 5.
Back to Fenway Park they go. Just the Red Sox being the Red Sox. They have plenty of practice at these postseason comebacks.
“We weren’t trying to win three games in one night,” Kevin Youkilis said. “We were just going out there and fight and do whatever we had to do to win.”
Youkilis set the tone with a first-inning homer off C.C. Sabathia as Boston shipped the best-of-seven series back to the heart of Red Sox Nation to continue a season nearly canned for the cold New England winter.
Clearly, Ramirez & Co. cared.
“We made it happen,” Ramirez said.
In 2004, Boston rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight for its first World Series title since 1918.
Boston still trails 3-2, but if not for Beckett, the calm, cool and cocky 20-game winner, their would be no more baseball until spring.
“Josh is unbelievable,” Youkilis said. “This year has been unbelievable for him and we hope he wins the Cy Young. He’s shown here in the playoffs why he should.”
In the late innings, drummer John Adams, whose tom-tom beat has pulsated through a special season at Jacobs Field, slumped against his instrument as the Red Sox tacked on runs. Meanwhile, in the Boston bullpen, two relievers used water bottles to playfully bang on backup catcher Doug Mirabelli’s shinguards.
The 27-year-old Beckett, who beat Cleveland in the opener, once again came through with the stakes at their highest.
The right-hander allowed only a run and three hits in the first, and only five total hits in eight innings. He struck out 11, walked one and was around the plate with almost every one of his 109 pitches.
“He’s got something others don’t have,” third baseman Mike Lowell said. “There is a different feel for us when he takes the mound. Time and time again he comes through.”
Beckett, who with each start carves his name deeper among the postseason pitching elite, is no stranger to comebacks.
In 2003, he pitched a two-hitter for Florida in Game 5 of the NLCS as the Marlins rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Chicago Cubs. Then, pitching on just three days’ rest in Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, he allowed five hits in a 2-0 win and was picked as MVP.
If the Red Sox can win two more, he might have another trophy for his mantle.
“We know we have to do now,” said Beckett, 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA this October. “This is not where we want to be, but obviously, we’re inching closer to where we want to be.”
The Indians missed a chance to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1997, and will have to find a way to avoid being the latest Cleveland team to come close but not win it all.
Cleveland, which hasn’t won the Series since 1948, had won three straight to seemingly take control. But the Indians, trying to clinch a pennant at home for the first time, could do little against Beckett, who rarely shook off a sign from Varitek and kept hitters guessing with a rocket fastball and knee-buckling curve.
“He’s the best,” David Ortiz said. “We were confident with him going out there. He was unbelievable. It was one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen.”
The Indians fell apart at the seams.
Even their rock-solid bullpen cracked for the first time. Boston added three runs in the eighth on three walks, a throwing error by reliever Rafael Perez, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly.
“Beating Boston four in a row is tough to do,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
With so much on the line, both teams were on edge and tempers flared briefly in the fifth when Beckett and Lofton screamed at each other.
Cleveland’s outfielder had flipped his bat to the ground after what he thought was ball four, and when Beckett retired him on a fly, the pair exchanged words and both benches and bullpens emptied.
The two got into a similar argument two years ago, when Lofton was with Philadelphia and Beckett with Florida.
“It goes back a way,” Beckett said. “Those things have a way of working themselves out.”
No punches were thrown, and if Lofton was trying to rattle Beckett, he didn’t.
“He doesn’t like it when I take my bat and flip it,” Lofton said. “He’s the only pitcher who’s had a problem with it. He was saying stuff I didn’t like, and I said something back.”
Beckett then struck out Franklin Gutierrez looking before Casey Blake singled and went to third when Grady Sizemore’s single. But Beckett fanned Asdrubal Cabrera on three pitches, and the rookie smacked his bat on the plate in disgust.
For Sabathia, the Indians’ ace and leader, it was more disappointment. He allowed four runs and 10 hits in six-plus innings, his third straight sub-par performance this month.
Sabathia was angry with himself following Game 1 for not being more aggressive with Boston’s hitters, and when he couldn’t put David Ortiz away with two outs in the third, Ramirez made him pay.
A day after he rankled Red Sox fans by saying “Who cares?” if Boston were to lose, the enigmatic slugger struck back.
Ramirez sent Sabathia’s first pitch to center, where Sizemore went back to the wall. But as he reached up, Ramirez’s shot caromed back onto the field.
Ortiz scored easily, but Ramirez, thinking his shot was long gone, was only rounding first when the Indians retrieved the ball. Boston manager Terry Francona argued it should have been a two-run homer, but after a brief meeting, the umpires kept Ramirez at first.
Slow-motion TV replays were inconclusive, and the ground rules at Jacobs Field state that a ball must completely clear the yellow line at the top of the wall for it to be a homer.
Whatever the outcome, it was Manny being Manny—again.
The funky, fun-loving outfielder irritated some of the Indians when he posed to admire a homer in Game 4, even though his 451-foot shot had only brought Boston within 7-3.
The Indians insisted it wasn’t intentional, but the club invited country singer Danielle Peck, an ex-girlfriend of Beckett’s, to sing the national anthem and “God Bless America” on the night her former beau took the mound.
Peck was a fill-in for another singer, but her appearance didn’t seem to break Beckett’s concentration.
“I don’t get paid to make those (expletive) decisions,” Beckett barked. “She’s a friend of mine, that doesn’t bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free.”
The Red Sox went up 4-1 and chased Sabathia in the seventh. After handing the ball to Wedge, the big lefty walked dejectedly to the dugout knowing he had missed a chance to get the Indians back to the Series.
“I don’t think we’re going into Boston on a downer,” he said. “I can live with this. I thought I made some good pitches.”
Schilling flew back before the game to get ready for his start. … Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton, a native of Bowling Green, Ohio, threw out the ceremonial pitch, a wild one that would have received poor artistic marks from judges. … Beckett went 16 2-3 innings without a walk this postseason before issuing one in the second.