Boston wins big with little ball

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

BOSTON – Early Monday morning, when the Boston Red Sox had won three consecutive games and a trip to their second World Series in four seasons, David Ortiz stood on the mound at Fenway Park and led the crowd in the wave, twirling and pointing, throwing his hands in the air.

The people rose, screamed his name, and bounced in narrow aisles going on a century old.

Not far away, Jonathan Papelbon, wearing a scuba mask on his forehead and holding a cigar in his teeth, River Danced with the Dropkick Murphys, eventually linking elbows with one of the Murphy boys and spinning across the infield.

Dustin Pedroia, the diminutive second baseman who'd driven in five runs in an 11-2 drubbing of the Cleveland Indians, rode the backs of teammates.

There were grounds to stand, grounds to dance in the old brick ballpark at the corner of Brookline and Yawkey.

The Red Sox have made a habit of these lost-cause American League championship series, turning them to triumph and trophies and silliness.

And just as they returned from that oh-three deficit to the New York Yankees in 2004, they rallied from this one-three hole against the Indians.

Given a shot at their first World Series in a decade, and their first championship in almost six of them, the Indians played poorly in so many of the little corners of the past three games. They were a team, it turned out, incapable of fighting the fight in the Red Sox. A win away from the Colorado Rockies, Indians' hitters drew two walks to the Red Sox' 15. Travis Hafner, their No. 3 hitter, had one hit. Infielders collided.

In their seventh inning Sunday, behind only by a run, Kenny Lofton raced around third on a ball that had carried over third base, caromed off the low wall in foul territory and rolled into short left field. Joel Skinner, the capable third-base coach who will someday manage in the big leagues, waved his arms to send Lofton home, then held his arms up to keep him at third and then, out of other options, held Lofton with his right hand and sent him home with the left.

Lofton stayed, the next hitter – Casey Blake – grounded into a double play, and the Indians' chance to challenge the Red Sox was gone.

"You have to make a decision," Skinner said, "and that's what I did."

He made three, actually.

Lofton, hardly in the mood for questions, said, "The play was behind me. I didn't know what was going on, so …"

Neither could be blamed for C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona going winless in the series. Nor for Grady Sizemore's .222 batting. Nor for Rafael Perez's 45-run ERA. But, one play, one pitch, somewhere …

"You knew that whoever took advantage of the opportunities, or if mistakes were made and they took advantage of opportunities, that was probably going to be the difference," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "And I think it probably was today."

In three games, pitching their three best pitchers, the Indians were outscored, 30-5.

Those were Red Sox bats, Red Sox precision, that rolled the Indians. With the margin for error wide as a Manny Ramirez dreadlock, they played perhaps their best three games of the season.

"I do think that in games of huge magnitude, our guys don't get overwhelmed," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It doesn't assure that you're going to win, but it is a good feeling."

Ultimately, in Game 7, they gave the ball to Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched five good-enough innings. They gave the offense over to the other guys, the ones not named Ortiz or Ramirez. They played to a 3-2 lead for 6½ innings, grinding what they could against sinkerballer Jake Westbrook, then had the littlest among them strike the finishing blow.

Pedroia, a rookie and the hottest among them since Game 5, homered over the monster in left-center field against Indians reliever Rafael Betancourt for two runs and a 5-2 lead.

The Fenway crowd begged him to stand up and take a curtain call, and was discomfited to discover he was standing up.

"Once it went out, man, I was so excited and had so much adrenaline going on, I don't even remember running around the bases, to tell you the truth," Pedroia said. "I just got around there. It was the biggest at-bat of my life, and I'll never forget it."

Earlier in the series, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had looked admiringly on his 24-year-old leadoff hitter. This was before Pedroia would finish the series with seven hits in his final 13 at-bats, with six runs in the last three games.

"We're thrilled," Epstein said. "He's really outperformed everybody's expectations."

Epstein listed his physical limitations. Like, for example, his size, his strength and his speed.

"But he walks around," Epstein said, "like he's Adonis instead of 5-foot-6."

Pedroia, for the record, is 5-foot-9. Probably.

"He knows he's going to rake your [stuff]," Epstein said. "That's what he tells himself."

Betancourt, Cleveland's best pitcher in the postseason, had not allowed a run since Sept. 26. He had not allowed a home run since Aug. 8.

But, second-pitch fastball to Pedroia, and Pedroia over-swung (he always does), and the ball disappeared into the roar that shook the ballpark. An inning later, Pedroia doubled home three runs on the last pitch of Betancourt's season, and Kevin Youkilis, who batted .500 and hit three home runs in the series, knocked one off the Coke bottles for a nine-run lead.

"I remember sitting in Cleveland when we got beat that third game and trying to find a way to turn this around," Pedroia said. "You know, because we worked so hard all year long to have our season cut short. Nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to say good-bye to everybody. So once we got that win in Cleveland, brought us back here, we started to believe."

And, so, it all worked.

The Red Sox pitched Tim Wakefield in Game 4 and Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 7, the way nobody thought would work.

Francona set it up and allowed it to play out, managed for a seven-game series and got one, and won it that way. And, the Indians' lost it that way.

"It's the way the game goes," Lofton would say from the other clubhouse. "That's life."

Not the Red Sox' life. Theirs' was different.

So, Ortiz led the cheers, and Papelbon flitted, and Pedroia ran among them. The World Series was coming.

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