Hold the bubbly, Cleveland

Dan Wetzel

CLEVELAND – When you play for a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1948 in a town that hasn't won a major professional championship of any kind since 1964, in front of a fan base that has been through The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot and Jose Mesa, then things like curses and collapses matter.

Or at least it matters in the stands, where Cleveland came to rock Thursday night, watch the Indians wrap up the American League pennant and advance to the World Series. Fireworks blazed, towels waved and one of Josh Beckett's ex-girlfriends (there's plenty to choose from) sang the national anthem.

This was the night to finish off the Boston Red Sox. This was a night for the Indians to rise to the occasion.

Instead, they played tight. They made a key error. They took bad swings. They walked a run in. They left pitchers in too long. They lost 7-1 to the Red Sox, their series lead shrinking to 3-2. They looked even uglier than the score.

They left the city holding its breath at the thought of the possibilities ahead – a decisive weekend in Fenway – and the nightmares from the past.

But in the Cleveland clubhouse afterward, the mood was light and relaxed, except for Kenny Lofton, who was still fuming at Beckett.

"Champagne tastes as sweet on the road as at home," offered Ryan Garko.

Cleveland may be nervous; the Indians are anything but. This should be reassuring to fans worried about awakening the potential sleeping giant of the Red Sox (a la 2004) or their own tortured history of gags and ghosts.

The Indians may have gotten creamed Thursday, but it was an eventful game with plenty of things to laugh about, of all things. So they went over them.

Like when Manny Ramirez hit a 400-foot single off the yellow line on the top of the right center-field fence.

"I asked him, 'Manny, why aren't you on second base?'" Garko, the first baseman, said. "He said he thought Grady (Sizemore) caught it. But then he started arguing (for a home run) right away."

So Ramirez thought it was caught and a home run at the same time?

"It just makes you laugh," Garko said. "He's great."

Manny being Manny; somehow lightening the mood in both clubhouses.

C.C. Sabathia thought he pitched pretty well and "saw no reason I shouldn't go back in" for the seventh inning, when the Sox blew it open. He certainly wasn't going to bite on making a big thing about manager Eric Wedge's doomed decision.

"It just didn't work out for me," Sabathia said.

Meanwhile, Casey Blake was reminding people that "Momentum is not a term in baseball."

"I heard momentum is only as good as your starting pitcher," Garko said. "And we've got a good one going in Fausto Carmona."

There was more good news, too. Yes, Curt Schilling and a wild crowd awaits in Fenway. And yes, the Red Sox went an impressive 51-30 in their little bandbox this season.

But Beckett isn't starting any of the games and no other Sox starter has made it out of the fifth inning in this series.

"I'm glad he's not pitching tomorrow," Garko said.

"There isn't a game tomorrow, it's a travel day," Blake noted.

"Yeah, you're right," Garko said.

This is pretty much how it went. There was no panic. There were no signs of pressure. No one hanging their head or mumbling to themselves. They were just packing up and getting ready to fly to Massachusetts, another shot at the pennant, which is all they can ask.

One player, who requested anonymity, laughed at the choice of country music singer Danielle Peck belting out the national anthem and "God Bless America," while her ex-boyfriend stood ready to pitch.

"That was a good one," he said. "We do that on purpose?"

Even if they did, it didn't work.

"I don't get paid to make those (expletive) decisions," barked Beckett. "She's a friend of mine. Thanks for flying my friends to the game so she could watch for free."

Who knows, maybe Beckett won the game and the anthem singer, too.

Beckett was the one sore spot in the Indians' night, and not just because they couldn't catch up to his fastball. He cleared the benches in the fifth inning when he shouted at Lofton for the way Lofton laid his bat down when Lofton thought he had drawn a walk. Both players said the squabble dated back to 2005, when the same thing happened.

"Beckett said something to me and I responded back," Lofton said. "The way I put my bat down, he doesn't like it. That's who he is. That's the kind of guy he is. I guess he's been in the game 20 years so he can tell people what to do."

Lofton wasn't happy. Lofton looked intense. Lofton still seemed bothered by the game in which the Indians could have taken a giant step toward ending generations of fan misery, only to play horribly.

For what it's worth, he was the only one.

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