As a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan who has, as I write this, just finished watching the Sox rally from a three games to one ALCS deficit to clinch a spot in the World Series, I promise that I will do my very best to keep this column from turning into a Josh-Beckett-and-Kevin-Youkilis-for-co-players-of-the-century editorial. However, given my intense euphoria at the prospect of the Sox actually continuing to play in October despite their Eric Gagne-induced 11th inning hemorrhage in Game 2, their inability to hit mediocre Cleveland Indian’s starting pitchers Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook and the general presence of Julio Lugo at shortstop, that will be extremely difficult.
p. Earlier in the weekend, I had intended to write about the criminal treatment of future Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre by the Yankees ownership; however, as soon as Dustin Pedroia launched a Rafael Betancourt fastball high into the Green Monster seats to give Boston an insurmountable 5-2, Game 7 lead, that idea went straight out the window. For now, the focus will be squarely on the events of the two League Championship Series, which both yielded spectacular results.
p. While America (and now Japan) focused on the dramatic proceedings at Jacob’s Field and Fenway Park, the Colorado Rockies were busy adding to their impressive list of late-season accomplishments. In a series contested between two relatively unknown teams in a television executive’s nightmare (FOX even declined to air the games on national television, instead banishing the series to the hinterlands — and awful announcing — of TBS), the Rockies waltzed over the Arizona Diamondbacks in a crisp, four-game sweep. Hardly even breaking a sweat, Colorado trailed for a grand total of two innings in the entire series as they rode the strong pitching of starters Jeff Francis and Josh Fogg and the typical heroics of NLCS MVP Matt Holliday, as well as the newly-found dominance of closer Manny Corpas to their first ever National League Pennant. The Rockies have now won an incredible 21 out of their last 22 games, while becoming the first team since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds to start a postseason 7-0.
p. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, the Indians and Red Sox were engaged in a series of stunning momentum changes. Boston dominated Game 1, blowing out the Tribe behind yet another unhittable performance by the new Mr. October, Josh Beckett. However, Cleveland struck back, taking Game 2 after torching Red Sox anti-closer Eric Gagne in the top of the 11th inning of a tie ball game, eventually scoring seven runs to silence a shocked Fenway crowd and even the series at one game apiece. Back at Jacob’s Field, the Indians continued their hot play, shutting down the potent Boston lineup to win Games 3 and 4, posting an intimidating three games to one lead. However, the Red Sox would not be cowed.
p. Exhibiting the exact same relaxed attitude that allowed them to pull off their unprecedented 2004 ALCS comeback, Boston shut down the Indians in Games 5 and 6, lighting up Cleveland aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona for 11 earned runs to bring the series to a pivotal seventh game. At Fenway, the Red Sox jumped on the board early, scoring runs in the first three innings, yet, by the fifth, the Indians had closed to within a run, scoring two off a shaky Daisuke Matsuzaka. That lead seemed increasingly fragile as Cleveland pushed the tying run to third with one out in the seventh, but All Star reliever Hideki Okajima induced one of the biggest double plays in Red Sox history to escape the jam and end the inning, to the roars of the ecstatic Fenway faithful. In the bottom half of the inning, potential Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia blasted his two-run homer into the brisk Massachusetts night, sealing the pennant for the Red Sox in an eventual 11-2 victory.
p. Which brings the baseball world to what should be an outstanding Fall Classic. Both teams are red hot; Boston outscored the Indians 30-5 in the final three games of the ALCS, while Colorado has not lost since September 28th. Overall, the series should come down to several key matchups. The Rockies’ starting rotation of Jeff Francis, Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jiminez and Franklin Morales, while unheralded in much of the country, was untouchable in the NLCS, posting a sparkling 1.66 ERA in four games. This will be contrasted with a Red Sox lineup that is tearing the cover off the ball; Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell together hit .397 with 20 RBI’s and five home runs against Cleveland, while David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are two of the best postseason hitters ever to play the game.
p. Additionally, Boston ace Josh Beckett, while only 27 years old, is well on his way to becoming one of the best October pitchers in baseball history, going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA and 26 strikeouts in the 2007 playoffs. With Beckett’s postseason dominance, his starts in Games 1 and 5 are almost sure to be Red Sox wins, and if reliable Boston starter Curt Schilling, also a great October performer, can post two solid games, Colorado has little shot at winning the series. However, if the Rockies can steal a win against Schilling and get strong performances from their young starters, they have an excellent chance of beating the Red Sox’s unpredictable back half of the rotation and taking their first ever World Series Championship.
p. __Matt Poms may be e-mailed at [email protected] He’ll be rooting for his Red Sox in the World Series.__