Pitching reigns for Sox, Tribe
Forget the big offenses, both sides can dominate on mound
BOSTON -- When the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians last met, in July, they accomplished a rarity in the contemporary game, back-to-back 1-0 games.
This may be an omen for the direction of the American League Championship Series that opens on Friday night at Fenway Park. Of course, after you say something like that, the next score is 12-10.
But those two games clearly demonstrated two things. One is that, as good as the offenses are for both clubs, the pitching in both directions can be dominant enough to shut down anybody, even the strongest offensive clubs, at any time. And those games illustrated that, when these two teams meet, the potential for classic competition clearly exists.
For the record, Boston won the first of those two games, with Daisuke Matsuzaka getting the decision over C.C. Sabathia. Cleveland won the second game with Fausto Carmona as the winning pitcher and Josh Beckett taking the loss.
The pitching principals in those classic games will all be in action for this series, although in different pairings. The Game 1 matchup for the series will be the two leading Cy Young Award candidates, Sabathia and Beckett. Carmona will work in the second game against Curt Schilling, while Matsuzaka will start Game 3 against Jake Westbrook.
But for those of us anticipating some great baseball in the ALCS, those two 1-0 epics offer encouraging evidence of what might be next.
"I think you look back upon those games, they were, you know, great games to watch, old-school baseball, 1-0, tight all the way through," Indians manager Eric Wedge said on Thursday.
"I think it's feasible for something like that to happen again, because when you look at the pitching and you look at some of these guys and what they're capable of doing, there's always that possibility. It's nothing you can ever predict. You've got two good teams, they get after it, and anything is possible."
The Indians were just 2-5 against the Red Sox in the regular season, which apparently gives Boston an automatic edge, until you consider that the Indians were 0-6 against the Yankees in the regular season. The Indians were 3-1 against the Yankees when it mattered most, in the Division Series.
The Red Sox caught the Indians before the Indians got to their best level, which included a 25-8 roll that started in mid-August. The Red Sox never looked at the Indians as a particularly easy mark, regardless of the regular-season outcomes. "Going through Cleveland, even though we won, (I was) thinking: 'Wow, they've got a good team,' " Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
"I think health has something to do with that. They're healthy. Some of their younger players have some games under their belt. They're gone through some big series. I know they feel good about themselves."
The Red Sox also have every right to feel good about themselves. They withstood a late charge by the Yankees to break New York's nine-year stranglehold atop the AL East, and then they swept a highly regarded Angels team in a Division Series.
This is the second season, and the second series of the second season, part of baseball's own Final Four. The Indians were 0-6 against the Yankees? Well, they got a second chance to show that were somebody else in October, somebody better. That is the beauty of October baseball. If you're good enough to qualify, you get to show everybody that you're even better than anybody thought.
"You start over," Wedge said. "I mean, you start over. There are so many points in time over the course of a season where a ballclub evolves or changes or gets better, but ultimately once you get down to the end, that's the team that you are."
The teams that the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians were each won 96 games to lead the Majors. Then they each rolled through highly regarded opposition in the postseason's first round.
Now, the teams that they are compete for the American League pennant. They have had six months of regular-season play and a handful of games in October to define themselves, and both have done a highly commendable job.
Now they get the opportunity to redefine themselves once more, this time as pennant winners. As the prize becomes larger, the task becomes more difficult, but nobody in baseball deserves this chance at this moment, any more than these two teams. Let the Championship Series, 1-0 or 10-9, begin.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.