Hanging by a thread
Despite making long-ball history, Boston on brink of elimination
CLEVELAND -- An American League Championship Series that started with enormous hope for the Red Sox now hangs by a thread. While their goal was to even this best-of-seven series against the surging Indians on Tuesday night, the Red Sox instead were handed a resounding 7-3 defeat that put them on the brink of elimination.
It all unraveled in a positively nightmarish fifth inning, when the Indians batted for 35 minutes and scored seven runs off Tim Wakefield and Manny Delcarmen. The game was scoreless until that point.
"It's the postseason and you have to stop the bleeding as quick as possible," said Wakefield. "Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to do that. Then, [Jhonny] Peralta hit the three-run homer and kind of put the game out of reach."
The Red Sox just hope that getting to the World Series is still within reach, thought it sure has become a tall order now.
Of the 65 teams who have trailed 3-1 in the postseason, only 10 have come back to win. The last team to do it? The 2004 Red Sox, who actually came out of a 3-0 hole against the Yankees in the ALCS.
The margin for error is now officially at zero.
"We've got a one-pitch playoff every pitch," said Red Sox captain and catcher Jason Varitek. "We have to go out there with that intensity."
One loss away from their 2007 season reaching the point of extinction, the Red Sox will try to regroup during Wednesday's day off and then put the ball in the trusted right arm of Josh Beckett for Thursday night's Game 5 at Jacobs Field.
Beckett pitched well in Game 1, but the Red Sox have lost the next three games. Since the middle innings of Game 2, the Indians have had the Red Sox back on their heels.
"[We need to] just keep playing until we can't, until they tell us to go home," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We have to win. If we don't win, we go home."
The seven-run deficit nullified the significance of Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez becoming just the second trio in the history of postseason baseball to strike three consecutive homers. That most rare of occurrences started the top of the sixth inning against Paul Byrd and Jensen Lewis.
At least that gave the visitors some sliver of hope.
"I was actually pretty doggone proud of these guys," said Varitek, who watched the first six innings from the bench while Doug Mirabelli caught Wakefield. "We bounced back immediately the inning after. Youk hits a homer, David hits a homer, Manny hits a homer -- now we have a chance. That put us with a good shot."
But Lewis pitched a scoreless seventh and Rafael Betancourt fired zeroes in the eighth and ninth, putting the 2007 Red Sox on the brink.
The offspeed offerings of Byrd could not be hit with any authority by Boston through the first five innings. The righty took a four-hit shutout into the sixth.
Wakefield didn't give up a hit over the first 3 2/3 innings. Peralta ended that run by belting a double high off the wall in left. But Wakefield settled right down and got Kenny Lofton on a groundout to end the inning.
Then came the fateful fifth. The Indians got the first of their many big hits when Casey Blake hammered a solo homer well over the wall in left to make it 1-0. The trouble continued immediately after, as Franklin Gutierrez singled to left and Kelly Shoppach was hit by a pitch. Grady Sizemore hit a fielder's-choice grounder to second, making it first and third with one out.
It looked as if Wakefield was going to get a crucial foul popup off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera, but Youkilis bobbled and then dropped it.
Long odds for Red Sox
"Pop fly to Youk, he kind of slipped, then I slipped and ran into him," said Pedroia. "The ball was bouncing everywhere. If he catches that ball and the runner doesn't go home, maybe we're out of that inning next batter. A lot of things went on and just didn't go our way tonight."
There would be more misfortune in Cabrera's at-bat. Given the reprieve, Cabrera stung a grounder toward the middle that Wakefield got a glove on, only to knock it down for an infield single that made it 2-0. Just about everyone in the Boston clubhouse thought it was a sure double play if Wakefield either gloved the ball or let Pedroia handle it.
"I was right there, I was playing him up the middle," said Pedroia. "Wake reacted. He knows I'm back there. If he can get it, we'd turn two, also."
Instead, they got no outs and plenty more frustration. Wakefield struck out Travis Hafner for out No. 2, but then gave up an RBI single to left by Victor Martinez to put Boston in a three-run hole. That was all for Wakefield, who became the third Boston starter in the last three games to finish one out shy of five innings. In the extremely bad timing department, it was the first time all year Boston starting pitchers have gone less than five innings three games in a row.
"I think every game has kind of its own feel or personality," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think there are times, too, where you get in a playoff game where during the regular season you might give a starter some wiggle room, but you can't go to the bullpen in the fifth inning three games in a row in the regular season."
From there, the floodgates opened against the usually reliable Delcarmen. Peralta greeted him with a three-run homer to right. Suddenly, the game was getting out of hand at 6-0. Lofton kept the pressure on with a single and a historic stolen base -- his record-setting 34th in postseason play to pass Rickey Henderson. Blake followed with an RBI single to center and the Red Sox were staring at a seven-run deficit.
After digging such a hole, the Red Sox finally started hitting against Byrd. Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez opened the sixth with that trifecta of home runs. The only other team to pull that off before? The 1997 Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, ironically enough, against the Indians.
"Three rockets, Manny's was unbelievable," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I have to ask him about the hands up [celebration] at 7-3 -- I don't understand that one, but that's him. I just like that he hit the ball hard and over the wall."
Now the Red Sox are left with one big game. If they win that, there will be at least one more to follow.
"That's the only game we've got right now on our agenda and we have to look at it that way," said Lowell. "Just worry about the next game, really. And I think that's what we're going to do."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.