Pedroia, Youkilis finish off Tribe
BOSTON -- If you're looking for the difference between Boston losing three of the first four games of the American League Championship Series but then routing Cleveland in the final three, start at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Dustin Pedroia, who started the series slow, combined with No. 2 hitter Kevin Youkilis to go 15-for-26 with 12 runs, 11 RBIs, four walks and three home runs in the final three victories. Pedroia's two-run homer in the seventh inning Sunday night broke open Game 7, and Youkilis' mighty home run off the Coke bottles punctuated the Red Sox's pennant-clinching victory.
That's the problem with Boston's lineup. Even when you finally shut down David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, there are other batters who can make a pitcher want to break into a cold sweat and look longingly to the bullpen.
Games 5-7: Boston's 1-2 punch
|Game 7||6-for-10, 5 R, 7 RBI|
|Game 6||5-for-8, 4 R, 1 RBI|
|Game 5||4-for-8, 3 R, 3 RBI|
"Pedroia has had a great year," Boston catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "It shouldn't surprise you when a good player who's been good all year succeeds at this time."
"This is on the biggest stage, and everyone is watching these games," Pedroia said. "I remember the Angels series. I was nervous, and Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, so have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.' Ever since then, I kind of went out there and I don't worry about anything but playing hard."
Pedroia gave Boston an early lead Sunday when he singled and scored in the first inning. After Boston extended its lead to 3-0, Cleveland inched back into the game with a couple of runs, so it was 3-2 when Pedroia came up against reliever Rafael Betancourt with one on and one out in the seventh inning. He slammed an 0-1 pitch over the Green Monster to put the Red Sox more comfortably ahead again.
Youkilis was consistent throughout the series, batting .500 with three home runs and seven RBIs. It's hard to say which image will haunt Cleveland pitchers more this winter -- Youkilis fouling off pitch after infuriating pitch, or the first baseman crushing the ball off the Coke bottle sign beyond the Monster. It's a wonder the bottles didn't shatter.
"His bat has really come alive," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "He just doesn't always hit singles. If you make a mistake, he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. His defense has been spectacular all year, and when you put that bat in front of David and Manny, it gets interesting."
"He's a great hitter," Mirabelli said. "He grinds out the at-bats. That's a guy who will never give up an at-bat. He steps up in big situations and gives us a big, big boost."Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.