Commentary

Indians turn Boston marathon into quick knockout

Originally Published: October 13, 2007
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- If this is how life is going to be on the nights that Josh Beckett doesn't pitch, we're in for a long, draining, entertaining week of baseball.

ALCS

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When Boston and Cleveland began Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, Curt Schilling and Fausto Carmona were all dressed up and ready to deal. It was anybody's guess whether the Indians could find a way to stop Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. And you had a better chance of seeing Sasquatch streak across the outfield than Eric Gagne pitch in a meaningful situation for the Red Sox.

By the end of the evening, as the final trains on the "T" were ready to leave the station and the temperature had dropped almost 10 degrees, the landscape looked markedly different.

Gagne wakes up a losing pitcher and more vilified than ever in Boston, while Jensen Lewis and Tom Mastny are suddenly hailed as unheralded saviors for Cleveland.

Ramirez and Ortiz are the proud owners of new postseason records, but the hero was none other than Trot Nixon, a former Boston favorite who'd come home to Yawkey Way.

And a Red Sox crowd that spent the early innings cheering, chanting and summoning players from the dugout for curtain calls straggled out of Fenway with a sense that this is not going to be easy. Even James Taylor went home with a case of Steamroller Blues.

Trot Nixon
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesTrot Nixon's pinch-hit single off Javier Lopez drove in the first of seven Cleveland runs in the 11th inning.

It's amazing how five hours and 14 minutes of baseball, 416 pitches and a half-dozen plot twists can change the momentum and alter the complexion of a series.

For the record, the Indians put up a seven spot in the 11th inning to beat Boston 13-6 and even the ALCS at one game apiece. But the looks on the faces of the respective combatants said more than you can ever tell from the box score.

Boston manager Terry Francona, looking bleary-eyed and spent, walked into the interview room and sounded as if he actually would have enjoyed the game if it hadn't taken several months off his life.

"For the most part that was one of the most exciting games I've ever been a part of," Francona said. "It just didn't end very well for us."

And the Indians, who were always considered a threat to go deep into October because of the mastery of C.C. Sabathia and Carmona, now find themselves tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven series even though their two 19-game winners have been downright awful -- with a combined 12.97 ERA in 8 1/3 innings pitched.

"These guys persevere," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said of his team. "They find a way to get it done. We don't just win with one area or another area of the club. We find multiple ways to win."

For all practical purposes, this game really got interesting after the starters crapped out in the fifth.

After Sabathia's stinker in the series opener, the Indians were counting on Carmona to bolster their confidence and provide a solid six or seven innings. But he wasn't nearly as effective as his previous start in Cleveland, where he handled the Yankees and an onslaught of Dustin Pedroia-sized midges in the Division Series.

Fausto Carmona
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesFausto Carmona struggled through his four-plus innings of work, finishing with 100 pitches, four runs and five walks.

Carmona labored through 100 pitches -- 51 strikes and 49 balls -- and helped contribute to an impressive night for Boston's two mainstays. With a walk and a single in his first two at-bats, Ortiz had reached base 10 consecutive times to tie the postseason record held by Billy Hatcher of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.

Shortly after Carmona departed, Ramirez took Indians reliever Rafael Perez deep for his 23rd postseason homer, breaking the record held previously by the Yankees' Bernie Williams.

As for Schilling, he was entrusted with a 3-1 lead only to surrender a three-run homer to Jhonny Peralta and a solo shot to Grady Sizemore. Schilling lasted only 4 2/3 innings in the second shortest postseason start of his career, and he was so disgusted with his performance that he walked into the interview room unannounced to take responsibility.

You got the sense that being a stand-up guy was somehow therapeutic for him.

"Everything about this one falls on me," Schilling said. "This was all about me coming up small in a big game."

The ineffectiveness of the two starters forced both managers to go to the bullpen early and spend the better part of three hours mixing, matching and counting outs. It was like a Tony La Russa fantasy come to life.

Wedge ultimately made two decisions that resonated. In the 10th inning, with the heart of Boston's order due up, he decided to hold back closer Joe Borowski and bring in Mastny -- he of the 1.65 WHIP and .283 batting-average against this season. Mastny promptly retired Ortiz, Ramirez and Mike Lowell in order to extend it to the 11th.

Then there was Nixon. He got a chance to hit with the game on the line only because Wedge had lifted DH Travis Hafner for pinch-runner Josh Barfield two innings earlier.

It was a calculated risk, given that Hafner's spot in the order was likely to come around again. But as Wedge pointed out, "We knew we were running thin in our bullpen. You can't worry about two or three innings beyond that."

For some reason, I just felt a calmness out there in the batter's box. I think if you can keep your emotions in check in situations like that, you've got a little bit better chance.

--Trot Nixon

Wedge couldn't have scripted it better. Nixon, who spent 10 years in Boston before injuries and the arrival of J.D. Drew made him expendable, batted in Hafner's spot with two runners on base in the 11th. He flared a single to center off Javier Lopez to score Sizemore and break a 6-6 tie, and the deluge began.

"For some reason, I just felt a calmness out there in the batter's box," Nixon said. "I think if you can keep your emotions in check in situations like that, you've got a little bit better chance."

While Nixon's playing time has diminished with the ascent of young right fielder Franklin Gutierrez, he's thriving in the role of veteran mentor to Cleveland's youthful regulars. He's the guy who pulls them aside for talks, dispenses wisdom and, in his words, "stirs the pot."

Said Wedge: "If you're going to be a leader, it's strength and personality and presence. You've got to be vocal. You've got to be strongest when other people are sometimes at their weakest, and you've got to pick people up. Trot has been a huge influence on a lot of our players."

It helps that Nixon does some of his best work at 1:30 in the morning. After all that late frivolity on the basepaths, the Indians left Fenway for Logan International Airport feeling drained and revitalized at the same time. The ALCS is even at one heading back to Cleveland, and we've got a long way to go.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

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