And Then There Were Two

At the conclusion of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series I made a comment that this series had an eerie feeling of déjà vu hearkening back to 2004 when the Boston Red Sox fell to an 0-3 deficit against the New York Yankees only to reel off 4 straight wins to put them into the World Series where they demolished the St. Louis Cardinals in a sweep to win their first World Championship in 86 years. Rowdy and unruly players wandered the club house with the mantra of “Cowboy up” and claimed themselves a team of destiny. There was drama at every turn from close plays on the base paths to a gutsy performance by a pitcher complete with a “bloody sock”. These were the stories of 2004 that finally ended the curse of the Bambino. You could turn the clock ahead three years and feel many of the same things. The bloody sock is long gone although Curt Schilling remains a staple of the Boston rotation. Johnny Damon went to the dark side and now plays outfield for the “evil empire” yet the Red Sox continued to move forward.

This Red Sox team is substantially different than the one three years ago. There are a few key pieces remaining from that championship team such as David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, and Jason Veritek but it feels a lot different. This is a younger team seemingly built with good defense and high on-base percentage. They still have a lot of pop in their lineup with Ramirez and Ortiz but they are fundamentally sound. In that sense they were a very good match to the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox had one thing on their side that Cleveland didn’t; they had the historical perspective to know that they were capable of coming back from a large deficit to win a series. The Indians mistakenly felt that they only needed to worry about winning 1 out of 3 games. The problem was that each time they failed to win that 1 game the pressure would mount. By the time the Red Sox had won game 6 momentum and confidence had definitely moved from the visitor’s dugout into the home team’s bench. For the first six innings of game 7 the teams looked very evenly matched. The Red Sox had gotten the lead but the Indians were slowly chiseling away one run at a time. The momentum pendulum appeared to be swinging the Indians way in the seventh inning when Boston shortstop Julio Lugo committed a 2-base error putting Kenny Lofton on second base with 1 out. Franklin Gutierrez hit a ball down the left field line which should have easily scored Lofton but instead the third base coach held up Lofton. That decision backfired when Casey Blake hit into a double play stranding the runner at third and allowing the Red Sox to maintain a 1 run lead. The momentum pendulum swung the other direction when Boston scored 8 unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings off Indians relievers to win the game 11-2. Pandemonium erupted at Fenway Park as players and fans celebrated another trip to the World Series, the second in three years.

So now after what seems like an eternity we have both sides of the equation completed and we know who will be playing in the World Series. Beginning on Wednesday it will be the Boston Red Sox hosting the Colorado Rockies. It will again feature 2 teams who have suddenly caught on fire peaking at just the right time. To all the baseball fans in Cleveland I send my condolences. Believe me, I know exactly how you are feeling right now.

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