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10/17/2007 12:06:00 PM

ALCS: Coulda, shoulda, woulda ...

By Joe Lemire

If Tim Wakefield were a better fielder or a worse fielder, this could be a very different series right now.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, with one run in on Casey Blake's monstrous solo homer, Wakefield faced Asdrubal Cabrera with men at the corners and one out. His liner was destined for the right of the second-base bag when Wakefield reached to snare it. Had he caught it, he likely could have doubled up one of the runners to end the inning; had he not touched it all, the ball would have landed right in front of Dustin Pedroia who easily could have turned the double play to end the inning.

Instead, with Wakefield's decidedly mediocre fielding abilities, his glove deflected the ball into the no man's land behind the mound for an infield hit. The inning continues.

And here's where the underappreciated Indians deserve a world of credit: They've capitalized on almost every opportunity this series.

The Tribe has scored first in all four games, and last night in the fifth they piled it on, keyed by Jhonny Peralta's second three-run HR of the ALCS. Everyone is contributing: Six Indians had hits in that inning -– Blake had two and a seventh, Kelly Shoppach, added a walk -– as five players have at least five hits in the series, and all but one starter has at least three hits in the four games.

Cleveland is a complete ballclub. When it won in the first half of the season, it did so with the AL's second-best run-scoring offense through the All-Star Game while Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers, Jake Westbrook, et al. struggled mightily. In the second half, the offense lagged a little while the pitchers found their groove. And, now, in the postseason the Indians are combining the two.

So complete are they that a setup man ought to be the frontrunner for the ALCS MVP hardware. That man, of course, is Rafael Betancourt, whose dominance in the seventh and eighth innings isn't dissimilar from K-Rod during the Angels' World Series run in 2002 and Mariano Rivera in his pre-closer days with the Yankees in 1996.

Sure, Peralta is batting .353 with two HRs and seven RBIs and he undoubtedly will receive the actual award, but my vote goes to Betancourt. He has an aura of invincibility, so much so that Kevin Youkilis was quoted in the Globe today as saying, "The guy's got some magic ... or something. He just gets outs." Betancourt has appeared three times for 5.1 innings and given up just one base hit and no walks while striking out four. He's shortening games, and the Sox are looking defeated against him at the plate.

Even Joe Borowski has been steady thus far, and the breakout pitcher in that 'pen -– nevermind the Rafaels, Betancourt and Perez, who have excelled all year -– is Jensen Lewis. With Lewis making appearances in all four games this series, Indians manager Eric Wedge seems to be channeling Joe Torre, who overworked Scott Proctor so much that the reliever nearly challenged Cal Ripken for the consecutive games streak.

  • Today is a merciful day off for the Red Sox, who looked lifeless at times last night. They better rest up, because tomorrow brings C.C. Sabathia in front of some 44,000 screaming Indians fans ready to return to the World Series and win it for the first time since 1948. Good luck with all that.




    In the battle between postseason spokesmen with the initials D.C., Don Cheadle's spots for the NFL were a million times better than Dane Cook's MLB ads are.

    Also, I was very perplexed by the Indians who brought a "Happy Birthday Tim!" sign to the ballpark. Who keeps track of Tim McCarver's birthday? He's not a very good announcer, but I guess Cleveland fans have had less recent reason to be offended by his postseason broadcasts.

  • Ever loyal to his players, Francona has stuck with Crisp instead of Jacoby Ellsbury.

  • Before his fifth-inning homer and single, Blake had been struggling in the postseason.

  • Sheldon Ocker writes that the Tribe's pitching success extends beyond the ballyhooed Sabathia/Carmona duo. He also writes that V-Mart is perfectly confident in Sabathia despite a weak Game 1 start.

  • The Globe's Bob Ryan notes how quickly things change: the city of Boston was overconfident after Game 1 and now in disarray.

  • Ortiz backed off an ESPN Deportes story that he considered shutting down for the year because of pain in his knee.

  • Boston's starters, great all year, are coming up small, writes Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal.

  • The Sox did hit three consecutive home runs by Youkilis, Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who, for his uncalled-for posturing, was bestowed "the unofficial record for most prodigious trot on a team losing by five runs in an away ballpark" by MLB.com's Mark Newman.

  • The other bright spot for Boston: great relief from Jon Lester.

    Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments |  
  • Comments:

    Posted: October 17, 2007 1:59 PM   by Anonymous
    I find the "what if" speculation rather silly. There is no way the Sox go back-to-back on Byrd if he doesn't sit for 35 minutes and come in pitching with a 7-0 advantage.

    Though, it is good to see a columnist at least acknowledge the Indians uncanny ability to capitalize on opportunities. Revealing even the smallest crack to the Indians can result in huge innings.
    Posted: October 17, 2007 10:12 PM   by Anonymous
    Quit saying the game would have been different if that double play had been turned. Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. Paul Byrd was breezing through that game. If he doesn't sit for 35 minutes in the bottom of the 5th, he doesn't give up back to back jacks to Youk and Ortiz. Don't ASSume.
    Posted: October 18, 2007 6:32 AM   by Anonymous
    They put a picture of Tim Mccarver on the screen so 44,000 of us could boo him, which we did!!! Happy birthday Timmy!!
    Posted: October 18, 2007 8:07 AM   by Anonymous
    I know some of the ladies who were holding that sign for McCarver, and it was FOX who gave them the sign ...
    Posted: October 18, 2007 9:08 AM   by Anonymous
    I know you likely didn't pick the title CNNSI gave this blog, but people need to quit using "bad luck" to describe "bad play". LUCK is something outside the control of the players on the field: a bizarre hop because the ball hits the lip of the grass, the ball getting stuck in the padding on the wall, an umpire calling a diving "catch" by a left fielder a catch instead of a trap, etc.

    Tim Wakefield getting a glove on the ball but not making the play or Kevin Youkilis dropping a pop foul? Those are bad FIELDING, not bad luck. A ball taking a weird hop to hit Jhonny Peralta in the throat is bad luck. David Ortiz not running hard on the play allowing it to be an out anyway is bad PLAY. David Ortiz getting hit by Manny's grounder is bad baserunning, not bad luck, although a case can be made that it is good luck for Manny since it extended his hitting streak on a ball that would have been a routine grounder at worst (and likely, with Ortiz running, a fielder's choice with Ortiz out at 3rd).

    Too often people use the phrase "bad luck" to explain away either poor play by one side or great ones by the other.
    Posted: October 18, 2007 10:32 AM   by Anonymous
    UNBELIEVABLE!!!! Do all of you clown journalists forget that the Indians are GOOD! They shared the best record in baseball with the Red Sox and they had to get through the TOUGHEST division in all of baseball! It is about time people respected the Indians, yeah they are a small market with a $60M payroll and have no BIG name, but they are a good TEAM and teams win games...not hot heads like Manny!
    Posted: October 18, 2007 11:36 AM   by Anonymous
    Manny deserves to be plucked with a fastball in the back with the first pitch that C.C. delivers tonight. His antics in game four was pathetic. If that home run won the game or even tied the game that is a different story. But to close the gap trailing by four runs and to show up Cleveland is inexcusable. All though Manny is a great player - I am thankful that Boston and their fans have to put up with "Manny being Manny."
    Posted: October 18, 2007 11:45 AM   by Scott
    If Wakefield were a better pitcher, he'd have pitched past the unlucky play and only given up 2 runs.
    Posted: October 18, 2007 12:00 PM   by Anonymous
    Hey leave McCarver alone - he's a good egg.
    Posted: October 18, 2007 12:57 PM   by Anonymous
    Everyone seems to be forgetting that if Youkilis had actually caught the foul pop up, Guttierez would have scored as he can advance if a foul ball is played successfully by the defending team, which is exactly what he did. So no, the Red Sox, would not have escaped with allowing only one run. Two would have scored at the very least.
    Posted: October 18, 2007 1:23 PM   by Anonymous
    ahh, bunch of whining Indians fans. You're getting good play out of your team and good support by the press... one writer does a "what if" column and you all read it as a slight of some sort... I guess that's the stigma of being perennial losers... even when you're receiving positive press... you whine.. I hope the Rockies sweep you to the tune of 61-5 over four games
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