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Published: Sunday, 10/21/2007

Game 7 appropriate for AL championship series

BOSTON The Red Sox had stood on the brink of elimination before, the straits, perhaps, even more dire. They were down 0-3 to the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, but never suffered that fatal loss. In fact, they won eight straight games to sweep to the World Series title.

You remember 04. Curt Schilling and the bloody sock. Baseball drama at its greatest, one night after another.

The 07 Red Sox were down 1-3 to Cleveland in the ALCS, but it s a whole new ballgame now. Boston pounded the Tribe 12-2 last night behind seven solid innings from the very same Schilling to even it up and stretch this to a seventh game tonight at storied Fenway Park.

Why not? Why not some drama for a postseason that has seen very little to date? These teams, after all, tied for baseball s best record during the regular season. So, they go seven.

The Indians, of course, were hoping to avoid such a thing. And, in truth, it seems to be unraveling on them. Could we be witnessing another painful Cleveland collapse?

It will be up to Jake Westbrook to avoid that tonight. Who knew that Cleveland s best strategy might have been to bring Westbrook back on three days rest last night?

The Tribe s marquee starters have certainly been busts, and we re not talking about the kind displayed at Cooperstown.

It was Fausto Carmona s turn to go belly-up last night and he even outdid teammate C.C. Sabathia, which isn t easy, in that regard. Carmona, a 19-game winner with the second lowest earned run average in the league during the regular season, couldn t get out of the fifth inning in Game 2 and failed to record an out in the third inning before getting the hook this time.

Boston fans had been booing J.D. Drew, but he hit a grand slam in the first inning and had three hits. They ve been grousing about Julio Lugo, who entered the game hitting .214 and who, manager Terry Francona admitted, was almost benched. Lugo ripped a two-run double and later scored as Boston broke it open with a six-run third inning.

Cleveland chipped in with two errors in the third. Frustrated manager Eric Wedge jawed with home plate umpire Dana DeMuth that his pitchers were getting squeezed. Designated hitter Travis Hafner added two strikeouts to a skid that has now seen him go 0-for-16 in the last five games with strikeouts in nine of his last 13 at-bats. Grady Sizemore isn t setting the table from the leadoff spot and he s not delivering with runners in scoring position. Rafael Perez was ineffective coming out of the bullpen. Jhonny Peralta gets away with being a no-range shortstop because he can hit. The last two games, he s just been a no-range shortstop.

There. Is that sufficiently negative?

The good news for the Tribe is that Boston will roll the dice tonight with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has not been very good during the postseason. And the Indians will have Westbrook and, if he runs into early trouble, Paul Byrd, both of whom have been very, very good.

Maybe the fact that Sabathia and Carmona have one win between them in a combined six postseason starts, and that the Indians have still made it to an ALCS Game 7, one win short of the World Series, is actually an accomplishment.

The aforementioned World Series begins on Wednesday in an AL stadium. But will it be Fenway Park or Jacobs Field? Will the Red Sox climb all the way out of the hole again or can the Tribe find a way to finally throw dirt on them?

Tune in tonight for Game 7 of a series that demanded one.



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