BOSTON - Game 7, the absolute best thing in sports. Better than Super Sunday, better than the back nine at Augusta, better than the checkered flag at Indy, better than the Final Four.
But let's keep that to ourselves. Don't share that thought with the Cleveland Indians.
The Tribe, once in such a promising situation with a 3-1 lead in the American League championship series, instead dropped the final three games, seeing a thriller last night at Fenway deteriorate into yet another rout. Boston won 11-2.
Pitching was a major culprit in Cleveland's collapse, although Jake Westbrook minimized the early damage as best he could last night to give the Tribe a chance.
But, bottom line, Cleveland's hitters failed to perform in the clutch.
Starting with the sixth inning in Game 4, and through the third inning last night, the Red Sox outscored the Indians 25-3.
When the Tribe's Travis Hafner, who hadn't been hitting a lick, and Ryan Garko stroked doubles in the same inning, the fourth, for a run, it was like a mini-explosion.
But the real explosion came three innings later, courtesy of
Joel Skinner and the crowd at old Fenway Park.
The Tribe was down 3-2 when it came to bat in the top of the seventh. With one out, Kenny Lofton hit a pop fly down the line in short left that shortstop Julio Lugo dropped for a two-base error. Franklin Gutierrez then lined a shot just inside the third-base bag that then skipped into foul territory and caromed off the facing of the little grandstand area and back into left field.
Lofton came barreling into third and Skinner, the Tribe's third base coach, gave him the go sign and, then, at the very last instant, the stop sign. Then, for good measure, Skinner kept his right arm stiff in the air and gave sort of a half-hearted wave with his left.
Call it green light, red light, yellow light.
Anyway, Lofton would have scored. Manny Ramirez, the left fielder, wasn't exactly doing an Olympic sprint for the ball.
Lofton couldn't believe he'd been stopped and neither could anyone else in the Cleveland dugout, judging by their shocked reactions.
So, instead, it was first and third with one out. Up came Casey Blake, who cut at the first pitch and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that produced as loud an explosion, as great a cacophony of sound that 37,165 New Englanders can make.
Blake immediately booted Jacoby Ellsbury's grounder to open the bottom of the seventh and Dustin Pedroia, the rookie second baseman, then jacked an 0-1 fastball from Tribe reliever Rafael Betancourt into the seats atop the Green
Monster for a 5-2 Red Sox lead.
Cleveland's first two batters reached in the eighth, but Jonathan Papelbon, Boston's tremendous closer, came on to slam the door on Cleveland's season.
The Tribe won the Central ivision, beat the Yankees in four games in the divisional playoff round, and had a 3-1 lead in the pennant series. And, then, nothing.
This one got out of control in the bottom of the eighth, a six-run frame for the Sox, when Blake, the third baseman, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta botched a pop-up into short center field. As the two bumped and their feet tangled and it became apparent neither was going to make the catch, Peralta covered his head with his hands and took cover.
That picture will be frozen in the minds of Cleveland fans as the symbol of their team's three-game collapse.
Bombs away take cover.
Garko will likely continue to take considerable grief for his comment after Game 5 when the Indians missed out on a chance to end this series at home. He was asked if he was disappointed.
"No," Garko said, "the champagne tastes just as good on the road."
Maybe so, but the Indians weren't drinking any last night.
All they were doing was licking their wounds, and that's a completely different taste.
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