MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - They were called every vulgar name imaginable. They were booed, screamed at, ridiculed and treated rudely by rabid New York fans who never imagined the Cleveland Indians would be so good.
But along with a champagne-soaked celebration, there's something else the Indians will always cherish from their two-game visit to Yankee Stadium.
"It's as satisfying as applause in any other place," general manager Mark Shapiro said.
Given little chance of upsetting the vaunted Yankees after going 0-6 against their big-payroll, pinstriped counterparts, the Indians left yesterday for Boston and an ALCS matchup against the favored Red Sox.
Cleveland will be heavy underdogs again when the best-of-seven series opens tomorrow night at Fenway Park. That's just fine with the Indians.
"Who cares?" first baseman Ryan Garko said. "Once the game starts, it doesn't matter. We know Boston is a great team, but we hope beating the Yankees is just the beginning for us. We want to keep going."
While eliminating the Yankees in four games, the Indians played fundamental, clutch baseball. They got timely two-out hits, precision pitching and had just enough luck - who will ever forget the swarming bugs? - to advance to their first ALCS since 1998.
Rain showers prevented Cleveland's players from getting in a final workout at Jacobs Field yesterday, so the Indians took their swings in the indoor batting cages to tune up for Boston's Game 1 starter Josh Beckett, who went 1-1 against them in the regular season.
If the Indians are feeling any pressure just eight wins away from their first World Series title since 1948, they aren't showing it.
Their clubhouse looked more like a fraternity house's living room as players lounged on sofas, played video games and joked around before heading to the airport.
As former Boston outfielder Trot Nixon held court for reporters wanting to discuss his return to Red Sox Nation, Grady Sizemore walked by and couldn't help but take a swipe at his teammate.
"I'm the mayor of Boston,"
Sizemore said, mocking Nixon. "I'm seeking another term."
Indians manager Eric Wedge, who pushed all the right buttons against the Yankees, isn't planning any changes to his ALCS roster, and he won't shuffle his rotation as Boston's Terry Francona has done already.
Curt Schilling, who was originally slotted to pitch Game 3 for the Red Sox, will start Game 2 against Cleveland's Fausto Carmona. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched the second game for Boston in the first round, will start Game 3 in Cleveland against Jake Westbrook.
"We're planning on going with the same roster, as of now," Wedge said.
Wedge, though, did make one slight alteration. He shaved his beard.
Asked why he laughed and said, "We don't need to be talking about my shaving habits."
Though the Indians and Red Sox shared the best record (96-66) in baseball, there's another set of numbers that aren't nearly as close. Cleveland opened the season with a $62 million payroll. Boston's was $143 million.
With the Yankees getting bounced out of October on their fat, $195 million-plus wallets, there are three teams - Cleveland, Colorado ($54 million) and Arizona ($52 million) - near the bottom of baseball's payroll list with a chance of winning it all.
"Once you get on the field, payroll's not a factor," Shapiro said. "It's about two teams playing. It's more of an issue in the offseason, the trade deadline, the draft. This is the first time in history with three teams in the bottom third of payroll.
"That says, it can be done. We know it takes a lot of things lining up right, but a special effort from the entire organization and a well-executed plan across the board can allow it to happen."
Key for the Indians in the first round was a fast start. They thumped the Yankees 12-3 in the opener, roughing up ace Chein-Ming Wang and then chasing him early again on three day's rest in Game 4.
Beckett will oppose fellow Cy Young candidate, C.C. Sabathia, in Game 1.41.50436 -81.69046