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Published: Monday, 10/22/2007

Boston wins final 3 games of ALCS to defeat Indians, reach World Series

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOSTON - Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia and these Boston Red Sox are taking a sweet streak into the World Series too.

Boston charged to its third straight win, completing yet another October comeback by overpowering the Cleveland Indians 11-2 last night in Game 7 of the AL championship series behind a new pair of rookie Sox.

Matsuzaka pitched five solid innings, Pedroia drove in five runs and the Red Sox - helped by a key blunder by an Indians base coach - finished off their rally from a 3-1 deficit.

Having ended their 86-year title drought in 2004 after digging out of a 3-0 hole against the Yankees in the ALCS, the Red Sox now have a date with Colorado in the World Series. The Rockies, who have won 10 in a row and 21 of 22, will come back from a record eight days off for Game 1 at Fenway Park on Wednesday.

"We started to click at the right time. When your team's back is against the wall, it shows the type of ballclub we have. We're down 3-1 and we believed,"

Pedroia said.

While Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and ALCS MVP Josh Beckett helped the Red Sox win their 12th pennant, the Indians only added more misery to a city that hasn't celebrated a World Series championship since 1948.

The Indians were a double-play grounder from winning the crown at Florida in 1997. They appeared to take control of this series with three consecutive victories, but aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona failed to close it out.

Jake Westbrook pitched valiantly in Game 7, and still the Indians came up short. They had a chance to tie it at 3 in the seventh inning, but third-base coach Joel Skinner mistakenly held up speedy Kenny Lofton as he rounded the bag.

With runners at the corners, Casey Blake grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Then, the Red Sox blew it open. Pedroia, who homered earlier, hit a three-run double and Kevin Youkilis launched a rocket, a two-run drive off the giant Coke bottle above the Green Monster.

Jonathan Papelbon pitched two innings for a save and Boston finished it off in style. Center fielder Coco Crisp racing back into the center-field triangle to catch Blake's drive for the final out before crashing into the wall.

Boston kept the bases busy early against Westbrook, but three double plays in the first four innings kept the Indians in the game while their starter settled down. The Red Sox scored once in each of the first three innings, and Matsuzaka retired the first eight batters he faced.

Cleveland cut the deficit to 3-2 through five, then had a chance to tie it in the seventh when Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo dropped Lofton's seemingly harmless popup in shallow left. Lugo drifted back, tracking the ball with his glove in the air and holding off incoming left fielder Ramirez with his right hand.

But the ball bounce off the shortstop's glove, and Lofton was safe on second.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a sharp grounder over third base that bounced off the photographer's box in front of the grandstand and into shallow left. But Skinner held up both hands for the speedy Lofton, and the 40-year-old outfielder skidded to a stop.

Lofton looked back for the ball and, seeing it in no man's land in shallow left, snapped his head back to stare at Skinner.

A star in big games throughout his career in Japan, Matsuzaka followed two subpar playoff outings with his first American postseason victory. He allowed two runs on six hits in five innings, striking out three and walking none.

Fellow Japanese rookie Hideki Okajima pitched two innings of shutout ball. Papelbon closed, sending the sold-out Fenway into a frenzy.

Westbrook settled down after spotting Boston a 3-0 lead, retiring seven consecutive batters before Jacoby Ellsbury - another rookie - bounced a chopper through third baseman Blake for an error. After Lugo's sacrifice bunt, Pedroia was up.

The diminutive second baseman, with eight major league homers to his credit, hit an 0-1 pitch into the first row of the Monster Seats to make it 5-2. He also doubled to clear the bases after Boston loaded them in the eighth against Rafael Betancourt.

Youkilis, who was a rookie when Boston won it all in '04, followed with a two-run homer to make it 11-2.

NOTES: Boston is 5-5 all-time in decisive Game 7. ... The Red Sox were already the only team to have rallied twice from a 3-1 deficit to win the LCS, in 1986 and '04. It was the first winner-take-all in the baseball postseason since the 2006 NLCS. ... Boston Game 4 starter Tim Wakefield was unavailable to come out of the bullpen.



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