Red Sox complete turnaround

Posted: October 22, 2007

BOSTON - The Dropkick Murphys sang "Tessie." A Red Sox Nation gathering of 37,165 strong stood, cheered or groaned at all the appropriate moments and joined, as always, in joyous unison on "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth.

Sausages sizzled on the grills along Yawkey Way, the Citgo sign blinked above the Green Monster in left, the Prudential Building presided over the skyline to the right and the iconic logo of two red socks was mowed into the infield grass.

No ballpark has as many quaint traditions as Fenway Park. And the Boston Red Sox, the Olde Towne team, filled in the rest of the classic scene by completing another comeback with an 11-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series last night. With that, they earned their 12th pennant and second trip to the World Series in the last 4 years.

They'll host the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 on Wednesday night.

Daisuke Matsuzaka kept Boston in the game for five innings, then turned it over to Hideki Okajima and Jonathon Papelbon. Rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia had five RBI in the rout.

So the Indians will have all winter to regret that they didn't finish off the Red Sox when they had the chance last Thursday at Jacobs Field, that they let the Red Sox come back to their quirky home field.

Boston stayed alive behind a commanding performance from starting pitcher Josh Beckett. Once the action shifted back to the Fens, that turned out to be the edge that the Sox needed.

They outscored Cleveland 23-4 in the final two games.

"After we lost that third game in Cleveland, we were trying to find a way to turn it around," Pedroia said. "Nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to say goodbye. Once we got it back here, we thought we had a real chance."

It was the third time since the ALCS was expanded to a best-of-seven format that the Red Sox came back to win after falling behind three games to one. They also did it in 1986 and 2004. The only other team to do it even once is the 1985 Royals.

"We won three in a row. Then they won three in a row," said Indians manager Eric Wedge with a shrug. "Any time you go to a seventh game in a series like this, you know it's going to be a lot of back and forth."

Most Valuable Player: Beckett. He won Game 1 and the crucial Game 5 and had a 1.93 earned run average to show for it.

Honorable mention: Boston leftfielder Manny Ramirez. He may be flaky, but he sure can hit. His final line: .409 (9-for-22), nine walks, two homers, 10 RBI.

Least Valuable Player: Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner. He was a .267-24-100 force during the regular season but pronked out in this series, batting .148 with two RBI while striking out 12 times in 27 at-bats.

Dishonorable mention: Indians co-aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona were a combined 0-3, 12.67.

When last seen before last night, Matsuzaka was staring blankly into space after giving up four runs in 4 2/3 innings of Boston's Game 3 loss. The pop psychologists took that and ran with it, drawing the conclusion that the heralded Japanese import's confidence was shot after a less-than-stellar rookie season and a pair of unimpressive starts in the postseason, that sending him to the mound with the season on the line was a Dicey-K proposition at best.

Asked about the atmosphere at Fenway before the game, he said: "It will give great strength to me." He ended up going five innings, allowing two runs on six hits and getting the win.

"I thought he pitched his heart out," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "There were some tough innings and I thought he gave us what he needed to."

Given how lopsided the final score turned out to be, it's important to remember that the Red Sox were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh and the Indians came within an eyelash of tying the score.

With one out, shortstop Julio Lugo muffed a pop fly by Lofton, who ended up on second. Franklin Gutierrez followed with a single just over the bag at third, but the ball deflected sharply back toward shallow left and Lofton was held at third.

That caution backfired when Okajima got third baseman Casey Blake to ground into a 5-4-3 doubleplay. Pedroia's two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, set up when Blake couldn't handle Jacoby Ellsbury's sharp grounder leading off, provided some breathing room and Boston tacked on six more in the eighth to win going away.

"That was a huge momentum swing for us," Pedroia said. "I didn't know [Lofton] hadn't scored. And that home run was the biggest at-bat of my life."

Lofton's stop sign was also part of the homefield advantage. "It's very difficult for the third-base coach, because there's a blind spot and you almost have to run out onto the field," Francona said. "But we're here a lot."

After the game, Papelbon danced an Irish jig on the infield with the Dropkick Murphys. More familiar songs were shouted into the crisp night air: "Dirty Water" by the Standells and "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night.

David Ortiz paraded the American League trophy around the field and the fans stayed and cheered and cheered some more.

It was a scene the Indians desperately wanted to avoid. *

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