The Indians beat Boston 7-3 Tuesday night, on the strength of good pitching and a seven run 5th inning. Hmmm, 7. That’s a good number for the Indians. How about a recap in seven parts, or more specifically the 7 reasons the Indians are 1 win away from a date with Colorado.
#7 Outstanding Defense
Not really known as a good defensive team, the Indians have made the plays in this series. In game 4, there were outstanding plays by Asdrubal Cabrera, who went high in the air to snatch a base hit away, plus Victor Martinez made a couple of really nice plays at first. Kenny Lofton and Franklin Gutierrez are providing outstanding coverage flanking Sizemore in the outfield. Then there are the double plays. 1 tonight, 3 last night, 3 Saturday night, even 1 in Friday’s loss. 4 games and 8 double plays. More than just the number of doubles turned, 6 of those were in key situations. The defense so far has been the pitching staff’s friend.
#6 The Young Guys
So many of the Tribe’s key contributors are very inexperienced. Obviously few of the guys have ever even been to the playoffs, but rookies Cabrera, and Jensen Lewis are performing at a high level when many would think they should be overwhelmed. After a tough first outing, Lewis has settled in to get big outs in each of the Tribe’s wins. He has pitched 5.1 innings this series, and is often the first man out of the pen for Eric Wedge. Lewis was asked to stop the rally in the 6th tonight, which he did after allowing the solo shot to Ramirez. Cabrera has 4 rbi in the series, and continues to play with ice in his veins. Gutierrez had a big homer Saturday, and came through in the clutch tonight as well.
#5 Victor Martinez & Kenny Lofton
The Tribe’s offensive MVP has continued his hot hitting into the ALCS. Victor is 5-11 in the Tribe’s 3 wins. Coming off his outstanding Division series, Lofton continues to get big hits and set the table at the bottom of the order. His homer Monday gave the Indians the momentum they needed to finish the job. He is a leader, and his drive to get a championship is contagious.
#4 Jhonny Peralta
If the Tribe does indeed finish off the Red Sox and earn a World Series invite, Jhonny Peralta will probably be the ALCS MVP. All Peralta has done is drive in 7 runs, including 2 huge home runs. Perhaps as important was the first hit of the night off Wakefield, a double that came a few feet away from being a homer. It didn’t drive in a run, and Peralta ended up stranded at second, but it was the first ball hit hard off Wakefield all night. You could see Jhonny in the dugout the following inning giving pointers to the rest of the young guys.
#3 Westbrook and Byrd
Somebody must have forgotten to tell Jake and Paul that they aren’t the aces of the staff. Good thing. After Sabathia and Fausto struggled, it was the ‘other guys’ that stepped up and shut down the vaunted Red Sox line-up. Byrd was tremendous tonight. Getting ahead of hitters time after time he kept them off balance working all sides and angles of the plate. He didn’t walk a batter, and matched Wakefield batter for batter until the Tribe could break out in the 5th. Jake was superb Monday night, as I detailed already. To finish the task C.C. or Carmona will more than likely have to have a great night, but if called upon again, Westbrook will be ready.
#2 Betancourt and the Bullpen
I don’t know if a middle reliever has ever meant more to his team than Rafael Betancourt. He is simply the most dominant set-up man I’ve ever seen. 5.1 innings pitched in this series, giving up a single base hit. 4 strikeouts. He has had 2 monumental battles with Kevin Youkilis, and won both of them, keeping him off base when Ortiz stepped up to the dish. 2 nights in a row he retired Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramirez in order. The rest of the pen has been good as well. We already talked about Jensen Lewis. Borowski has done his job when called upon. Mastny is another young arm that has thrived when given the chance against the Sox. Perez had a tough first game, but I expect to see him again before its over. This unit has held the lead the past 2 nights, and kept the Indians in the game back on Saturday.
Whether you call it Karma, or magic, or destiny, or simply being ‘due’, the Indians are enjoying a run for the ages. Balls are finding holes. Home field advantage was broken. The Indians are loose. They are playing with confidence. They expect to win, even when they were down Saturday night, they never though they were out of the game. They were out-hit on Monday, and still came through with clutch two-out hits. Ditto for Tuesday’s game. They were being no-hit deep into the 4th inning. They hadn’t even sniffed many foul balls against the knuckle-ball. And how many times have we struggled this year against pitchers we’ve never faced? Once that fifth inning started, they just kept pouring it on. And that karma thing will bite you. Remember that Manny.
Truth is I could probably give you a dozen reasons the Indians are up 3 games to 1, but the most important thing is that the Tribe stay focused, and finish this series. Preferably Thursday in Cleveland. Go Tribe!