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Bob Ryan

Nothing odd here, and nothing even

Dustin Pedroia's attempt to slide into first was way off base - he was easily tagged out by Victor Martinez after an errant throw from third pulled the first baseman off the bag. Dustin Pedroia's attempt to slide into first was way off base - he was easily tagged out by Victor Martinez after an errant throw from third pulled the first baseman off the bag. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

CLEVELAND - Is this the time to remember that somebody or other once said, "Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher"?

Is this the time to remind people that baseball teams have been coming back from 3-1 deficits in seven-game series for more than 80 years?

Is this the time to reference the 19-8 game?

It's just my opinion, but I'd say yes to all three.

And, like, what century was it when the Red Sox were making old C.C. look bad and all those people in Fenway were having a big ha-ha at the Indians' expense? Can't quite remember. Was it the second (Grover) Cleveland administration? Or Teddy Roosevelt's first term, perhaps?

Things can really turn around quickly in baseball, can't they? Everybody in Boston was in full smirk mode after Game 1, but with last night's 7-3 Cleveland victory, the Indians lead this one, 3-1, and can close it out tomorrow night.

But please don't think there's really anything odd about what's going on. The Cleveland Indians are good. They won 96 games, same as the Red Sox, and they did it with a nice finishing kick that included a head-to-head wipeout of their chief Central Division rivals, the Detroit Tigers. It was no shock when they dispatched the Yankees in four games and it would be no shock if they were to dispose of the Red Sox in five, either.

The Red Sox put themselves in Tim Wakefield's hands last night and for four innings he was a stud. The knuckleball was doing what it's supposed to do, and he was sitting on a one-hit shutout. At one point he threw 13 strikes in 15 pitches. He had fanned six. Things looked good.

It took one controlled swing of the bat for things to start looking not so good. Casey Blake took a strike and then he took a nice, easy swing at a knuckler that didn't drop far enough. He hit a lazy fly to left, and in this park, sometimes that's all you need. The ball fell onto that landing out there beyond the fence. "I got lucky there, hit one on the barrel," Blake said. That made it 1-0, and it was the start of a glorious inning for the Indians.

Make that a long, glorious inning for the Indians. Eleven more men would come to the plate and six would score before Manny Delcarmen, facing his sixth batter, finally struck out Kelly Shoppach to get his mates back into the dugout, seven runs in arrears.

Wake wasn't exactly knocked around, but he doesn't always have to be to get in trouble. After Blake's homer, Franklin Gutierrez took another nice 'n' easy swing at a knuckler and produced a single to right. Wakefield hit Shoppach, and that's always a potential Wakefield issue. Grady Sizemore hit into a force out, but Asdrubal Cabrera, a real irritant whether at bat or in the field, lined a shot that Wakefield couldn't handle, driving in the second run. Victor Martinez hit a single through the shortstop/third base hole and that was all for Wakefield.

Enter Manny D and in short order he threw a match in the gas tank, serving up a three-run opposite-field homer to Jhonny Peralta, a shortstop with punch. Delcarmen had zero command of his pitches, overthrowing just about everything, and the miracle was that the Indians could only manage one additional pad run before the 35-minute nightmare came to a close.

"The formula we used tonight was the one we've used all year," Terry Francona explained. "We bring in Manny behind Wake. Different speeds, different look. But he fell behind, 2-and-1, and elevated to Peralta. It's a big blow in the game. We could have stopped the bleeding right there."

The Red Sox bunched their offense into one curious burst. Kevin Youkilis led off the sixth with a smash to left for his second 2007 playoff homer. David Ortiz, who had been deprived of an RBI single in the second by The Shift (Peralta making an unassisted force at second after fielding a ball to the right of second that would have been a base hit against anyone else), lined one over the fence in right. That was all for Paul Byrd, but not all for the Boston sixth-inning offense. Manny Ramírez was up next, and he deposited a Jensen Lewis delivery into the distant visitors' bullpen, some 451 feet away.

Ramírez also had to stand and watch at the plate, arms aloft, as if the blow had more relevance. You don't do this, unless, of course, you are Manny, and that's an essential part of your Mannyness. "Manny," you wanted to say, "you're down, 7-3. Show some class."

The big problem, of course, is that since taking that 6-5 lead against the Indians in Game 2, the Red Sox have scored only via home runs and they have only scored in two of the last 24 innings. That won't cut it.

Well, maybe that's not the biggest problem. You're not going to win games like this if your starting pitchers are going 4 2/3, 4 2/3, and 4 2/3 innings, respectively. That won't cut it, either.

"Our goal always is to get to their bullpen before they can set it up," said Francona. "We haven't been able to do that the last couple of nights."

But the Indians have gotten exactly what they've needed from their third and fourth starters. Jake Westbrook was sensational Monday and the 36-year-old soft-tossing Byrd was extremely effective last night in his five innings plus of work. He knows when he goes out there he's going five or six innings, max, and he exited to a standing O after his stint. He may have only gotten one more out than Wakefield did, but there was a vast difference in the results.

Down, 3-1, the Red Sox now turn to their best pitcher, a man who has thrown one transcendent game and one very good game in these playoffs. Josh Beckett is all that stands between the Red Sox and tee times.

Is it time for me to go Yogi on you? Remember this one? "It ain't over . . ."

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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