The Cleveland Indians came to town hoping to play the role of spoilers, catching the Red Sox looking ahead to their series with the Yankees. Instead, they've played the role of Fenway foils for Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett, and it hasn't been fun.
Cleveland began the series leading the American League in runs, and entering last night was second in the category, only a run behind Detroit (275-274). But the AL Central leaders have mustered just five runs in two games at Fenway Park, their big bats muted by the brilliant pitching of Beckett last night and Schilling the previous evening.
One night after Schilling held the Indians to one run in seven innings and fanned a season-high 10, Beckett, returning to the rotation after missing two starts because of an avulsion on his right middle finger, blistered the Cleveland bats in a 4-2 victory.
Beckett held the Indians to two runs and just three hits while fanning seven in a commanding performance that left no doubt in the Cleveland clubhouse about the status of his much-discussed digit.
"He was mixing it up pretty good," said manager Eric Wedge. "He did a good job of moving the fastball around. The secondary stuff was good. He broke out his changeup the second time through, and that was real good.
"He was throwing a lot of big breaking balls early. You could see that he had a real good feel for the baseball just the way he was spinning that baseball up there. We figured out the finger wasn't an issue early on and he just kept going from there."
The only runs Cleveland scratched across came in the seventh, when Jhonny Peralta dumped a one-out single into right field and Travis Hafner smoked a hit to right that eluded J.D. Drew in the corner and turned into a stand-up triple. Hafner scored on a Victor Martinez ground out to first, but Beckett ended the threat by striking out old friend Trot Nixon on a changeup.
Indians ace C.C. Sabathia said that as a pitcher, he can admire the strong starts Beckett and Schilling turned in. Great pitching always trumps great hitting. "Every time," said Sabathia.
But even Sabathia has been surprised at how Cleveland's offense has been neutralized, particularly leadoff man Grady Sizemore. The center fielder went 0 for 4 last night and was fanned by Beckett three times. He is now 0 for 7 with five strikeouts in the series.
Sizemore had a chance to redeem himself in the eighth with Beckett in the dugout. The Indians had the tying runs on first and second with two outs, but Sizemore grounded a Javier Lopez pitch to second.
"Obviously, as the leadoff spot, you want to get guys going, and tonight I just didn't have it," said Sizemore. "I didn't get the job done. That's the bottom line."
While Wedge was giving credit to the Sox' pitching, he also said that his young team, which scored at least five runs in each game of its three-game sweep of the Tigers last weekend, needs to do a better job of capitalizing on the few chances it gets.
"When you do have starting pitching against you like that, the few opportunities you do get you have to take advantage of, and we really haven't been able to do that," said Wedge. "You're one big hit away from tying the ballgame or making it a different ballgame, and we just haven't been able to do that."
It's not going to get any easier for Cleveland's offense tonight with Daisuke Matsuzaka taking the hill. But Sizemore said the upstart Indians won't just lay down their bats and surrender.
"They've pitched well and they've made good pitches," said Sizemore. "The bullpen has been good, too. We've had a tough time. It doesn't mean we can't make the adjustment. We have to go out there and battle and work off of them and not let them dictate the game."
That's easier said than done.