They call him "Raffy Left" as a way of distinguishing Rafael Perez from "Raffy Right" his esteemed bullpen mate Rafael Betancourt, but last night Cleveland Indians fans could be excused for twisting that nickname around. It was more like, "Oh, Raffy, what a mess you left us in."
It was the bottom of the fifth in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park when Rafael Perez helped the Red Sox light up the sky. With Kevin Youkilis having singled to lead off and chase Fausto Carmona from the game, "Raffy Left" got the call from Cleveland manager Eric Wedge.
He proceeded to deliver what was nearly a knockout punch to his own team, a 13-pitch performance that resembled batting practice. Oh, he got David Ortiz to hit a grounder to second that led to a forceout of Youkilis at second, but that was his only highlight. What followed was a Manny Ramírez two-run home run into the Red Sox bullpen, a towering Mike Lowell moonshot off a sign above the Monster seats, and a J.D. Drew single.
Having entered with a 5-3 lead, "Raffy Left" departed with Cleveland behind, 6-5, and if ever the Indians needed a pitcher to offer some relief, this was the time.
Enter the unheralded Jensen Lewis.
All he did was bring a semblance of order to a game that was turning chaotic in a hurry for Cleveland. The 23-year-old righthanded rookie got Jason Varitek to hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play, then he retired the side in the sixth and again in the seventh. Seven batters, eight outs. Given the fact that Wedge had seen the Red Sox batter his pitchers for 10 runs Friday and six in five innings last night, the sight of Lewis offering a blanket of calm pleased him no end.
As for the game, that had no end - or so it seemed - though you didn't hear Wedge offering any complaints in the early morning hours when his Indians prevailed in an 11-inning, 5-hour-14-minute affair. When it came to a close at 1:37 a.m., the temperature was 46 degrees and Trot Nixon was the certified hero for his RBI single.
It's just that you'll excuse Wedge for voting early and often, for there were a multitude of heroes in his eyes - including a guy who once drew the attention of the Red Sox. That would be Lewis, a 23-year-old native of Cincinnati via Vanderbilt University who prior to the 2005 draft worked out for Boston, only to be drafted by the Indians in the third round.
Surely no one involved in those proceedings could have envisioned back then what would transpire on this frigid autumn evening at Fenway Park, but Lewis certainly played a key role. By the time the Indians erupted for seven runs in the 11th inning, it may have been overlooked, but the righthander had given his team the perfect antidote for the destruction that was created by "Raffy Left."
If Lewis's work in the aftermath of the Ramírez-Lowell-Drew thrashing of Perez settled the Indians mentally, it certainly showed, because in the top of the sixth, the Indians tied it up, 6-6.
What followed were six brilliant innings of bullpen work that had been set in motion by Lewis, and followed up by "Raffy Right," Betancourt, Tom Mastny, and Joe Borowski.
"Our bullpen," said Wedge in a classic understatement, "did a fantastic job."
Lewis set it all in motion, though his success wasn't a shock to Indians fans. After all, they are still buzzing over the inning of relief work he tossed against the Yankees - strikeouts against Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez.
A nice memory - and now Lewis has given them another.