|Kevin Youkilis had to doff his hat - in frustration - after flying to center to end the ninth inning. The Sox first baseman lost an 11-pitch battle with Cleveland's Rafael Betancourt. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)|
Lasting impression: Rest for the wary
The Kenmore Square and Boylston Street bars emptied the same time as Fenway Park, which meant baseball fans were competing for cabs with last callers as 2 a.m. neared.
There was the intrepid sports columnist from a suburban daily newspaper who filed his story and called his office to confirm - only to learn everyone had gone home. There was no one in the building to receive and edit his story.
There was Curt Schilling, showing up at the postgame press conference even though nobody asked him and telling reporters, "This was all about me coming up small in a big game."
That's not what Red Sox fans were saying. From Bombay to Bangor, the global community of Red Sox watchers buzzed about manager Terry Francona's decision to send Eric Gagné into the game for the start of the 11th inning. Poor Gagné has emerged as a Charlie Brown figure in the Sox stable of much-adored superstars and his part in Sunday morning's 13-6, 11-inning, Game 2 American League Championship Series loss to the Indians has already taken its place on the BoSox Wall of Blame.
Sunday afternoon/evening provided a day of rest for the Red Sox, the Indians, and the sleepless fans following this monthlong tournament. The teams arrived in Cleveland about the time the sun came up and tonight resume their joust with Daisuke Matsuzaka carrying the hopes of two nations while Jake Westbrook toils for the revived Tribe.
Game 2 lasted 5 hours 14 minutes and ended at 1:37 a.m. Had it ended in nine innings, it would have qualified as the longest nine-inning game (4:23) in postseason history. The duel of the night came in the bottom of the ninth, when Cleveland reliever Rafael Betancourt threw 11 consecutive fastballs to Kevin Youkilis before getting Youk to fly to center with two outs and Jacoby Ellsbury ready to score the winning run from second base. Youkilis fouled off six consecutive 2-and-2 pitches and Betancourt threw nine consecutive strikes.
Another key to the Cleveland win was the 10th-inning work of reliever Tom Mastny, who retired David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and Mike Lowell, 1-2-3 (something that happens about as often as the Patriots tell the truth on their injury report), setting the stage for the Tribe's seven-run outburst against the spent Red Sox pen in the 11th.
Fourteen hurlers threw 414 pitches, but the only tosses Sox fans will remember are the 10 thrown by Gagné, who was summoned instead of Jon Lester, Javier Lopez, or even Tim Wakefield.
The beauty (and curse, in Francona's case) of the much-needed offday is the opportunity to dissect and analyze everything that happened the night before. The best example was in 1986, when the Sox blew Game 6 of the World Series in Shea Stadium. It was the historic McNamara/Schiraldi/Buckner Saturday night collapse and their respective places in infamy were secured only because it rained the next day and Game 7 was not played until Monday night. Sunday's rain guaranteed that the fold of Game 6 would always get its due.
In this spirit, Francona yesterday had an uncomfortable opportunity to again talk about all things Gagné.
"When he first came over here, he had the gall to give up some runs in Boston," said the manager. "You can't do that. My point was, it was tough for him when he first came over. We built him back up, the season went pretty well, not perfect, but looked like it was better."
Francona's support of the once-great reliever has moved beyond stubborn. It can't go on much longer. If the Red Sox advance to the World Series, general manager Theo Epstein will have to face up to this blunder and remove Gagné from the Fall Classic roster.
In a more pressing matter, Francona insisted that Wakefield, not Josh Beckett, will pitch Game 4 at The Jake tomorrow night. The Sox say they don't want Beckett to pitch on three days' rest - which would set him up as a potential Game 7 starter on normal rest. This means Beckett will pitch only twice this series, Game 1 and Game 5. This, in turn, sets up Schilling and Matsuzaka for potential Games 6 and 7 at Fenway.
"I think sometimes you can get short-sighted if the need for panic arises, like perceived panic," said Francona. "Doing something like that may give you a chance to win a game, but it doesn't set up the rest of the series."
Francona and his men certainly know their team better than we do and their track record is pretty good on these kinds of decisions, but the idea of Beckett in Games 4 and 7 sounds a lot better to me than Beckett pitching Game 5 and the rest of the series put into the hands of Wakefield, Dice-K, and Schilling. Wakefield hasn't been good in a while, Dice-K was ineffective in his Division Series start against the Angels, and the Tribe gave Schilling his overdue beat-down (nine hits, five runs in 4 2/3 innings) Saturday night.
Beckett has pitched on three days' rest before. Remember when he shut out the Yankees in the clincher of the 2003 World Series? Three days' rest.
Recent history has taught us that these things tend to work out in favor of the Red Sox. But there's never been a postseason loss at Fenway like the one that ended Sunday morning. Small wonder the red-eyed Nation is nervous.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.