It all began with such promise for Travis Hafner.
After Josh Beckett rang up a pair of strikeouts to open Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Hafner, the Indians' buff designated hitter, stepped to the plate and left no doubt about the trajectory of the rocket he launched when he took the Red Sox ace deep to right field to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
It was the highlight of Hafner's 1-for-3 effort, but it went for naught after Cleveland wound up suffering a 10-3 loss. He went 2 for 5 in Game 2, a 13-6 triumph that sent the series back to Jacobs Field square at one game apiece, hitting a pair of singles.
From that moment on, however, hitting a ball out of the infield has been a monumental struggle for Hafner.
Since the first two games of this best-of-seven series, Hafner has experienced a power outage at the plate, going 0 for his last 15 at-bats with one walk and nine strikeouts in Games 3 through 6.
The breakdown: strikeout (called), fielder's choice, ground out to short, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, ground out to short, strikeout, strikeout (called), ground out to short, strikeout, ground out to first base, strikeout, fly out to center.
"He'll be all right," Casey Blake said of Hafner, who was nowhere to be found in the visitors' clubhouse after the Indians absorbed a 12-2 drubbing last night, sending the series to a deciding Game 7 tonight at Fenway Park. "He's still such a threat up there. He's going to have a lot of opportunities left. He still has tomorrow. Hopefully, he can look ahead and not worry about what's happened the last few games."
When Eric Gagné induced Hafner to hit a lazy fly to center last night, it seemed like the last straw for Cleveland's DH, who made a forlorn trudge back to the dugout after making the first out of the ninth.
Asked if he felt Hafner was pressing, especially after last night's 0 for 4, Trot Nixon said, "I don't know. That's something that a player's got to say for himself. I think we all put pressure on ourselves, whether it's Game 6 of the ALCS or Game 4 of a season. We all have a passion to be the best we can possibly be and if we're not living up to our expectations then we're going to be a little upset. I'd be disappointed in any ballplayer who didn't have that kind of drive.
"Travis is going to be fine. He probably doesn't feel like he's swinging the bat very well, but, like I say, it's great for certain hitters to be hot as fire when they go to the plate. But the way I look at it, this team is not going to win with just one player. It's going to take a team effort and that effort means at the plate, on the field, and on the mound."
Judging from the comments manager Eric Wedge made Friday, it didn't appear that a switch at DH was in the offing.
"No, we wouldn't tinker with that right now," Wedge said. "I mean, Haf has had a couple of tough games. I've got a lot of confidence in him.
"He's a great hitter. He's stepped up for us time and time again. There's been times this year I know that he's been disappointed with his performance, but everybody has to remember when it comes to postseason, you talk about even from [Thursday's game] to [last night's] game, everything prior to today doesn't mean anything."
Wedge, no doubt, was alluding to the 0-for-21 stretch Hafner suffered from July 21-26. It was an awkward time for Hafner, who had just signed a four-year contract extension July 12, through the 2012 season with a club option for 2013.
Hafner, however, finished the regular season on a torrid stretch, hitting .316 in September (31 for 98) with 5 home runs and 23 RBIs in 27 games, including .373 (22 for 59) with 3 homers and 13 RBIs in the final 17 games.
"He's a great hitter and it happens to everybody," Blake said. "He can certainly win a game for us just by himself. But we're not all waiting around relying on him, because we know we can do it with other guys, too."