Say this about Cleveland manager Eric Wedge: He's consistent.
A few days ago when his club had been in possession of a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, Wedge said he didn't think it mattered where Game 5 was played.
And what was Wedge saying late yesterday afternoon, his club's lead in the series having vanished in the wake of Boston's wins in Games 5 and 6? That's right, he reiterated it didn't matter where Game 7 was being played.
"It's not about where we play or who we play, it's about how we play," he said.
For the record, of course, Game 7 was played at Fenway Park, but the Indians manager truly didn't seem overwhelmed by that. Nor was his team. Or so he insisted.
"Because the focus is on ourselves and what we do and how we compete, with each other and as a ball club," Wedge said. "That's what we have to do. That's what our guys have done a great job doing. Obviously we know where we're at and we understand. [But] no different than [if] we were playing at home and our fans are going crazy, the same thing is happening here.
"But it's still about how we play."
Well, in some ways he was wrong. Where the game was played did matter, because the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park, particularly down the left-field line where the stands jut out, very much came into play in the 11-2 loss that ended Cleveland's season.
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland's star center fielder and dynamic leadoff hitter, tried to ignite his team with a drag-bunt single to start the eighth inning, and while he was successful in that particular play, he couldn't have been happy with the way the entire series played out. That bunt single snapped an 0-for-7 stretch, going back to the fifth inning of Game 5, and most glaring was the fact that he went 0 for 9 in the ALCS with runners in scoring position. Sizemore did have a sacrifice fly in the fifth, but he hit just .222 and scored just one run over the last three games. In all, he stranded 14 runners on base, a team high . . . Ryan Garko's RBI double extended his postseason hitting streak to seven games, stretching back to the ALDS against the Yankees . . . Rafael Betancourt hadn't allowed a run in four previous postseason games before Dustin Pedroia took him up and over the wall in left to knock in two runs in the seventh. Betancourt allowed seven runs (six earned) in 1 2/3 innings last night.
No help from Hafner
Of course, no one stood as the posterboy of Cleveland's downfall more than designated hitter Travis Hafner, he of the three consecutive .300 seasons from 2004-06. But against Boston, he struggled mightily. When he hit an opposite-field double off the wall with one out in the fourth, it ended a miserable 0-for-16 stretch for Hafner, but he was retired his next two times up, including a strikeout against Jonathan Papalbon with runners on first and second and no outs in the eighth. Hafner hit a home run in his first at-bat in the series, but went 3 for 26 after that and wound up hitting .148 for the series with 12 strikeouts . . . Over the first four games, Cleveland pitchers in the first inning faced 15 batters and yielded just three hits (.200) and one run. In Games 5-7, Boston batters went 10 for 19 (.526) and scored six times . . . The Indians pulled off four of their ALCS-record 14 double plays in the first inning, turning them against four different players - Mike Lowell, Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew last night . . . The Indians were playing in just their third Game 7 in franchise history. They are now 1-2, having defeated Brooklyn in the 1920 World Series and lost to Florida in the 1997 World Series . . . Oct. 21 once again was a disappointing date for the Indians. They lost in Game 1 of the 1995 World Series to Atlanta and in Game 3 of the 1997 World Series to Florida.
Nixon back to bench
When asked before Game 3 why Trot Nixon was in the lineup and Franklin Gutierrez was on the bench, Wedge said it had something to do with the sort of pitching style expected of Daisuke Matsuzaka. "[Red Sox pitchers] have been feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls," said Wedge, who suggested that Matsuzaka would do likewise. Nixon went 0 for 2 and wasn't a factor in Game 3, though Cleveland won, 4-2. Push forward to last night's Game 7 and another start by Matsuzaka, but Wedge opted to return Gutierrez to right field, even though Nixon had gone 2 for 3 in Game 6 against Curt Schilling.
With the Indians having marched to the threshold of the World Series, Wedge has been thrust into the national spotlight and it would be hard to argue his daily visits with the press haven't won him a great deal of respect. Honest and forthright, the 39-year-old Wedge has come across as a cool and collected individual. Is that really him? "Yeah, I really believe in being even keel," said Wedge, with a laugh. "I know I keep saying that, but I get as excited as the next guy, but what you see from me is somebody who really believes in his players and has a great deal of confidence in his players. I get involved when I need to, otherwise I stay the hell out of the way." . . . Ellis Burks, who concluded his major league career with a bit role with the World Champion Red Sox in 2004, works for the Indians as a special assistant in baseball operations. Burks played for the Indians from 2001-03.