Forget those Red Sox arms, they denounced. Their numbers are as inflated as their reputations, they said. We've got the true aces, they trumpeted. From the makers of Feller and Wynn, and Lemon and Score, it's Sabathia and Carmona.
So maybe they didn't have the gusto of a carnival barker, but Indians supporters, flush from watching C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona form the best starting combo in baseball, were sure of at least one victory from their twin tornadoes in the AL Championship Series. Just one, as in 37 fewer than they had in the regular season, and their combined total from the Division Series.
And it would be different than against the Yankees. That one win never came.
The sting of Sabathia's Game 1 disappointment at Fenway could be soothed by the fact that he'd be back in this series. And probably matched up again against Boston's best, Josh Beckett, who likely filled some Cy Young voters with regret after an embarrassingly one-sided matchup (10-3, Sox) of award favorites. Sabathia's tally: eight earned runs, five walks, and legions of stunned fans in Cleveland. It's one thing to give up an RBI single to Manny Ramírez in the first, but to walk him with the bases loaded in the third? To serve up a two-run single to Bobby Kielty in the fifth? The hook was belated and merciful.
The only difference in Game 2 was that both starters were bad and on the bench by the fifth. Without the curiously wild Carmona and an equally ineffective Curt Schilling to kick around, both offenses, which had met little resistance in putting up six runs each, suddenly went silent for hours. Finally facing the softest of the Sox pen, the Indians predictably broke through in the 11th, but in improbable fashion, a seven-run explosion that sent them soaring back to Cleveland with the desired split.
"Tribe Time" seemed like it would never end, not after the Indians' forgotten starters, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd, made it look as if the Sox had swapped their lineup with Pawtucket's. The book on Westbrook wasn't fiction: grounders, and plenty of 'em. He racked up 11 outs on the ground, three resulting in double plays, and the Sox barely threatened in the 4-2 defeat. Byrd, he of the time-capsule windup and egg-timer fastball, had the same tranquilizing effect on the Boston bats in a 7-3 win.
The Sox needed someone to squash an Indians lineup that had staged two seven-run, series-tilting innings in three games. And Beckett was first in line to crash Cleveland's party.
On nearly every pitch, Beckett overpowered bats and minds, leaving a string of perplexed Indians behind. Seven strikeouts swinging. Four looking. Even the lone run he allowed came on a double play. By the time he walked off the mound having retired 19 of his last 22 batters and dwarfing the sizable Sabathia again, the Sox had a 7-1 lead in hand. Anxiety would be fueling Cleveland's charter this time.
While the Sox were able to lean on a postseason savior for Game 6 at Fenway, Cleveland put its faith back in Carmona. A week earlier on the same mound, Carmona hardly resembled a 19-game winner; on this night, he didn't even resemble his Game 2 self. He doled out a grand slam to J.D. Drew in the first, and was finished three batters into the third, clobbered for a total of seven runs in a 12-2 landslide.
Schilling, meanwhile, was strikingly efficient - a fine balance of ground outs, fly outs, and strikeouts, just once allowing more than one base runner in an inning. Fenway became both frenzied and serene, a second straight decisive win spawning the team's first Game 7 on host soil since 1986.
Perhaps the reeling Indians' only advantage was that their co-aces weren't pitching. But not even Westbrook's splendid sinker or a previously impregnable Cleveland pen could stem the surge the Sox had started in Cleveland and brought east. Three runs came early and eight runs came late, basically the same arc the Sox followed for the series, the apex provided by an 11-2 springboard into a World Series in which they refused to let up.