Wanna bring up 2004?
You want to point out similar situations in the 2003 and ’99 ALDS series as well as the ’86 ALCS?
It can be done, you say, these Red Sox, once again, coming back from the brink of elimination in a postseason series?
Go ahead. We’ve got some spare time for delusions of grandeur.
It’s not so much a matter of it CAN’T be done or WON’T be done, but please come to the table with some more concrete evidence than the past triumphs of teams whose particular components will contribute about as much come Thursday night as Clay Buchholz. You get the Josh Beckett argument for Game 5. Noted. You won’t get him for Game 7, but Tim Wakefield worked out well, no?
So, what else?
Feel confident in Curt Schilling in Game 6? OK, we’ll even grant you that.
Like Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 7?
You like the offensive chances of a team that’s forced to have a struggling Dustin Pedroia continue to bat leadoff thanks to the season-long inefficiencies of Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp, as well as Terry Francona’s baffling refusal to not inject Jacoby Ellsbury into the lineup? J.D. Drew has four hits in the series - all singles - as he continues to do nothing to excite. It’s fitting that the only offense last night came off a trio of solo shots from Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez (who somehow must have thought his was a six-run shot) since they’re the only guys hitting anything in the lineup.
Mix all that with a starting rotation that’s “Beckett and pray for three-day monsoons”, and things aren’t looking exactly all that rosy for a World Series party a week from tonight in the Fens.
Meanwhile, the most exciting team this side of the Denver plains keeps on rolling and the Indians are now one win away from their first trip to the World Series in a decade. I know many folks won’t agree with me, but isn’t it a bit refreshing to see fans at Jacobs Field cheering for their own team in lieu of being overrun by the traveling groupies of “Red Sox Nation?”
These aren’t the aging Yankees the Red Sox need to overcome. Eric Wedge hasn’t overburdened his bullpen like Joe Torre. Trot Nixon is driving in extra-inning go-ahead runs for the Indians against his old team this time around. Pedro Martinez is not emerging from that bullpen door. These are different characters, a lineup that isn’t nearly as explosive as the one in 2004, and one that certainly didn’t have to face the caliber of pitchers in Games 5 and 6 as they will have to in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.
Indeed, Beckett, the ace of the postseason, gives Boston its best shot at winning tomorrow night. But then…what? It’s a bit one-sided to suppose that Sabathia and Carmona will both rebound from poor performances in this series and that Schilling won’t, so perhaps things are set up -- however shakily -- for a Game 7 Sunday night, which would be an empty-out-the-bullpen evening with anyone and everyone available taking the mound.
So, sure. It CAN happen.
Beckett lost a nifty pitching duel with Carmona back in July, 1-0 at Jacobs Field, which is also the site of one of the most frustrating evenings of his career, last season’s 15-3 loss in late April. That Beckett is not the same Beckett we’re seeing now, of course, but nor is the Sabathia we saw last Friday night. Before allowing eight runs in Boston’s Game 1 win, Sabathia had given up 25 earned runs total in his last 12 starts. And against a Boston lineup that only has the 2-3-4-5 sluggers going for it, it’s not inconceivable that he outduels Beckett on his home turf.
In many ways these Indians pose a generously more potent obstacle for a trip to the World Series than the 2004 Yankees. There’s something to be said for familiarity in this game, and the way the Red Sox and Yankees know each other, playing 18-19 times a season can eventually wear on both clubs in that they know how to approach each other. Let’s not overlook that as one of the many factors that had to come together in that grand comeback. Or is it coincidence that the two teams Mariano Rivera -- one of those many components in ’04 -- has faced the most in his career , the Sox and Orioles, have enjoyed the most success against him? The Sox saw the Indians seven times this season. And four more times the past week.
Those Yankees had an obviously burned out bullpen. These Indians have one of the best in the game. Those Red Sox were playing on the passion and fire of accomplishing what no Boston team had done in 86 years. These Red Sox are fighting such a mission in the Indians, trying to win their first title since 1948.
These Indians are better than those Yankees, with two top-of-the-rotation guys that team never really had (Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, and Jon Lieber) and a bullpen that hasn't been forced to overwork. These Red Sox are just as good, but aren't as offensively firepowered as those '03-'04 teams by any stretch. Cleveland is on the verge of the shining moment in its recent rebuilding plan, while the Red Sox are on the cusp of a youth movement that promises consistency for years to come.
So, get out your Jack Daniels. Beg the mayor to crumble some cookies over on Yawkey Way and rub your Cambridge Soundworks "Believe" bumper sticker before going to bed. Because we’ve all seen more than once that it can be done.
Let me know when you notice even the slightest hint that it will.