CLEVELAND - It's Saturday night alive for the Red Sox.
Cleveland may rock, but it was the Red Sox who rolled last night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, beating the Cleveland Indians, 7-1, behind Josh Beckett, sending the series back to Boston with the Indians holding a 3-2 series lead.
Beckett may not have put himself yet in the company of childhood heroes Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. But with his third dominating performance of this postseason, coupled with his previous exploits in 2003, he now belongs in the same conversation as Curt Schilling and Pedro Martínez when it comes to October mythmaking.
He gave up a run on a couple of hits to the first two batters of the game, then allowed the Indians just three more singles entering the eighth. He struck out 11, including Asdrubal Cabrera on three pitches with two on and two out to end the fifth, and walked just one. He is now 3-0 with a 1.12 ERA this October, with 26 strikeouts and one walk in 23 innings.
"Hardest event I've ever had to watch," Schilling wrote in an e-mail midgame last night from Boston, where he had already flown to prepare for his Game 6 start, "but I am seeing what I think is one of the most dominating performances in the history of the game and it's a sheer pleasure."
The Indians had a chance to close out the Sox behind their ace, C.C. Sabathia, but Kevin Youkilis homered in the first and later tripled off the glove of indecisive Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore in the seventh, a hit that gave the Sox a 4-1 lead and bid sayonara to Sabathia, who also lost Game 1 to Beckett. The Sox then added three more runs in the eighth, profiting from a throwing error by reliever Rafael Perez and a passed ball, to quiet a crowd of 44,588 that had spent much of its currency on booing Manny Ramírez.
Now it falls on Schilling, who can put up his October résumé against anyone in the history of the game but struggled in Game 2, going just 4 2/3 innings.
"Win or go home," Schilling e-mailed after it was over. "It's very cut and dry. I either clutch up and do what they pay me to do or we go home, pretty simple really. As far as Josh is concerned, that was the most dominating eight innings I've ever seen, in any game. That's a hell of a lineup he just carved up, a damn good team."
If Schilling can prevail against Fausto Carmona, Daisuke Matsuzaka is on track to pitch the game that could put the Sox in the World Series.
"After I lost my last start, Beckett said to me, 'You're going to have another chance to throw,' " Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino. "I replied to him, 'I would like that very much.'
"Believing that I'm going to have another chance, all I can do is prepare for another start."
Beckett isn't ruling out coming out of the bullpen on two-days' rest Sunday night if the Sox are still playing. He did it as a 23-year-old for the Marlins in 2003, pitching a complete-game shutout in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Cubs, then giving the Marlins four innings of one-hit relief in a Game 7 win.
"We'll delve into that later," Beckett said. "Obviously, I'm preparing for them to ask me that and as of right now, yeah, I think that would be something I could do."
The Red Sox had lost as many as four games in a row three times this season. A fourth time, and they were going home for the winter, which would be enough to put anyone on edge, with the natural exception, of course, of Ramírez.
Some of that tension spilled over in the fifth inning, when some back-and-forth barking between Beckett and Indians graybeard Kenny Lofton led to a face-to-face confrontation sufficiently hostile to empty the benches and bullpens. Lofton, leading off the inning, had dropped his bat on a 3-and-0 pitch in expectation of a free pass. Instead, plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called a strike. When Lofton lifted a routine fly to left, Beckett yelled at Lofton, who responded in kind as he jogged down the baseline. Only a lip-reader would know for sure, but it became evident they were not inquiring about each other's health, as Lofton headed for the mound after Ramírez made the catch in left.
Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, sensing trouble, stepped in front of Beckett, Indians first base coach Luis Rivera restrained Lofton, and everybody hustled onto the field in case a hockey game broke out. After some brief milling about, order was restored, play resumed, and Beckett proceeded to strike out Franklin Gutierrez.
But Casey Blake, whose home run in Game 4 had jump-started the Indians against Tim Wakefield, lined a two-out single to center, and the Indians wound up with runners on the corners when shortstop Julio Lugo, ranging to the right of second base, deflected Grady Sizemore's chopper over Beckett's head into center for a single.
To the plate came Cabrera, who had singled in the first and had a hit taken away from him by second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the third. Beckett blew him away on three pitches, the last a 97 mile-per-hour fastball on the outside corner that Cabrera could only acknowledge with a feeble wave of his bat.
"We're excited about getting back to Boston," said Beckett, who said without elaborating that he had some history with Lofton that led to their dustup. "This is not where we want to be, but obviously we're inching closer."
Ramírez, meanwhile, was, as usual, impervious to whatever anxieties buckle those who do not inhabit Manny World. After Youkilis's homer, Ramírez followed David Ortiz's strikeout by doubling into the gap in left center. Lowell then flared a single to right, and because there were two out, third base coach DeMarlo Hale sent Ramírez. The throw was high, but it arrived in plenty of time to nail Ramírez, who did not slide.
There was an even bigger Manny moment in the third. Ortiz had drawn a two-out walk off Sabathia when Ramírez launched a drive deep to center. Sizemore drifted to the wall and jumped, and that's when the confusion began. While Ortiz hustled around the bases and scored, Ramírez slowed to a jog and dropped his hand down in anticipation of a low-five from first base coach Luis Alicea. But the ball caromed back onto the field and umpires signaled it was in play.
Ramírez argued it should have been ruled a home run, and was soon joined by Francona in trying to persuade the blue crew that Ramírez be allowed to complete the circuit.
Their efforts proved futile, and replays showed the ball hitting the top of the yellow line that runs the length of the outfield wall, which means the umpires got the call right. In the 2007 universal ground rules, contained in the Major League Baseball Umpire Guide, it states: "All yellow lines are in play."
Lowell whiffed to end the inning.
The Sox blew a great chance to expand their lead after singles by Bobby Kielty and Jason Varitek opened the fourth. Coco Crisp, already the lightning rod for lobbying efforts calling for rookie Jacoby Ellsbury to play, fouled off two bunt attempts then swung weakly at a slider for the third strike. Lugo, who has also been a nonfactor offensively, rolled into a double play, his third in the last four games.
The Sox put two runners on in the fifth on a two-out single by Ortiz, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, and a walk to Ramírez. Lowell was hit by a pitch, loading the bases, but Kielty flied to right, ending the inning.