J.D. Drew went from pillory to pedestal with a single swing, Curt Schilling had another made-for-October moment, and Daisuke Matsuzaka will be given one more chance to prove himself to both sides of a still-skeptical globe.
Fueled by a first-inning grand slam by Drew, the Red Sox scored 10 runs in the first three innings to bury the Cleveland Indians, 12-2, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series last night before a crowd of 37,163.
Schilling pitched seven innings, allowing just six hits, and will hand the ball over to Matsuzaka as the Sox attempt to become the sixth team in LCS history to rally from a 3-games-to-1 deficit. The Sox are the only team to do it twice (1986 and 2004), and by overwhelming the Indians last night had the look of a team bent on converting the hat trick.
"I do not want to finish the season yet, especially as a loser," Matsuzaka said.
Matsuzaka has yet to win in two postseason starts for the Sox, who will have all hands on deck, including Josh Beckett, ready to go behind him in Game 7.
"He was kind of grinning in here when we won," said Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who said he has "a ton" of confidence in the Japanese righthander, who will truly be a rookie in the Game 7 cauldron that will be Fenway Park tonight. "That grin to me kind of meant, 'It's up to me to keep the ball going, keep the momentum in our dugout, and I think he's up to the challenge. I think he likes the challenge."
The Sox are 2-4 in winner-take-all Game 7s. The last one, of course, capped their four-game sweep of the Yankees in 2004 after losing the first three games. Johnny Damon hit a grand slam in that one, the last postseason grand slam until Drew connected on a 3-and-1 pitch off Indians starter Fausto Carmona, who loaded the bases in the first on two infield hits and a walk to the first three batters, then caused a Fenway first - the sound of 37,000-plus cerebrums imploding simultaneously when Drew drove a fastball into the camera well in center field for a grand slam.
"I was sitting in here," Papelbon said, "he got to 3 and 1 and I turned to a guy and said, 'No way he swings at this next pitch.' Carmona was walking the house. As soon as I said it, [Drew swung]. It reminded me of the home run David Ortiz hit off [Carmona] last year - down and away, stayed through it, backspinned it, and hit it to center field."
Schilling was on the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series when they returned home down 3 games to 2 to the Yankees, after three excruciating one-run losses in the Bronx. In Game 6, with the help of the team's video coordinators, who noticed Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte was tipping pitches, the Diamondbacks roared to a 12-0 lead after three innings en route to a 15-2 win, setting up Schilling's epic Game 7 duel in the desert with Roger Clemens.
The Sox required no such espionage last night to build a 10-1 lead after three innings against Carmona, a 19-game winner during the regular season who held the Yankees to a run on three hits in nine innings in the Division Series but in two postseason starts against the Sox has a 16.50 ERA (11 earned runs in 6 innings). After Dustin Pedroia led off by beating out a hopper over the mound, Kevin Youkilis beat out a hit in the hole, and Ortiz walked. Carmona was on the verge of escaping when he struck out Manny Ramírez and Mike Lowell hit a first-pitch shallow fly to right.
But Drew, who is either patient or passive at the plate, depending on your perspective, this time did not look before he leaped.
"Not only does he get a hit," manager Terry Francona said, "but he drives in four. That changes the whole complexion of the game with one swing."
Drew had played in 35 games in the postseason for four teams - the Cardinals, Braves, Dodgers, and Red Sox. Until this October, when he hit a two-run single in the first inning of Game 2 of the Division Series against the Angels, he never had driven in more than a single run in a playoff game. He'd hit three home runs previously, all solo shots, two off Schilling, of all people.
This season, he had 11 home runs, only four at Fenway, where he went nearly the entire summer - 62 games - between homers on Yawkey Way. He hit one of the four consecutive home runs off Yankees rookie Chase Wright, who was sent back to Double A the next day, then didn't go deep again at home until connecting Sept. 11 off Tampa Bay rookie Juan Salas. His last four home runs in the regular season came off rookies - Salas, Jesse Litsch of the Jays, Andy Sonnanstine of the Rays, and Nick Blackburn of the Twins.
Yet, here he was, with the Red Sox staring at elimination, delivering as Carmona blinked first.
"In that situation right there," said Drew, who later singled in another run to finish with five RBIs, "you couldn't have asked for anything better. It was just one of those situations where I was very relaxed going into the at-bat, realized we had two outs, didn't really want to walk off the field without any runs, so was trying to hit the ball hard. Worked out great."
Indians catcher Victor Martinez, who gave plate umpire Dana DeMuth an earful between innings, led off the second with a long home run to right field, this one a no-doubt fair ball after Grady Sizemore's towering fly ball to lead off the game was waved foul.
The Sox left runners on the corners in the second, when Ortiz hit into a double play, but the Sox KO'd Carmona and the Indians in a six-run third inning in which Ramírez had the distinction of being the first player in LCS history to walk twice in the same inning. Ramírez drew his first walk to open the inning, and Carmona compounded that mistake by walking Lowell on four pitches. Drew then lined a single to center, scoring Ramírez to make it 5-1 and bringing Indians manager Eric Wedge to the mound to make a pitching change.
Rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who received a raucous reception when he was announced in the starting lineup in place of Coco Crisp, lined an opposite-field single to left off Indians reliever Rafael Perez to make it 6-1, and Julio Lugo, who came into the game with just two hits in his previous 17 at-bats, a bunt single and infield hit, scorched a ground ball inside the third-base bag that rolled into the corner for a two-run double.
It was 8-1, Sox, the rout was on, and soon, so was the comedy. After Pedroia walked, Youkilis lined a single off the wall. Lugo scored easily, but Youkilis was hung up between first and second. But in the ensuing rundown, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera's throw clanked off Youkilis's helmet as he scurried back to first. Pedroia scored the 10th run of the night, while Youkilis stayed put. Ortiz then grounded a ball down the first-base line. Ryan Garko stepped on the bag to retire Ortiz, but he threw wildly to second attempting to double up Youkilis. Ramírez then drew his second walk, but Lowell flied out to end the inning.
The Indians, who are trying to return to the World Series for the first time in a decade and haven't won one since 1948, managed only three singles off Schilling, two by Trot Nixon, before Ryan Garko tripled over a leaping Ellsbury to open the seventh and scored on Jhonny Peralta's sacrifice fly.
Schilling retired the next three batters, the last Nixon on a liner to Drew, then headed to the dugout to thunderous applause. He tipped his cap to the crowd, then turned and gave another broad wave of his cap behind home plate, where his wife Shonda was sitting in a suite.
It could not have been of any comfort to the Indians that closer Joe Borowski, who may hold the fate of the Indians in his hands tonight, gave up two runs while getting in some work in the eighth inning last night.
"I was sitting in the bullpen, pondering what kind of decision they were making," Papelbon said of the Indians' decision to use Borowski. "Maybe he's the type of person who likes the work. I don't know about that. I'm questioning it just as much as you are."
Eric Gagné, perhaps the only Sox player who has been more maligned than Drew this season, finished the game. The way things worked out last night for Drew, maybe it will be his turn tonight to take the unexpected bows.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.