CLEVELAND—Two straight losses to the Tito-drivin’, LeBron-inspirin’, Progressive Field-rockin’ Indians might lead a reasonable person to conclude that there is only one possible outcome to this American League Division Series for the Boston Red Sox.
Party at Napoli’s.
Not so fast, Believeland.
Would someone please cue the team historian?
Oh, right, sorry.
Where to begin? Let’s try 1999, when the Sox dropped the first two to the Indians, Game 2 an 11-1 whuppin’ that ranked as the worst in Sox postseason history to that point. Pedro Martinez came out of Game 1 with a bad back/shoulder and Nomar Garciaparra was about to no-show in Game 3 with a sore wrist.
“We’ve got them right where we want them,’’ chirped Nomar, who had not yet let on that his little buddy, Lou Merloni, would be standing in for him at shortstop when the series switched back to Boston.
Sox manager Jimy Williams wasn’t promising miracles, but in his Jimywocky-inflected way, he wasn’t sounding retreat, either.
“What do you want me to do, boys and girls?’’ he said. “I’m going to bring the same group that brung us.’’
Shall we remind you how that worked out? Sox won Game 3, 9-3, with Framingham Lou jump-starting two rallies. The Sox evened the series with the greatest offensive eruption in postseason history, opening a 13-run lead after four innings in Game 4 en route to a 23-run, 24-hit stomping of the Tribe, and the Sox finished off Cleveland in a Game 5 in which Troy O’Leary drove in seven runs with two home runs and a wounded Pedro came out of the pen for six no-hit innings that proved he was no mere mortal.
We won’t linger over 2004, other than to mention the Sox were architects of the greatest comeback in sports history, reeling off four straight wins against the high and mighty Yankees after being publicly labeled “frauds” following a 19-8 beating to the Yanks that left them in an 0-3 hole. Schoolkids in New England don’t get promoted to the next level unless they can correctly identify who said “Don’t let us win one” (Kevin Millar), who delivered two walkoffs in the span of one calendar day (David Ortiz), who slapped Bronson Arroyo (A-Rod) and who modeled the bloody sock (Curt Schilling).
Let us instead jump ahead to 2007, where the Indians had taken a 3 games to 1 lead against the Sox in the American League Championship Series and Manny Ramirez had puzzled everyone with his apparent indifference to the Sox plight.
“We’ll go play hard and if the thing doesn’t come like it’s supposed to come, move on,” Ramirez said before Game 5. “We’ll come next year … If it doesn’t happen, who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world or something.”
Manny, of course, was right, in his own Mannyworld way. Armageddon wasn’t right around the corner, and neither, for that matter, was next year, except for the Indians.
With Josh Beckett doing his best Bob Gibson impression, the Sox rolled in Game 5, J.D. Drew hit a galvanizing grand slam in Game 6, and a rookie named Dustin Pedroia drove in five runs in an 11-2 Game 7 clincher.
In the last three games of the series, the Sox outscored the Indians, 30-5, their momentum carrying over to a four-game sweep of the Rockies in the World Series.
So granted, things look a little bleak at the moment for the Sox. Rick Porcello failed to make it out of the fifth inning in Game 1, David Price was gone before the end of the fourth in Game 2. The mighty Sox offense succumbed to Terry Francona’s masterful use of his bullpen in Game 1, then managed just three hits off Corey Kluber in Game 2. David Ortiz has been quiet. Mookie Betts has been quiet. Jackie Bradley (5 K’s), Xander Bogaerts (4) and Dustin Pedroia (4) have struck out 13 times among them in two games.
“I think, coming into this series, we had a lot of guys the last couple of games feeling it out, everybody,’’ Pedroia told reporters. “Me included. I think we lost who we are – we’re the Boston Red Sox.’’
A return to Yawkey Way should help the Sox overcome whatever identity crisis has set in. The Indians might have had LeBron Friday afternoon, but just last Saturday the Sox had Patriots and Bruins legends and the entire Celtics team show up.
“Backs against the wall,’’ manager John Farrell said. “It’s pretty clear what lies ahead of us.’’
Yep. Making a little more history. No guarantees, but you might want to be there to witness it.