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ALCS Game 7
October 21, 2007 • Fenway Park, Boston

Red Sox 11, Indians 2

Box Score

          1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9   R  H  E
___________________________________   _______

Cleveland 0  0  0  1  1  0  0  0  0   2  10 1
Boston    1  1  1  0  0  0  2  6  x   11 15 1

The ALCS was a matchup between the two best teams in baseball, who had both finished the season with 96 wins. The Red Sox dominated behind Josh Beckett in Game 1, collapsed in Game 2, went cold in Games 3 and 4, and finally came storming back in Games 5 and 6. That left the series tied, and it forced a climactic winner-take-all Game 7 on a cool Sunday night at Fenway Park. Daisuke Matsuzaka was the starter, but it would be all hands on deck for the Sox, with Beckett ready in the bullpen if needed. Once again Jacoby Ellsbury drew the start in center field, after Coco Crisp had struggled earlier in the series. But knowing that it takes contributions from every player on the roster to win a seven-game series, I had predicted to my co-workers before the game that Coco would somehow make an important contribution before it was all said and done.

(Disclaimer to anyone reading this years later: Don't look at the final score and assume this game was a blowout. It was actually an intense nail-biter that was anything but comfortable.)

Dice-K had a very quick first inning, which was a good sign. He had been maddeningly inconsistent in the regular season. He was clearly capable of pitching a brilliant game, but then the next time out he'd labor through the whole outing and barely make it through the fifth. Even more frustrating were the games in which he cruised in the first few innings, fell apart in the fourth, and then regained control and pitched well the rest of the way. Which Dice-K would we see tonight? He was known as a big-game pitcher in Japan, and he needed to step up now for his new team. If the first inning was any indication, he would be up to the task. For their part, the Red Sox hitters jumped on Jake Westbrook right away. Four singles gave them their first run and loaded the bases with one out, bringing up J.D. Drew, whose first-inning grand slam the day before had made him the hero of Game 6. This time Westbrook got him to ground into a double play to end the rally, but the Red Sox had grabbed a 1-0 lead.

The second and third continued in similar fashion. Dice-K cruised through the Cleveland lineup, allowing only one Indian to reach base in the first three innings. The Red Sox had plenty of baserunners, but Westbrook continued to minimize the damage. He had stymied the Red Sox offense in his Game 3 start, but this time they were able to squeak out two more runs - one coming in the back door after another double play in the second, and the other courtesy of a sacrifice fly in the third - for a 3-0 lead.

In the fourth, the Indians started to break through. Travis Hafner, who had struggled in the whole series, doubled. Ryan Garko lofted one to center that banged high off the wall for another double, giving Cleveland their first run. The Sox had runners at the corners with one out in the bottom of the fourth, but again Westbrook was able to get out of it with a double play. The Red Sox hadn't been able to jump on him for a big inning when they had the chance. Now he was starting to find his rhythm, and the complexion of the game was changing.

There was more trouble in the fifth. Kenny Lofton led off the inning with a hit off the Wall in left. The ancient Lofton was still speedy, and had proven to be a pest to the Red Sox throughout the series. He turned the corner and headed for second, but Manny fielded the carom and threw to second in time to get him out. It was fortunate for the Sox that he did, because the next two batters singled, putting runners at the corners with one out. That merited a trip to the mound by Terry Francona, but the manager chose to leave Dice-K in to face the top of the lineup. Grady Sizemore hit a sacrifice fly to make it a one-run game. Asdrubal Cabrera had a long at-bat, but finally Matsuzaka got him to strike out to end the threat.

While Westbrook continued to shut down the Red Sox, Hideki Okajima got the call from the bullpen to open the sixth. Boston's bullpen was one of their big strengths, but asking them to go the final four innings while clinging to a one-run lead was no easy task. Fortunately Oki was up to the challenge. He had a 1-2-3 sixth, but had his work cut out for him in the seventh. Lofton reached second with one out, on an error when Julio Lugo couldn't track down his pop fly to shallow left. Franklin Gutierrez smashed a fair ball down the left field line. It hit off the base of the stands behind third base and caromed into left field. The third base coach started to wave Lofton around with the tying run - and he probably would have made it safely - but then put up the stop sign, holding Lofton up at third. From there, Okajima went to work, and got Casey Blake to ground into an inning-ending around-the-horn double play.

In the seventh, the Indians finally went to the bullpen, with Rafael Betancourt replacing Westbrook. Ellsbury hit a smash off third baseman Blake's glove for an error and reached second. Lugo successfully bunted him over to third. That brought up Dustin Pedroia, the diminutive rookie with the big swing. He looked like he was swinging for the fences, rather than aiming for a simple sac fly that would deliver a much-needed insurance run, as he fouled off Betancourt's first pitch. But he knew what he was doing, and unloaded on the next pitch to send it high over the Wall and into the Monster seats. That gave the Red Sox a 5-2 lead and got Fenway Park rocking.

Okajima had already pitched two innings, but he came back out for the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon had never been called upon for a six-out save, and they wanted to get as much out of Oki as they could. But when the first two Cleveland batters reached base, the closer was called in early to put out the fire. He struck out Hafner and got Victor Martinez on a fielder's choice. Garko hit a fly deep to center field in front of the bullpen. It sliced toward the gap, and if it got down, both runners would likely score, but Ellsbury ranged over and made the catch just in time.

After a very close, nerve-wracking seven and a half innings, the game finally got fun in the bottom of the eighth. Mike Lowell doubled with one out, and Drew knocked him in. Jason Varitek doubled and Ellsbury was intentionally walked to load the bases. Lugo struck out for the second out, leaving it up to Pedroia. He wasted no time in driving a double to the base of the Wall in left-center, clearing the bases and breaking the game wide open. It was 9-2 now, and Pedroia had driven in five runs. Kevin Youkilis wasn't about to be left out of the fun, and when Jensen Lewis made his way in from the bullpen, he launched a towering shot - a no-doubter that smacked off of one of the Coke bottles high above the Green Monster.

Not wanting to take any chances in the ninth, the Sox sent Papelbon back out to the mound. They also shifted Ellsbury into left for Ramirez and brought Coco Crisp in to play center. Jhonny Peralta singled to lead off the inning, and then Lofton looped one into left, where Ellsbury slid to make the catch. The second out was a fly ball to center. Casey Blake was the last hope for the Indians, and he sliced a drive into the deepest part of the park. Coco sprinted over into the triangle, leaped and made the game-ending catch, and then smacked hard against the wall of the bullpen on his way down. The game was over, and the Sox were headed to the World Series for the second time in four years! As Varitek ran to the mound and leaped into Papelbon's arms, Coco jumped back up and limped into the infield to celebrate with the rest of his team.

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