Saturday, October 20, 2007
Updated: October 21, 1:36 PM ET
Any momentum Cleveland had appears long gone
By Jim Caple
BOSTON -- Sheesh, not even the "Major League" film series put Cleveland through an ordeal like this.
Three days ago, Cleveland rolled into a very friendly Jacobs Field with a 3-1 lead in the ALCS, the fans wearing "It's Tribe Time Now!" T-shirts and needing just one more victory to advance to the World Series. On Sunday, Cleveland enters a decidedly unfriendly Fenway Park still needing that final victory but looking absolutely overwhelmed and overmatched by the Red Sox.
With a chance to close out the series in Game 6, the Indians instead turned in the worst performance by a Cleveland team since Corbin Bernsen was at third base, losing so convincingly in Game 6 that it's a wonder the Red Sox didn't pile on top of each other at the mound and spray champagne in their clubhouse. How bad was the 12-2 loss? J.D. Drew drove in five runs, and Eric Gagne pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.
If it's possible for a team to trail a series 3-3, Cleveland is.
"It just has to stop, and it has to stop tonight," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "They need to go to bed [Saturday night] with clear heads and come here [Sunday] expecting to win."
That won't be any easier following the San Francisco Chronicle report that Game 4 winner Paul Byrd purchased nearly $25,000 worth of human growth hormone from 2002-2005. Byrd told Foxsports.com that he took the substance under a doctor's care.
How are those Browns doing, anyway?
"We've got to play our game," right fielder Trot Nixon said after the game but prior to the report. "You can't worry about what people are saying or your surroundings or how things are being called. If you do that, then you're letting the game dictate to you."
Nixon didn't name any names, but one suspect was starter Fausto Carmona, who was brilliant in the regular season and in the division series but dreadful in this series. He didn't get out of the fifth inning in Game 2 and didn't get out of the third inning in Game 6 when he struggled with a tight strike zone. He and C.C. Sabathia might have been the league's best one-two punch, but they have allowed 23 runs in 17 1/3 innings.
At times, Cleveland's pitchers have looked almost intimidated by the Fenway atmosphere.
"He was just a little too excited and couldn't control himself," Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez said of Carmona. "I was really trying to calm him down."
But there's no reason to focus on the starting pitchers when there is so much blame to spread around.
That means you, Travis Hafner.
You are still here, aren't you?
He was just a little too excited and couldn't control himself. I was really trying to calm him down.
--Indians catcher Victor Martinez on Game 6 starter Fausto Carmona
Hafner has driven in 100 runs each of the past four seasons, but he has been virtually invisible the past four games. He is hitless, with 16 outs in his past 15 at-bats, including nine strikeouts. It isn't easy mounting rallies when your No. 3 batter is hitting like Nick Punto; Hafner has hit only one ball out of the infield the past four games (and it was against Gagne, so it doesn't really count).
Cleveland had a chance to get back into the game in the third inning with runners on first and second, but the top of the order stranded them with Hafner making the final out. If Cleveland is going to win Sunday night, it really would be helpful if Hafner showed up.
There is no joy in Pronkville.
"Travis probably doesn't feel like he's swinging the bat real well right now," Nixon said. "But the way I look at it, this team won't win with just one player."
Which is true. Unfortunately, Hafner's teammates aren't hitting all that well, either. Cleveland hit several balls hard off Curt Schilling in the first couple of innings but otherwise didn't fare much better against the veteran than it did against Josh Beckett in Game 5.
And to think things looked so promising Saturday when Grady Sizemore led off with a blast down the right-field line that looked fair from certain angles but foul from the only angle that mattered, umpire Gary Cederstrom's. Instead of taking an early lead and quieting the crowd, Cleveland went down 1-2-3 (Hafner struck out, naturally), then watched Carmona almost escape an agonizing bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning.
Unfortunately, the difference between almost and a 4-0 deficit was the two-out grand slam Carmona served up to Drew.
"He threw a bunch of pitches, gave up a couple infield hits and the bases were loaded," third baseman Casey Blake said. "If he had got out of it, that would have been huge. It would have changed the complexion of the game. Instead, we were in a huge hole."
And it feels as if they're in an even larger hole despite being tied in the series. Hafner can't hit the ball out of the infield. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta is showing so little range it's as if someone had tied his shoes together. Left-handed specialist Rafael Perez suddenly can't get anyone out. And the Red Sox seemingly can do no wrong.
HAFNER'S ALCS STRUGGLES
||0-for-4, 2 K's
||0-for-4, 2 K's
||0-for-4, 4 K's
||0-for-15, 9 K's
Other than that, everything is just fine.
So now Cleveland will turn its season over to Jake Westbrook, who pitched a strong game on Monday and will try to give his team another quality start it so desperately needs.
"They've got a veteran ballclub and very patient hitters, and they make you work," Westbrook said of Boston's lineup. "That's my job, to kind of mix it up and do the best I can. It's going to be a challenge and definitely a lot of emotions. But I'm excited about the opportunity to be the guy on the mound."
While Westbrook tries to shut down Boston's lineup, his teammates will have to come out and play with confidence and act as though they expect to go to the World Series instead of looking as if they had their pants pulled down in Kenmore Square. And Pronk might want to actually hit a ball to the outfield, and preferably farther.
And if not? Well, the Cavaliers' season starts soon and hey, how about those Buckeyes, anyway?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
ALCS Game 3