In any seven-game series, there are a multitude of reasons why one team won and the other team lost.
In this ALCS, Boston’s victory boils down to these: having the pitching to shut the Indians down four times and having the power and patience to overcome a lot of double plays.
The pitching is probably the more surprising reason for Boston’s win, not because the Red Sox didn’t have good pitching during the regular season, but rather because their advantage in the ALCS came where you wouldn’t have expected it.
The Indians were supposed to have an advantage in the first and second starters with C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona pitted against Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. Instead, the Red Sox won three of those four matchups and could easily have won all four.
Beckett, who earned the ALCS MVP award, was amazing. He allowed three runs in 14 innings on nine hits and one walk with 18 strikeouts. His counterpart, Sabathia, struggled, allowing 12 runs in 10.1 innings on 17 hits and seven walks with nine strikeouts.
In game one, Beckett was solid while Sabathia imploded, and the Red Sox cruised to victory. In game five, Sabathia pitched much better, but Beckett threw a gem and the Red Sox eventually pulled away for an easy win.
While most people expected Beckett and Sabathia to have similar success, it shouldn’t have been a shock that the Red Sox won both games, because Beckett and Sabathia were almost even in performance in the regular season. That wasn’t the case with Carmona and Schilling, and the Indians were counting on Carmona to thoroughly outpitch Schilling in this series.
It didn’t happen. Schilling allowed seven runs in 11.2 innings on 15 hits and no walks with eight strikeouts. Carmona yielded 11 runs in six innings on 10 hits and nine walks with seven strikeouts.
Both pitchers stunk in game two, getting knocked out of the game by the end of the fifth inning. The Indians eventually triumphed in 11 when Boston ran out of relievers and had to use Eric Gagne, who predictably opened the floodgates.
In game six, however, Schilling bounced back to pitch seven strong innings, while Carmona was even worse. He lasted only two innings and helped put the Indians in an early 10-1 hole.
On the other hand, the Indians were not necessarily supposed to have an advantage in the third and fourth starters, but they did. Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd combined to allow seven runs in 17.2 innings while Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield allowed 11 runs in 14.1 innings.
The saving grace for the Red Sox is that after losing games three and four with Matsuzaka and Wakefield pitching, Matsuzaka was able to come back in game seven and at least give the bullpen the lead after five innings.
And that’s where the Red Sox had their biggest advantage: relief pitching. Yes, some of the Boston relievers (Gagne, in particular) struggled, but the duo at the end of the game was nearly perfect.
Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon each pitched five scoreless innings in the series, combining to allow seven hits and four walks while striking out six. In game seven, Okajima took a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth and handed a 5-2 lead to Papelbon in the top of the eighth, and that was that.
The Indians were supposed to have a relief tandem just as good as, if not better than, Boston’s, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Rafael Betancourt was every bit as good as advertised through the first six games, pitching 6.1 scoreless innings while allowing only one hit and no walks and striking out five. In game seven, however, he entered with the Indians trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh and promptly blew any chance Cleveland had of rallying. Betancourt allowed two runs in the seventh and then five more in the eighth as the Red Sox pulled away.
At least Betancourt was effective in some of the games, though. Rafael Perez made three appearances in the series and was able to get only one out each time. He allowed eight runs (six earned) on seven hits and two walks.
The advantage the quartet of Beckett, Schilling, Papelbon and Okajima ultimately held over Sabathia, Carmona, Betancourt and Perez was perhaps the biggest reason Boston had a chance to win the ALCS, even though most people would have thought the Indians had the edge when matching up those four before the series.
But even with the quality pitching they got, the Red Sox still had to score enough runs, and they tried their best to make that difficult at times.
Boston let the Indians off the hook numerous times by either failing to get a big hit with runners in scoring position or, even worse, making two outs at once. The Red Sox grounded into an amazing 14 double plays in the seven games, with the anemic bat of Julio Lugo accounting for four of them.
The Red Sox still managed to score runs in bunches, however, because they put a bunch of men on base and put 10 balls over the fence.
The top six batters in Boston’s lineup (Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew) combined to go 60 for 155 (a .387 average) with 26 walks. That means each of those six players was on base approximately two times each game.
They also hit the ball hard. The six blasted 11 doubles, a triple and nine home runs. Even with all the double plays and the light-hitting bottom third of the order, that kind of production is enough to score a lot of runs.
And that’s just what the Red Sox did, scoring at least six runs in five of the seven games. They were fortunate that their four best offensive games synched up nicely with their four best-pitched games. And because of that, they now have a chance to win the World Series for the second time in four seasons.