July 29, 2014

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A sigh for C.C., Indians as Red Sox roll in ALCS opener

BOSTON — Only one of the starting pitchers for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night held up his end of the Cy Young bargain.
And it wasn’t C.C. Sabathia.
With the Indians’ ace laying a postseason egg, the Red Sox landed the first blow in the ALCS showdown between baseball’s top two teams, winning a lopsided 10-3 affair to take the early series lead.
Sabathia, who rarely scuffled during the regular season, offered up his second straight subpar playoff performance, lasting just 41/3 innings, while allowing a season-high eight earned runs on seven hits and five walks.
“It was disappointing, especially when you’ve got your No. 1 going,” said Cleveland third baseman Casey Blake. “C. didn’t have his best stuff. Obviously we were looking for a little better outing.”
A little over a week ago, Sabathia got the win in a 12-3 victory over the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS, but was aided by his offense, which offset another poor performance from the big left-hander, who walked six in that outing.
That’s 11 free passes in two playoff starts for a pitcher that posted the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio by a lefty in the history of the game during the regular season.
“I wasn’t throwing a lot of strikes. I wasn’t challenging guys,” said Sabathia, who walked only 37 batters in 34 regular-season starts. “That’s what happens. I was going out there trying not to make mistakes. Usually, I just go out and pitch.”
“He didn’t have it tonight,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. “His command was off. He was off a little bit with his fastball, having trouble getting his breaking ball where he needed it. He just never really got in sync.”
Sabathia’s counterpart and chief Cy Young competition, Josh Beckett, enjoyed a much less tumultuous time on the mound, breezing through six innings, while allowing a pair of runs on just four hits and striking out seven.
Beckett, who threw a shutout in his first postseason start against the Angels, allowed just a run on two hits through the first five innings — plenty of time for his offense to line up Sabathia and then tee off.
Boston led 7-1 as Sabathia made his way to the dugout as Boston fans jeered.
“Offensively, we’ve got to do our part to pick (Sabathia) up,” Blake said. “Unfortunately, Josh Beckett was going for them. There’s been some times we’ve picked C.C. up, but usually, we don’t have to.”
Both teams exchanged runs in the opening inning, the Indians getting theirs on a solo homer from Travis Hafner, who was the only Cleveland player to make contact in the first.
Boston got its run on an RBI single from Manny Ramirez, who, along with designated hitter David Ortiz, wreaked havoc on Sabathia and the rest of Cleveland’s pitching staff all night long.
The potent pair combined to reach base in all 10 plate appearances, with Ramirez going 2-for-2 with three walks and three RBIs, while Big Papi collected two hits, walked twice and was hit by a pitch. They entered the series having reached base a combined 19 times in 26 trips to the plate against the Angels in the ALDS.
“They’re a constant threat, whether it’s swinging the bat or taking pitches,” Blake said of Boston’s big two boppers. “That’s not a very good combination for a pitcher.”
Ramirez, not known as much of a fielder, even mixed in two highlight-reel catches in left field. He threw his glove up over his head to snag a drive from Kenny Lofton in the second inning, before picking a low liner from Asdrubal Cabrera before it reached the outfield grass in left for a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
More unnerving than the production by Ramirez and Ortiz was Indians pitchers’ unwillingness to challenge either.
During Boston’s decisive four-run third, Sabathia walked Ramirez with the bases full after getting ahead 0-2 and refusing to go back to his fastball.  
“We are professional hitters. We know what we’re doing,” Ortiz said.
Sabathia was asked why he didn’t use his heater to throw more strikes to the pair: “They’re big league hitters. You can’t just throw fastballs. You’ve got to mix it up.”
Boston pitchers apparently did a better job of that, with Cleveland collecting three of their eight hits in the final two innings with the game out of reach.
“It was a frustrating night,” Hafner said. “We couldn’t really get anything going. We were expecting it to be a low-scoring pitching duel.”
Maybe that will happen tonight with Fausto Carmona going against Curt Schilling, and the Indians in a 1-0 hole in Boston.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity and we battled through it all year,” Hafner said. “This should be no different.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.

TONIGHT

WHO: Cleveland at Boston
WHAT: Game 2, Boston leads best-of-seven series, 1-0
TIME: 8:21
WHERE: Fenway Park, Boston
PITCHERS: Carmona (19-8, 3.06 ERA) vs. Schilling (9-8, 3.87)
TV/RADIO: Channel 8; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WKNR 850-AM