CLEVELAND — Indians manager Eric Wedge recently was named The Sporting News’ American League manager of the year, and he’s a strong candidate to receive the same award from the Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes for the awards recognized by Major League Baseball.
Had the ballots not already been cast and had they included Wedge’s postseason performance thus far, the fifth-year manager would be a lock.
Consider that nearly every move Wedge has made during his playoff debut has worked out:
• Started Kenny Lofton despite unfavorable numbers against Game 2 ALDS starter Andy Pettitte after Lofton had a big game in the series opener. Lofton went 2-for-2 with a walk against Pettitte in 2-1, 11-inning win.
• Started struggling outfielder Trot Nixon and his favorable numbers against Roger Clemens and New York in Game 3. Nixon went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, hitting a home run in his first at-bat off Clemens.
• Stuck with Paul Byrd instead of starting C.C. Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium. Byrd got the decision in the series-clinching win, allowing two runs in five innings.
• Started Byrd’s personal catcher, Kelly Shoppach, in that game, with Shoppach going
2-for-3 with a pair of doubles.
• Kept oft-shaky closer Joe Borowski in his role despite employing one of the majors’ top relievers in Rafael Betancourt. Borowski has converted his first two save opportunities.
• Went with little-used reliever Tom Mastny over Borowski with Game 2 of the ALCS tied in the 10th inning and David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell coming to the plate. Matsny retired the side in order.
• Stayed with the left-handed hitting Nixon as his pinch hitter in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS despite the Red Sox going to left-handed reliever Javier Lopez, and Jason Michaels, who hits lefties well, available on the bench. Nixon drove in the go-ahead run with a single to spark a seven-run inning.
Back in there
Right fielder Franklin Gutierrez returned to the lineup for the Indians, replacing Nixon, who got the Game 3 start after delivering in the clutch during the Game 2 victory in Boston.
Gutierrez took over in right through the final two months of the regular season, but got a break after struggling to a .150
(3-for-20) batting average through his first six playoff games.
“I wasn’t swinging very well the last two games,” Gutierrez said. “Trot’s a veteran. It was their decision.”
Shoppach was also in the lineup, as was Boston starter Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher, Doug Mirabelli.
Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez pointed out the obvious when asked what has plagued Sabathia through his first two postseason starts.
“He hasn’t thrown the ball where he wants to throw it,” Martinez said of the left-hander, who has walked 11 hitters after issuing just 37 in 34 regular season starts. “He’s having a little hard time throwing strikes.”
Through the first two games of the ALCS, Indians pitchers — namely Sabathia and Fausto Carmona — had trouble finding the plate, walking 13 batters. They walked just three in Game 3 and none over the final five innings of Game 2, looking more like the staff that walked the lowest number (410) in the league during the regular season.
“The first couple games where we walked guys, that was a fluke,” Mastny said. “That was just rust. What we’ve done the last 15 innings or so, that’s what we are. You don’t have to have the best stuff in the world. You just have to throw strikes.”
There was talk that the Red Sox would start Josh Beckett on short rest over Wakefield in Game 4 on Tuesday, but Boston manager Terry Francona stuck with the knuckleballer.
“We wouldn’t be where we’re at without Tim Wakefield,” Beckett said. “He won 16 or 17 games for us. I think in that aspect he deserves to start. Obviously, I don’t get paid to make those decisions, but I definitely support Terry Francona.”
Wakefield, 41, went 17-12 with a 4.76 ERA in 31 regular season starts, but was left off the ALDS roster with tightness in his lower back and had not pitched since Sept. 29.
Wedge actually caught Wakefield at Triple-A Pawtucket in 1995 during the right-hander’s first year in the Boston organization.
Wedge received a congratulatory note for winning Sporting News manager of the year honors from Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight, whom the Indians manager met during a shootaround prior to the Red Raiders’ game with Ohio State in Columbus, during the 2003-04 season.
“It was just nice for him to take the time to do that,” said Wedge, who grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was a fan of the Hoosiers during Knight’s coaching days at Indiana University.
Wedge is a Midwestern guy managing a team from the same area.
“I’m in a unique situation,” he said. “I was born 3½ hours west and my wife (Kate) was born 3½ hours east (Buffalo, N.Y.). “I can really relate to the people from Cleveland.”
No harm, no foul
Prior to the game Tuesday, a national reporter asked Grady Sizemore, a product of a bi-racial marriage, if he thought the Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo was offensive.
Cleveland’s center fielder started laughing before saying, “It depends on how you look at it. It’s just a logo. Hopefully it doesn’t offend anyone. We’re not trying to offend anybody.”
The Indians entered Tuesday with a 43-38 record in the postseason, 26-15 at home.
• Betancourt hadn’t allowed a run in four playoff games through Monday, surrendering just two hits, while striking out seven batters in 51/3 innings.
• Ramirez extended his ALCS hitting streak to a record 14 games with a single in the fourth inning Tuesday. The streak is the second-longest in LCS history to Pete Rose, who hit in 15 straight games from 1973-83. Previously, Ramirez compiled a 17-game postseason streak that tied Hank Bauer and Derek Jeter for the longest in history.
• The Indians and Red Sox will work out today at Jacobs Field before resuming the ALCS with Game 5 on Thursday (8:21 p.m.).
• Youngstown boxer Kelly Pavlik, who recently won the WBC middleweight title from Jermain Taylor, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.