April 20, 2014

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Red Sox, Beckett spoil Indians’ party, force a return to Boston

CLEVELAND — The Indians’ postseason run will continue but not at the desired destination nor against the opponent of choice.
Rather than preparing to host the Colorado Rockies at Jacobs Field for the beginning of the World Series, Cleveland will instead return to Fenway Park, where a hometown crowd itching to root the Red Sox on to more playoff heroics awaits.
With Boston on the brink of elimination in Game 5 of the American League Championship on Thursday night, the Indians squandered the opportunity to put the Red Sox away, stumbling to a 7-1 defeat that prevented them from clinching the AL pennant at home for the first time in franchise history.
Now, after an off-day today, Cleveland and Boston will reconvene for Game 6 on Saturday night at 8:23.
“Beating a team like Boston four in a row, that’s tough, especially in the postseason,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team won three straight from the Red Sox after dropping the series opener. “We put ourselves in a pretty good position with what we’ve done at home, but we didn’t play particularly well tonight.”
It was another battle of the aces, with Game 1 starters C.C. Sabathia and Boston’s Josh Beckett, the top two A.L. Cy Young candidates, squaring off.
And once again, Beckett held the better hand.
As he did in the opener, Beckett, who is quickly becoming one of the most storied pitchers in postseason history, outdueled Sabathia, putting Boston’s vaunted lineup on his back and carrying it to a season-saving victory.
Lasting eight innings, the right-hander allowed just a run on five hits, while striking out 11. He has surrendered just three runs on nine hits, while striking out 18 hitters in 14 innings of two ALCS starts against Cleveland.
“He was good,” said Wedge, whose club was facing Beckett for the second time in seven days. “My disappointment lies in our hitters not making the necessary adjustments. We were in-between all night long, and with a guy with that stuff, you can’t be in-between.”
Sabathia was better than he has been this postseason, but not good enough, especially in a head-to-head scrap with the dominant Beckett.
He allowed four runs on 10 hits, walking a pair, hitting a batter and striking out six through six innings. The performance was adequate, but not the type the Indians have come to expect from their No. 1 starter, who rose to the occasion nearly every time he was called upon during the regular season.
Sabathia, who won the first postseason start of his career in 2001, hasn’t pitched well since, posting a 1-2 record, while allowing 15 earned runs on 21 hits in 17 2/3 innings of three playoff outings — 0-2 with 12 runs on 17 hits in 10 1/3 innings of two ALCS starts.
“This start I can live with, because I went after them,” Sabathia said. “I pitched my way. It just didn’t work out for me.”
Though Sabathia and Beckett allowed a run apiece in the opening inning — Boston’s on a solo homer from Kevin Youkilis, the second batter Sabathia faced — it was clear the game would be dictated by the starting pitchers.
Despite allowing eight hits, Sabathia and the Indians still trailed by just a run through six innings, both parties fortunate that the deficit wasn’t larger.
Manny Ramirez, who drew the ire of Cleveland players for a lengthy pose after a Game 4 homer, just missed the opportunity to celebrate another long ball, when his drive to right-center landed inches from clearing the wall, with Boston settling for a long RBI single to go up 2-1.
With the hit, Ramirez extended his LCS hitting streak to a record 15 games, tying Pete Rose. Ramirez and David Ortiz, who loomed large in the first two games in Boston, were factors again, combining to go 3-for-6 with three RBIs.
The Sox could have cushioned the lead even more in the fifth, when Mike Lowell’s slicing fly ball to left landed inches from the foul line with two on. Sabathia wound up hitting Lowell with a pitch to load the bases before retiring Bobby Kielty on a fly ball that ended the inning with the 2-1 deficit still intact.
Boston finally cashed in in the seventh off Sabathia, who was removed after allowing a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia, followed by a triple to Youkilis on a ball that looked like it could have been caught by either right fielder Franklin Gutierrez or center fielder Grady Sizemore, but instead bounced off the glove of a diving Sizemore and scored Pedroia. Ortiz followed with a sacrifice fly that put Boston in front 4-1.
While the Red Sox tacked on more runs against Cleveland’s bullpen, Beckett continued his mastery of Indians hitters. Cleveland managed just one hit over the final four innings, and it came off closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning.
“We’ve leaned on him all year,” said Boston manager Terry Francona of Beckett. “Once he settled down and started establishing his breaking ball, he really became that dominant pitcher we’ve relied on.”
“Obviously, Beckett was sticking it to us,” Wedge said.
Frustrations boiled over for the Indians when Beckett and Kenny Lofton had words as Lofton was making his way to first on a fly out in the fifth. Both benches emptied but there was no fight.
The talk may have started when Lofton thought he had walked on a 3-0 pitch and flipped his bat at home plate, as is his practice. A similar incident occurred in 2005 when Lofton was playing for the Phillies and Beckett was pitching for the Marlins.
Cleveland’s futility with a chance to clinch a postseason series continued.
The Indians have lost seven of the last eight times when they’ve have had an opportunity to end a playoff series, with their lone victory coming in Game 4 of this year’s ALDS against New York.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.