BOSTON — The Indians were on the verge of squandering a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series on Sunday. That they were even in position to win Game 7 and advance to the World Series was surprising in itself, considering what Cleveland has received from its top two pitchers in the series.
C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona made two starts apiece with neither winning a game. Sabathia was 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA in the ALCS, while Carmona, the Game 6 loser, was 0-1 with a 16.50 ERA. The pair combined to go 38-15, both producing ERAs just above 3.00.
“You never know what to expect in a seven-game series,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “We’ve had other guys step up for us.”
The Indians got wins from the bottom two pitchers in their rotation — Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd — with Sabathia and Carmona uncharacteristically struggling to find control in each of their outings. Sabathia walked seven and hit three batters in 101/3 ALCS innings, while Carmona walked nine in six innings.
“They weren’t on the plate as much as they needed to be,” Wedge said. “That was what it was as much as anything.”
Back in there
Franklin Gutierrez returned to the lineup Sunday, replacing Trot Nixon, who started Game 6 on Saturday, going 2-for-3 to improve his postseason average to .455
(5-for-11) in four games.
Gutierrez, who entered Sunday batting just .160 (4-for-25) in nine postseason games, gave the Indians better defense in right field.
“He’s one of the big reasons we’re here,” said Wedge. “We’ve got our best defense in there. I liked Trot in the matchup with (Curt) Schilling (in Game 5), but I felt this gave us the best chance to do what we need to do.”
Wedge said Travis Hafner’s offensive struggles this postseason might be a matter of the designated hitter over-thinking at the plate.
Hafner entered Sunday batting just .179 (7-for-39) in 10 playoff games — .130 (3-for-23) in the ALCS — and was without a hit in his last 15 at-bats, striking out nine times over the span.
“He’s such a smart hitter,” Wedge said. “Sometimes, I think he gets a little too complicated. I just want him to go up there and hit.”
The Indians lost Game 7 and the ALCS after leading the series 3-1, and they may have Kenny Lofton to thank. Lofton, who has played for 11 teams in a 16-year career, has also been part of some of baseball’s biggest collapses.
He was a member of a 1999 Indians team that lost the five-game Division Series to Boston after winning the first two games.
He played for the 2002 Giants, which held a 5-0 lead in Game 6 of the World Series, but lost that game and Game 7 to lose the title to the Angels.
He was a Chicago Cub in 2003, the year of Steve Bartman fame, and was five outs from advancing to the World Series in Game 6 of the NLCS against Florida before losing that one and Game 7.
Finally, he played for the Yankees in 2004, when they squandered a 3-0 ALCS lead to Boston, which advanced to the World Series and won its first world championship since 1918.
The Indians got a surprisingly strong effort in Game 6 from Aaron Laffey, who had not made an appearance this postseason, but threw 42/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit, a walk and striking out three after relieving Rafael Perez in the third inning.
“That was pretty neat,” Wedge said. “The kid hadn’t pitched in three weeks, and then you give him the ball and it’s, ‘Oh, by the way, (David) Ortiz is the first guy you’re going to face.”‘
Over the final three games of the series, the Red Sox outscored the Indians 30-5.
• The Red Sox made a strange choice to throw out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday, a member of the Baltimore Orioles, Kevin Millar. Millar was an inspirational leader on Boston’s world championship team in 2004, coining the phrase, “Cowboy up.” “I love it, but I don’t get it,” said Boston manager Terry Francona of Millar tossing the first pitch. Millar got a rousing ovation from the Fenway faithful.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.