July 24, 2014

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Scott Petrak: Indians better than Red Sox? Boy, was I wrong

I’ve heard it takes a big man to admit he was wrong.
Well, I am 6-foot-3, so here it goes: I was WRONG.
How wrong? Let me count the ways.
After the Indians lost Game 5 of the ALCS at Jacobs Field, they led the series 3-2 and I wrote a column telling fans to relax because the Tribe would triumph at Fenway Park. Wrong.
I wrote that the Indians were the better team in the series. Wrong.
I wrote that Tribe starter Fausto Carmona would shut down the Sox in Game 6. Wrong.
I wrote that the Indians hitters would get to Boston starters Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka, just like they had earlier in the series. Wrong and wrong.
I wrote that The Collapse wouldn’t be added to The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot. Wrong.
Although, that may be partly correct. Maybe the latest moniker to go along with the Cleveland curse will be The Stop Sign.
Game 7 on Sunday night turned in the top of the seventh inning when third base coach Joel Skinner held Kenny Lofton at third on a Franklin Gutierrez single down the line. Lofton would’ve scored to tie the game at 3, but instead Casey Blake grounded into a double play on the next pitch to strand Lofton and leave the Red Sox in front.
Dustin Pedroia hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning to give the Sox a cushion that grew into a king-sized mattress as the Tribe lost 11-2. Pedroia was a big part of the reason I was wrong.
After watching the ALCS for five games, I thought the Indians had the better lineup from top to bottom, while the Red Sox were all Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. But in the last three games, Pedroia, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury and even Julio Lugo came through in the clutch for Boston.
How big? The Sox outscored the Tribe 23-4 in Games 6 and 7.
I also thought the Indians had a deeper starting rotation, beginning with Carmona. But with a chance to close out the Sox and avoid a Game 7, he was awful in Game 6. He threw in the upper-90s, but his sinker wasn’t what it was during the regular season. He gave up seven runs in two innings and never gave the Tribe a chance.
Ace C.C. Sabathia wasn’t much better, losing Games 1 and 5, which meant the Indians got no wins from their top two pitchers, and won just one of the four games they started. It’s nearly impossible to win a long series against a good team — a better team — without some production from the top of the rotation.
I didn’t think it would be a factor, but playoff inexperience caught up with the Tribe. Josh Beckett, Schilling, Ortiz, Ramirez, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek have all been there, done that. Most of the Indians had never been there, and it showed as the series grew longer and the pressure got thicker.
Grady Sizemore was bad, and Travis Hafner was worse. Then when the anxiety reached its peak Sunday night in Game 7, Blake followed his double play with a huge error in the bottom of the seventh. He also collided with shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the eighth inning on a routine popup that they turned into a double.
The situation (Games 6 and 7) and the setting (cramped Fenway Park) got too big for the Indians. And Red Sox Nation is laughing all the way to the World Series.
I’ve been in Cleveland 34 years, which is long enough to know that if it can go bad, it usually does. But that’s no way to go through life, so I tried to lend a dose of optimism to the situation after Game 5. It came back to bite me.
I’ve learned my lesson and will be more careful about whom I jinx next time.
Red Sox over Rockies in five.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.