CLEVELAND — Somebody contact the Colorado Rockies and inform them that their World Series opponent may be coming from C-town, not Beantown.
Though most expected the high-powered, high-payroll Red Sox to represent the American League in the Fall Classic, it is the unheralded, low-budget Indians who are on the verge of taking their place.
Thanks to a 7-3 victory in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night at Jacobs Field, Cleveland is a win away from eliminating Boston, with play resuming Thursday night and both clubs’ aces — C.C. Sabathia and Josh Beckett — on the mound for Game 5.
History is on the Indians’ side to a point, with 10 of the 13 teams that owned a 3-1 lead in the ALCS advancing to the World Series. But on the three occasions a club has rallied to overcome the deficit, Boston has done it twice, winning three straight from the Angels in 1986 and the Yankees in 2004 — the same season the Red Sox ended the curse of the Bambino with their first world championship since 1918.
“We want to put them away,” said Cleveland starter Paul Byrd, who got his second win in two postseason starts after beating the Yankees to clinch the ALDS in New York. “But that’s a great team over there. We’re not taking anything for granted. We do want to put them away here.”
The Indians are on the verge of clinching a long-awaited AL title thanks to another solid start from Byrd and a patient approach against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who Boston manager Terry Francona chose to pitch rather than Beckett on short rest.
Though Byrd was typically far from dominant, he was effective for much of his five innings of work, allowing two runs on six hits, while striking out four. It was similar to his line in Game 4 of the ALDS.
“This is the second time he’s stepped up and done exactly what we needed him to do,” said Indians third baseman Casey Blake, who scored the first run of the game with a solo homer off Wakefield. “He, at least in my eyes, is the MVP of our team right now, just because when we’ve needed a big ballgame out of somebody, he’s stepped up.”
The veteran right-hander and his soft-tossing repertoire had the vaunted Boston lineup flailing through the first five innings, shutting them out on four hits.
But the Indians couldn’t take advantage of the effort, because they were doing the same against Wakefield through the first four.
With the bottom falling out of his knuckleball, Wakefield didn’t allow a hit through three innings, recording five of his seven strikeouts for the game, while Cleveland hitters tried in vain to master the veteran right-hander.
The Indians got their first hit on a double off the left-field wall from Jhonny Peralta with two outs in the fourth before finally breaking through against Wakefield and his gimmick pitch in the fifth.
A leadoff home run from Blake was a sign of things to come for the Indians, who assumed control with a seven-run inning that included a three-run homer from Peralta — the first batter Manny Delcarmen faced after relieving Wakefield. It was the second seven-run inning of the postseason for Cleveland.
“Casey Blake, that was big for us,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “To get on the board and break through, because we weren’t stringing anything together. And then it just kind of went on from there.”
“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen his knuckleball,” Blake said. “When it’s working, he’s awfully tough. Sometimes you swing and miss and sometimes you swing and get lucky and put the barrel on the ball like I did.”
Peralta’s long ball was the second complexion-changing, three-run homer of the series for Cleveland’s shortstop, who also took Boston’s Curt Schilling deep to alter the outcome of Game 2 at Fenway Park.
In the midst of the uprising, Blake equaled a pair of playoff records, collecting two hits and five total bases.
Wakefield departed after allowing five runs on five hits through 4 2/3 innings, becoming the third straight Boston starter failing to last five innings — the first time it’s happened to the Red Sox all year.
But just as quickly as the Indians’ offense exploded, Boston’s responded, chasing Byrd with back-to-back homers from Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz in the sixth before Manny Ramirez stepped to the plate and made it three in a row with a 451-foot shot to dead center off reliever Jensen Lewis.
As has been his tendency this postseason, Ramirez hot-dogged the homer to the fullest, standing at home plate with his arms raised to the sky before walking down the first-base line and starting his trot.
Some Indians players took exception.
“Now I know full and well what Manny being Manny means,” Lewis said. “He was pretty excited about one run in that situation. So be it.”
“Pimp a 7-3 home run? Whatever,” said Shoppach. “He’s one of the greatest players of all time, so I guess he can do what he wants.”
It was just the second time in postseason history that a team hit three consecutive homers, both coming against Cleveland, which allowed three straight to the Yankees in an ALDS loss in 1997.
The Indians, who scored in just one inning, didn’t buckle after Boston’s power display, turning things over to Rafael Betancourt, who retired the side in order over the final two innings to put the Red Sox to rest.
Now, the Indians have the opportunity to land the final blow Thursday night.
“We’ve got a big amount of respect for those guys,” said Victor Martinez. “They’re one of the greatest teams ever. We’re just going to try to finish them off Thursday.”
“They need to win three games,” Peralta said. “We only need to win one.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.