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October 14, 2007

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Two Report

by John Perrotto

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BOSTON-This was supposed to be a great pitching-on-pitching matchup. The ALCS features eight of the league's top 41 pitchers in terms of SNLVAR. Furthermore, the ALCS includes seven of the top 35 relief pitchers, as measured by WXRL. When it comes to VORP, this ALCS has 10 of the AL's top 50 pitchers. Furthermore, in the last two meetings of the regular season between the clubs in late July in Cleveland, the final score was 1-0 both times. If data is supposed to predict anything, you might think we're supposed to see a lot of top-shelf pitching.

So what has happened in the first two games of this ALCS, which is knotted at one game apiece? Both teams have used double-digit offensive explosions to notch their wins in the best-of-seven series. Sabermetricians have known for a long time that the postseason is inherently unpredictable, but the 2007 ALCS has been especially so. While Josh Beckett tossed a game for the Red Sox in Game One as he allowed two runs and two hits in six innings, and while the Indians had some masterful relief pitching in Game Two, this series has been a lot more about hitting so far. Neither of last night's starting pitchers, Fausto Carmona nor Curt Schilling, made it past the fifth inning, and the Indians erupted for seven runs in the top of the 11th inning just before last call to post a 13-6 win in Game two at Fenway Park.

"This has all been pretty hard to figure," said Joe Borowski, who closed out Game Two with a scoreless 11th, though he gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning. "When you look at the guys who have started these first two games, maybe you wouldn't expect 1-0 again both times, but you're thinking 3-2 games, maybe 2-1, probably 4-3 at the most. Yet, you've had the winning team score in double digits in each game. Sometimes, there are no logical explanations in this game. Sometimes, it's just baseball. Still, I don't think anyone would have predicted this, not even the hitters."

Indians first baseman Ryan Garko is certainly surprised that 32 runs have been scored in the first two games as the Red Sox notched a 10-3 victory in Game One. "When you look at both lineups, you do have guys who can hurt you from Nos. 1-9 in the order and lot of guys capable of popping a three-run home run, so I wasn't expecting shutouts necessarily," Garko said. "Still, it's a bit of stretch to think the Red Sox would score 10 in a game that C.C. Sabathia started, and we'd score 13 in a game that Curt Schilling started." Yet, that is exactly what has happened.

Game Two's marathon lasted five hours and 14 minutes, and did not end until 1:37 a.m. Carmona gave up four runs and four hits in four-plus innings, logging five walks and five strikeouts, and needing a whopping 100 pitches-only 51 strikes-to record 12 outs. Carmona had walked that many batters only twice in 32 regular-season starts, issuing five bases on balls August 5 at Minnesota, and handing out another six free passes August 31 to the White Sox.

While Schilling didn't walk anyone, he surrendered five runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings and struck out three. He certainly didn't look like the veteran who had made an almost seamless transformation from power pitcher to finesse guy after injuring his shoulder in June, and who then posted a stellar 2.79 ERA in his final six regular-season starts, and then seven scoreless innings against the Angels in Game Three of the Red Sox' ALDS sweep. Getting 14 outs also represented Schilling's shortest outing since he lasted only three innings in the opener of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, but that start came the makeshift surgeries to secure the loose tendon in his ankle, the ensuing bloody sock, and his permanent place in Red Sox lore.

Tom Mastny did not do anything that dramatic for the Indians on Saturday night, but he was the most unlikely pitching star, as he and fellow relievers Jensen Lewis, Betancourt, and Borowski combined to preserve a 6-6 tie by shutting out the Red Sox over the final six innings. Mastny ended last season as the Indians' closer after Bob Wickman was traded to Atlanta, and recorded five saves as the Indians stumbled to last year's 74-88 finish, but none of those games came close to matching the drama of what he did in the 10th inning Saturday night. Mastny was brought in to face the heart of the Red Sox' batting order-David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell. Just how tough of a task was that for a relatively nondescript middle reliever? Well, Ortiz's streak of reaching base in 11 straight postseason plate appearances, which tied the record set by Cincinnati's Billy Hatcher in 1990, had ended two plate appearances earlier. Ramirez's three-run home run off Perez in the fifth inning made him the all-time postseason home run king with 23. Lowell had followed Ramirez's homer with a blast of his own, and drove in 120 runs in the regular season. Mastny, though, got Ortiz to ground out, and Ramirez and Lowell to fly out. "Of course, I knew who was coming up," Mastny said with a smile. "When you're in the bullpen and you know there's a chance you're coming into the game, you always know who you might be facing. I knew what I was up against."

The Indians almost completely avoided pitching to either Ortiz or Ramirez in Game One as Big Papi walked twice and was hit by a pitch while Manny drew three bases on balls. Catcher Victor Martinez defended the strategy by saying, "everyone knows the damage they can do, and we're not going to let them beat us unless there is no other choice." Yet, Mastny went right at the Red Sox's big guns without reservation: "I wasn't nervous because I had gotten into (Game One)," said Mastny, who pitched two scoreless innings in the opener with his team trailing 10-2. "Even though we were way behind, it was still the ALCS and Fenway Park and the place was jumping. That helped take the nerves away this time. When I got the mound, my mindset was that I was going to attack those guys and if they beat me, then they beat me because I wasn't going to walk guys and beat myself."

The Indians then beat on Eric Gagne in the 11th. Gagne has been very beatable since the Red Sox acquired him from the Rangers at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. His regular-season WXRL was a miserable -1.408 in 18 2/3 regular-season innings with the Red Sox, a bit surprising after his posting a 2.772 mark in 33 1/3 innings with the Rangers. Gagne was acquired to be the primary set-up man for closer Jonathan Papelbon, but has been so bad that Red Sox manager Terry Francona has been finding the lowest leverage situations possible to both hide the man who once converted 84 consecutive save opportunities, in part as an effort to let the former closer work out his problems in pressure-free situations.

However, after using Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin, and Papelbon for a combined 5 1/3 innings following Schilling's depature, Francona had little choice but to go to Gagne at the beginning of the 11th in a tie game. Gagne struck out Casey Blake, but Grady Sizemore followed with a single, and then Asdrubal Cabrera drew a walk. After having lifted DH Travis Hafner for pinch runner Josh Barfield in the ninth, Indians manger Eric Wedge sent Trot Nixon up to hit. Francona countered by calling on left-hander Javier Lopez, pulling Gagne.

Nixon, all but forgotten on the end of the Indians' bench after being signed away from the Red Sox as a free agent in the winter to play right field, foiled the strategy by hitting an RBI single into center field to bring home the winning run. Another run scored on a wild pitch, and Garko plated the inning's third run to chase Lopez and give the Indians a 9-6 lead. Jhonny Peralta greeted Jon Lester with an RBI double, and finally Franklin Gutierrez, the man who took Nixon's starting job at midseason, capped the inning by belting a three-run home run into the Monster seats in left field.

Just like that, the Indians had came away from Boston with a split of the first two games despite their Cy Young candidates, Sabathia and Carmona, combining for this line: 8 1/3 11 12 12 10 8. "These guys preserve," Wedge said. "They find a way to get it done. We don't just win with one area of the club. We find multiple ways to win. We've got some consistency in all areas of our club and that's what we have to have, whether it's anybody one through nine in the lineup or the bullpen. Look at guys like Mastny and Lewis in the bullpen, or young kids like Aaron Laffey and Asbrudal Cabrera coming up from the minor leagues and giving us a great effort. I can go on and on. We've had a lot of players contribute to it this season."

Mastny followed the same theme as he stood in the middle of tiny visitors' clubhouse and looked around at his teammates. "C.C. and Fausto have done so much for us this year," Mastny said. "It's only fair that the rest of us pick them up one time."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  ALCS,  The Who,  White Sox Home Opener,  The Call-up

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