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October 25, 2007

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game One Report

by John Perrotto

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BOSTON-Dustin Pedroia shied away from using the word momentum. The travel-size rookie second baseman has been the igniter of the Boston Red Sox's offense through an unprecedented postseason stretch, helping it put double digits on the scoreboard in three straight playoff games. Not even the 1927 New York Yankees can make that claim.

Yet Pedroia nearly cringed Wednesday night when a reporter suggested the Red Sox had created quite a bit of momentum after beating up on the Colorado Rockies 13-1 in Game One of the World Series at Fenway Park. That came after the Red Sox outscored the Cleveland Indians 30-5 in the final three games over the American League Championship Series in their rally to win that series in seven games, which was capped by 12-2 and 11-2 wins in the final two games.

"I don't believe there is momentum in baseball, I really," Pedroia insisted. "You come back the next day and the score is 0-0 again at the start. What happened the day before is irrelevant. Maybe teams build momentum in other sports but not in baseball. Once the game is over, that's it. Tonight's game has no bearing on tomorrow night's game." Pedroia then paused, his eyes narrowed just a bit and he added one more point to refute the momentum idea. "When you start thinking you have momentum in this game, that's when the pitcher stops you cold the next day and you get your butt beat."

OK, so the Red Sox aren't on a roll, at least not in Pedroia's world. However, they're certainly scoring a lot of runs, crossing the plate 36 times in the last three games, and 43 in the last four. When it was over, the Red Sox had scored more runs than any team ever had in Game One of a World Series. They had also had posted the largest margin of victory in a World Series game since the San Francisco Giants whipped the Anaheim Angels 16-4 in Game Five in 2002.

While the rookie at the top of lineup didn't want to discuss momentum, the rookie at the bottom of the Red Sox batting order did. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was asked about the home run Pedroia hit off Jeff Francis on the second pitch of the bottom of the first inning to open the scoring. Ellsbury promptly used Pedroia's least favorite word. "Dustin's home run really gave us a lot of momentum," Ellsbury said, "especially with it being the first game of the World Series and our home crowd being really into it. Then, we rode that momentum all night long."

If any team understands the concept of momentum, it is the Rockies. They had won an amazing 21 of their last 22 games coming into last night's game, including 10 straight. They had also gone 7-0 in the postseason by sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies in three games in the National League Division Series, and then the Arizona Diamondbacks in four games in the National League Championship Series.

Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins was mimicking Pedroia at game's end in a visiting clubhouse that seemed unaffected about losing by a dozen runs in the franchise's first World Series game. Hip-hop still blared from the clubhouse stereo, and the players were quite upbeat.

"The reason we won 21 of 22 games is because we never got ahead of ourselves or counted up how many wins we had," Atkins said. "We took it one game a time and that is what we'll do now. We got beat. We got blown out. It was one of those nights where the Red Sox did everything right. You have games like this over the course of a long season. By the fifth inning, we were already looking ahead to Game Two. We weren't hanging out heads because they were beating up on us. We know tomorrow is another day."

However, Atkins realizes not everyone outside the confines of the Rockies' clubhouse might take that view. "Oh, I'm sure there are a number of people ready to give the trophy to the Red Sox now," Atkins said. "I'm sure there are people that think we're not going to win a game in this series after what happened tonight, that we're going to get blown out four straight. That's OK. Everything starts over again in the first inning in Game Two."

The Red Sox are smart enough to understand that because very recent history shows things can change in a hurry in October. Take the ALCS-the Red Sox won 10-3 in Game One at Fenway, then lost the next three games, arriving on elimination's doorstep. Then, the Red Sox roared back to win those three games in a row, torching the Indians' co-aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona along the way towards winning their second pennant in four years.

With or without crediting momentum, the Red Sox will admit that they are as locked in offensively as at any point in 2007. They scored 10 or more runs in consecutive games just twice in the regular season, though one of those times was a four-game series sweep against the White Sox in Chicago from August 24-26 in which they won by scores of 11-3, 10-1, 14-2 and 11-1. Yet that was a White Sox team that finished 72-90 and only three games out of last place in the AL Central, not another playoff team. The Red Sox have done their current damage against an Indians team that won 102 games (including the postseason), and a Rockies team that has 97 victories in 2007.

"We've picked the right time to do this, huh?" Ellsbury said with a smile.

The way the Red Sox have methodically pounded pitchers in recent days suggests it could continue. The Red Sox made Francis worked as he threw 103 pitches in just four innings as he was racked for six runs and 10 hits. Francis threw first-pitch strikes to only 12 of the 25 batters he faced. "We're having a lot of good at bats right now," Sox catcher Jason Varitek noted. "Everybody is being really patient. We're making the pitchers work, forcing them to throw strikes and staying off pitches out of the zone. When you can keep running the starters' pitch counts up to 100 by the fifth inning on a regular basis and get into the bullpen, you're going to score like this."

While designated hitter David Ortiz and right fielder Manny Ramirez are the Red Sox' big threats in the third and fourth spots in the batting order, Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan credits Pedroia and first baseman Kevin Youkilis, the hitter in the two-hole, for the current explosion; Youkilis has six extra-base hits in the last four games, while Pedroia has tallied five extra-base hits in that span. Pedroia's home run was his only hit in Game One but he also drew a walk while going 1-for-5. Youkilis was 2-for-5 with two doubles and a walk. That set the stage for Ortiz and Ramirez, who both had three hits and two RBI.

Magadan observed that, "(w)hen we're getting our first two guys on base, it makes it very tough on the pitcher because they have to pitch to Papi and Manny. What is really making our offense go now is Dustin and Youk getting extra-base hits. All of sudden, you're getting guys in scoring position and scoring runs before you even get to our big guys and that is really putting pressure on the pitchers."

The Red Sox turned up the pressure by scoring the last 11 of their 13 runs with two outs, including all seven in the fifth inning against rookie left-hander Franklin Morales and then wild thing Ryan Speier, who walked all three batters he faced. "Pitchers can't stand two-out rallies," Youkilis said. "Sometimes getting two quick outs is tough for pitchers because it seems like getting that last out is more like trying to get six outs. That's how it was tonight. The offense just did really well in not trying to do too much, just trying to go pitch-to-pitch instead of trying to hit home runs."

All that offense made it easy for the Red Sox's Josh Beckett to continue his evolution into Mr. October on a mound. Beckett struck out the side in the first inning, and wound up allowing one run and six hits in seven innings, walking only one while striking out nine. Beckett is 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in four starts this postseason, and his cumulative line is now 30 19 4 4 2 34. On his career, Beckett is 6-0 with a 1.73 ERA in 10 post-season games, nine starts with an outstanding 82/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while allowing just 40 hits.

"Josh has always been known since he was young as a phenom, and I think right now he's living up to all the expectations that were put on him when he was younger," said Youkilis of his team's staff ace, who made his major-league debut at age 21 with the Florida Marlins in 2001. "You've got to tip your cap to Josh. He's handled it well the past few years, and he's doing an unbelievable job for us. He's a guy we want out there in a big game."

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:  Boston Red Sox,  Red Sox,  The Who,  Dustin Pedroia

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