Friday, July 15, 2011

1999 ALDS: Pedro

The Indians and Red Sox didn't have much difficulty getting to the playoffs in 1999. Cleveland eased to the Central Division crown by 21 games, ending up as the only team in the division with a winning record. Boston didn't have things quite so easy, what with the Yankees in their division and all, but with Nomar Garciaparra leading the offense and Pedro Martinez at the absolute height of his powers in the rotation, the wild card was practically a given for Boston.

When the two teams met in the ALDS that year, the question seemed to be whether Cleveland could win games 2, 3, and 4, since the belief was that they wouldn't be beating Martinez in games 1 or 5. That question became moot, though, when Martinez came out of Game 1 after five innings with an injury. Trailing 2-0 at that point, Cleveland quickly pounced on Boston's bullpen to tie the game, then won it in the bottom of the ninth.

With the biggest single advantage either team had now sidelined, the series turned into something of a farce. Cleveland won a laugher in Game 2, scoring 11 runs in the third and fourth innings to win 11-1 and put Boston on the brink. Back in friendly Fenway Park, though, Boston's offense came alive. They used a six-run seventh to win Game 3 9-3, then switched the game to football for a 23-7 win in Game 4.

As the series went back to Cleveland for Game 5, the series was a mess. The pitching staffs were decimated. The offensive players hit everything thrown at them. It had gotten to the point that regardless of who won this game, they wouldn't be beating the Yankees in the next round. Game 5 seemed pointless. But they had to determine a winner, so on they played.

And on and on went the offenses. If the bullpens were a wreck before this game, things were getting worse, as each team had knocked the others' starter out by the fourth inning. After four and a half innings, it was 8-8, and it was starting to look like the first team to 20 was going to win.

But then Boston's bullpen doors opened...

The Game
Pedro Martinez had many sublime performances during his career. As the dominant pitcher during the steroid era, he confounded batters year after year with his pinpoint control and four devastating pitches. He was at times unhittable, and when he started, Boston often had the game won before it even began.

But he was probably never better than he was during Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS. Nursing an injury that was supposed to keep him out of the game altogether, Martinez shut the door on Cleveland's vaunted offense. In six sensational innings of relief, Martinez didn't give up a hit, keeping Cleveland's offensive juggernaut completely silenced. After struggling to find himself in his first inning of work, Martinez got the breaking ball working, striking out eight in his final five innings.

But for all of Martinez's brilliance, it wouldn't mean anything if Boston couldn't get to Cleveland's vulnerable bullpen. Somewhat surprisingly, it took them three innings to break through, but Troy O'Leary's seventh-inning home run made it 11-8. With a three-run lead and vintage Pedro on the mound, the Red Sox could finally relax and concentrate on beating the Yankees.

They didn't beat the Yankees, of course. Not with the state their bullpen was in entering the series. The only game the Red Sox won in the 1999 ALCS was Game 3, started by Martinez. Of course, the Red Sox picked that game to score 13 runs, about 11 more than necessary with Pedro on the mound. So the postseason didn't end well, but every Red Sox fan - and really, everybody who enjoys great pitching - got a gift with Pedro's Game 5 relief performance. It was the defining moment in a career of dominance.

The Rundown

11. Boston 12, Cleveland 8 (1999 ALDS)
12. Boston 5, Minnesota 3 (1967 American League)
13. Minnesota 5, Oakland 4 (2002 ALDS)
14. Boston 4, Oakland 3 (2003 ALDS)
15. Cleveland 4, N.Y. Yankees 3 (1997 ALDS)
16. L.A. Angels 5, N.Y. Yankees 3 (2005 ALDS)
17. Texas 5, Tampa Bay 1 (2010 ALDS)
18. San Francisco 3, Atlanta 1 (2002 NLDS)
19. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
20. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
21. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
22. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
23. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
24. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
25. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
26. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
27. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
28. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
29. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
30. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
31. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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