Friday, October 14, 2011

2007 ALCS: Another Cleveland collapse

How They Got Here
After a two-year World Series hangover, the Red Sox reloaded for the 2007 season. Curt Schilling was still on the pitching staff, but he was 40, so Boston added former World Series MVP Josh Beckett and Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka to the rotation. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were still power threats in the order, but they were getting long in tooth, so they added Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew to the order.

The additions got the desired result as Boston won the AL East by two games, the first time since 1997 that a team besides the Yankees won that division. It's not like the Yankees slipped either - New York was the Wild Card team that year. Boston was just that much better.

Another team that made the right moves was Cleveland, though most of their good moves came from drafting and promoting the right players. Led by 19-game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and a lineup seemingly filled with players who batted .270 and hit 24 home runs, Cleveland won the AL Central by 8 games over Detroit.

After both had fairly stress-free trips through the ALDS, Cleveland took a 3-games-to-1 lead in the ALCS. Not only did they have the lead, but they had Sabathia and Carmona lined up to pitch the next two games of the series. Boston looked sunk.

But Beckett and Boston won Game 5 in Cleveland, using a late offensive spurt to win 7-1. Game 6, back in Boston, also went to the Red Sox in a laugher, with Schilling keying a 12-2 win over Carmona. Their lead blown, Cleveland sent Jake Westbrook to the mound for Game 7, while Boston countered with Matsuzaka.

The Game
Matsuzaka had been an expensive disappointment for the Red Sox, putting up numbers you'd expect from a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for a Cy Young-caliber salary. They would have preferred Beckett or Schilling in this spot, but they burned those two pitchers just getting to this game. Instead, they focused on scoring early and often on Westbrook.

They did just that, scoring a single run in each of the first three innings. But Cleveland started to chip away at the lead, adding single runs in the fourth and fifth innings and driving up Matsuzaka's pitch count.

It was another Japanese pitcher, Hideki Okajima, who was on the mound for the biggest at bat of the series. With two runners on base and one out, Okajima got Casey Blake to ground into a double play to end the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the inning, Dustin Pedroia hit a one-out home run to make it 5-2.

That home run was the clinching blow, but Boston wasn't done. With Cleveland completely unraveled, the Red Sox piled on with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. The end result was an 11-2 Boston win that wasn't as much of a blowout as the score indicated. Regardless, Boston was back in the World Series for the second time in four seasons.

Heading into the World Series, everybody was quick to point out that Colorado had a huge advantage over the Red Sox. While Boston was playing a grueling seven-game series, Colorado swept Arizona in the NLCS and had time to wait and get healthy. In fact, with their seven straight postseason wins added in to the end of the regular season, the Rockies entered the World Series as winners of 21 of their previous 22 games.

But baseball is not a game designed for long breaks. By the time the World Series started on October 24, Colorado hadn't played a game in 13 days. The delay showed. The rusty Rockies never had a chance, falling to Boston on four anticlimactic games.

The Rundown
What I'm doing.

The list so far:
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1972 ALCS: Detroit vs. Oakland
1973 ALCS: Baltimore vs. Oakland
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NLCS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1982 ALCS: California vs. Milwaukee
1984 NLCS: Chicago vs. San Diego
1985 ALCS: Kansas City vs. Toronto
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 NLCS: Chicago vs. Florida
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2004 NLCS: Houston vs. St. Louis
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis
2008 ALCS: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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