Shared storylines weave through ALCS
Tribe's quest to break 'Curse of Colavito' must go through Sox
Three years after breaking the grip of their own lengthy World Series curse, the Boston Red Sox get a shot at perpetuating the cloud cover over Cleveland -- pretty compelling stuff considering their skipper's genes helped put it there.Boston manager Terry Francona can maneuver to extend the Indians' "Curse of Rocky Colavito," an Ohio conviction that the Tribe has been hexed since the immensely popular outfielder was traded away in 1960 -- a move encouraged by the stellar 1959 play of one Tito Francona, Terry's father. When the 2007 American League Championship Series kicks off with Friday night's Game 1 in Fenway Park, the Indians will be continuing their eighth postseason mission for a World Series triumph that has evaded them since 1948. That's 59 years of wishing, hoping, mourning and trying again. The same things the Red Sox went through for 86 years, until 2004 brought them relief -- leaving the Indians with the AL's longest dry spell. Cy Young Award front-runners Josh Beckett of the Red Sox and the Indians' C.C. Sabathia will throw down the opening gauntlets. Beckett -- who met the expectations of a 20-win season with his dominant four-hit shutout of the Angels in the Division Series opener -- will be followed in Boston's rotation by Curt Schilling and, when the venue switches on Monday to Cleveland's Jacobs Field, Daisuke Matsuzaka and, most likely, Tim Wakefield. After Sabathia, the Tribe will counter with Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd. This roster of starters has already had tremendous regular-season success against its respective foe, with the exception of Wakefield, who did not appear in the seven games between the teams. Beckett, Schilling and Dice-K combined to hold the Indians to 10 earned runs and 29 hits in 34 2/3 innings, with merely four walks and 33 strikeouts. As a staff, Boston tamed Cleveland to a .223 team average. Conversely, the Indians quartet threw a 27-inning blanket over the Red Sox, limiting them to seven earned runs in 27 innings. Boston convincingly captured the regular-season series by winning five of seven -- the reason the ALCS will begin and potentially end in Fenway Park. The teams shared the league's top record of 96-66, but the tiebreaker blessed the Red Sox with the home-field advantage. While the Indians' recent pursuits of that elusive World Series title have involved the Red Sox three previous times, this will be the teams' first meeting in an ALCS. Their three prior postseason dates came in the Division Series, with the Indians emerging victorious in 1995 and 1998, and Boston returning the favor in 1999. The Red Sox's three prior ALCS appearances in the post-1995 three-tiered playoff era have all come against the Yankees, in 1999 and 2003-04. Boston believers in karma may have hoped for another ALCS including the Yankees, which would have recreated the Red Sox's path to that 86-year curse-busting World Series title of 2004, when they swept through the Division Series against the Angels before the historic ALCS comeback against the Bombers set up another sweep in the Classic over the St. Louis Cardinals. But while the Indians come with less déjà vu, they bring as many offensive weapons, and a pitching staff capable of matching the high standards set by the Red Sox in their crushing of Los Angeles. In fact, the teams split back-to-back 1-0 games in Jacobs Field on July 24-25. The Indians hadn't done that since 1942, even longer ago than their last World Series triumph, so maybe a trend was set.
Boston's Poison Pair is certain to remain the focus of another series, and they had contrasting fortunes this season against Indians pitchers.David Ortiz was held considerably in check, going a quiet 3-for-11. But Manny Ramirez feasted on his former club (1993-2000), batting .417, with seven extra-base hits, including three home runs. Red Sox hurlers had even more success holding the Indians' chiefs in check. Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez combined to hit .192 (14-for-73) against Boston. While Ramirez is the most notable ex-Indian on Boston's roster -- which also includes one-time Cleveland outfielder Coco Crisp -- the most celebrated ex-Red Sox on the other side is Trot Nixon, who spent parts of 10 seasons patrolling right field in Fenway Park. However, the franchises' strongest cross-pollination is on the managerial level. Indians skipper Eric Wedge was an early-model Doug Mirabelli as part of the Red Sox's bench in 1991-92, the first two seasons of a mediocre four-year big league career that ended after 86 at-bats. The Franconas' mark on Cleveland is deeper. Tito Francona spent the heyday of his 15-year career with the Indians, a 1959-64 run that produced 77 of his 125 home runs. The acme of his career was that 1959 season, when Tito hit .363 (nearly a hundred points above his ultimate career average) with 20 homers and 79 RBIs, an extended celebration following the April birth of his son, Terry. And a year later, "The Curse of Rocky Colavito" was born. Terry Francona's own playing career wound through Cleveland, in 1988, when he hit .311 as a fourth outfielder.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.