Indians far from underdogs
Cleveland heads home even thanks to bullpen, gutty effort
BOSTON -- There has been a misplaced sense in some quarters that the Cleveland Indians were on board in this event as second bananas, as necessary foils, as, at best, victims worthy of the best efforts of the Boston Red Sox.
Meanwhile, back here in objective reality, the Indians tied the American League Championship Series at 1-1 early Sunday morning. They did not appear to be particularly willing to play the part of the patsy.
This was a work of diligence as well as skill. It took 11 innings for the Indians to beat the Red Sox, not to mention five hours, 14 minutes. The Indians needed to get the game-winning hit from a former Boston favorite, Trot Nixon. And they needed some tremendous bullpen work. But with persistence and a deluge of 11th-inning offense, they emerged with a 13-6 victory.
The Indians deserved this victory, even though the final margin didn't have much to do with the overall nature of the contest.
"For the very most part, this was one of the most exciting games I think I've ever been a part of, so much good baseball," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "It just didn't end very well for us. That's one of the better-played games -- up until about the last 15 minutes -- by both teams, that I've ever been a part of."
The Indians evened this series despite getting their second straight substandard performance from a leading starter, in this case Fausto Carmona. But they did what they needed to do in Boston, gaining a split, and now the scene will shift to Jacobs Field.
The Indians have not received the national publicity that the Red Sox have. But the Indians also had not received the national publicity that the New York Yankees had, and that did not stop the Indians from taking three out of four from the Yanks in the Division Series.
That sort of thing is no longer the barometer for what happens next. For instance, in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Red Sox sent up the heart of their order -- David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell -- against reliever Tom Mastny. Based on name recognition alone, the Red Sox are still batting. But in reality, Mastny got the Red Sox hitters in order.
But that was just an extension of what the Cleveland bullpen had been doing, shutting down what had been a white-hot Red Sox offense for the last six innings of this game. Jensen Lewis pitched a spotless 2 1/3 innings. Rafael Betancourt had two shutout innings, leading into Mastny's performance and the closer Joe Borowski, gave up two hits but no runs in the 11th and final inning.
"That's where you really have to work to extend the ballgame," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Mastny's performance in the 10th. "I can't stress enough when you're in extra innings on the road, it's twice as tough.
"You work hard to pitch the ballgame so you can give a player like Trot Nixon a chance to ultimately give you the lead, and you've got your closer down there, which we ultimately did. We were able to take it a little bit further than that, but there was great effort and people stepped up and it was great to see."
Said Nixon: "I'm so proud of these guys for the way that they've persevered throughout the entire season. No one was picking us to win."
The Indians' underdog status has been well established, but what does it actually mean?
"It means absolutely nothing to me," Wedge said. "I can say that with all sincerity. That's for other people to talk about. It's part of, you know, the leading up to a series. But anytime you're talking about baseball, I think it's a good thing."
That is very true. The endless speculation about the Indians not having much of a shot here probably served only to make Saturday night's result a more compelling event.
Curt Schilling was 9-2 in the postseason, a recognized October ace, but he could not contain the Indians, being chased in the fifth inning. Schilling, to his credit, took the blame, saying: "This was all about me coming up small in a big game."
But he also had an extremely accurate take on the quality of the opposition.
"This is a very underrated team," Schilling said of the Indians. "You look at what people say about this series, and I don't feel like it's even remotely the advantage that people think that we have. I think they're a much better team than people are giving them credit for.
"Their middle relief has been phenomenal, dominating. They've got arms in the bullpen, and you can say what you want about the guy at the end [Joe Borowski], but he led the league in saves. So he was doing the most important job in the bullpen and getting it done consistently.
"I just think they've flown under the radar all year. I thought they were a much better team than anybody gave them credit for, top to bottom. They beat a tough Detroit team to win the division and they're hot."
That is an accurate summation of where the Cleveland Indians have done and where they are now. Game 2 of this Championship Series was a demonstration of why the Indians are not in over their heads in this series. The record will clearly show that at this mid-October date, they have won exactly the same number of games as the Boston Red Sox.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.