Sunday, October 21, 2007

2007 ALCS Game 6: Aces High

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 12, Cleveland Indians 2

There goes the siren that warns of the air raid/Then comes the sound of the guns sending flak/Out for the scramble we've got to get airborne/Got to get up for the coming attack

Baseball is a game of statistics, a math geek's wet dream of numbers and outcomes and probabilities that make it one of humanity's more perfect endeavors. However, within this perfection lies the paradox of improbability and uncertainty, the human element that defies prediction and makes the games worth watching. This human element takes, among other forms, the guise of shifting momentums, tied up in morale; the same unpredictable, intangible feeling that drives armies on a battlefield towards crushing defeat or overwhelming victory. It's why we all hold hitting streaks and strings of victories in such high acclaim: put inertia on your side and you gain the aura of invincibility.

Before this series started, I mentioned that I was excited for the upcoming battle; I focused on the pitching match ups, which have proven disappointing in many ways, but instead I find myself satisfied with the pure baseball appeal of this series thanks to the frequent shifts in momentum. Boston took command with Beckett's first win, then Cleveland asserted itself with three straight victories that put Boston on the edge of elimination. The Sox slowed the rush with Beckett's second win that sent the series back to Fenway, but they really regained the upper hand tonight using both bat and glove in two key moments.

Jump in the cockpit and start up the engines/Remove all the wheelblocks there's no time to waste/Gathering speed as we head down the runway/Gotta get airborne before it's too late.

Moment 1: While Beckett is the golden god of the 2007 playoffs, Curt Schilling is the wild card: his abilities as a big game pitcher are set in stone, but after a weak Game 2 showing and the ongoing concerns about his ability to adapt to his advancing age, a strong outing was more of a fond hope than a clear certainty. However, fortune - and Schilling's own dogged refusal to look bad twice in a row - smiled upon the evening, giving the big righty a stat line that would make anyone proud: two runs on six hits, with five strike outs and a home run, all over seven innings. But this sterling performance might never have happened if not for a lucky call in the first inning.

Grady Sizemore drove the third pitch of the game high and deep to right field, a towering fly ball that screamed home run from the moment it left the bat. It sliced into the seats around the foul pole, as Red Sox Nation drew its collective breath, and watched helpless as the season started to swirl down the toilet. A home run from the first batter of the game: momentum would scream back into Cleveland's court faster than a Boston driver weaving through traffic on the Southeast Expressway. The Indians would go on to score five or six runs in the first inning alone, and the Sox would be on the golf courses by Monday morning. But the baseball gods were kind: umpires ruled the ball, which looked like a home run on the replay, was foul - no gopher ball, no first blood, no nothing. Sizemore grounds outs, Lugo to Youkilis, three pitches later.

Running, scrambling, flying/Rolling, turning, diving, going in again.
Running, scrambling, flying, Rolling, turning, diving...

Moment 2: J.D. Drew has not had a good year. He's getting a lot of money for below average production, he hasn't lived up to his role as a key member of the offense, etc. We all know the story, and we all expect less of Drew - who was 0 for 6 with men in scoring position coming into tonight - as a result. Boston loads the bases in the bottom of the first inning, as Pedroia, Youkilis and Ortiz all reach safely with no outs. Manny strikes out looking after a tough battle with Carmona, Lowell flies out to Trot Nixon in shallow right - too shallow to score a run - putting the burden on Drew. A walk would have been a fine - a single seemed too much to ask for. The fate of the whole game hung in the balance of that one moment, and J.D. Drew shocked us all to the very core: he smashed a 3 and 1 fastball into the camera well in center field for a grand slam.

Pandemonium. I'm in a bar, and though every fan in the place is yelling and screaming his or her head off, we can't believe it. We yell through the shock: J.D. Drew delivered. Ill fortune hangs over him like a cloud, a reputation for injury-plagued selfish play and missed potential dogs his footsteps, but for a shining moment - the shining moment of the whole game, on par in orders of magnitude with Manny's walk off from Game 2 of the ALDS - Drew baptized away all of his Red Sox sins. The rest of the evening was a state of grace: three for five, two runs, five RBI, a one-man wrecking team armed with a bat and the will to make up for lost time. Pour some gasoline on that fire tomorrow and we might finally see the birth of a monster.

Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die/Won't you run, live to fly, fly to live
Aces high!