The Indians were into postseason play for the fifth year in a row, but the big prize still eluded them. The Braves and then the Marlins had beaten them in the World Series. For the Red Sox, facing Cleveland again was either opportunity or a curse. Of the last seven postseason games they’d played, the Indians had won six. The Sox were the Wild Card team again, finishing behind the Yankees. They did have the best pitcher in baseball, Pedro Martinez, a Cy Young Award winner for the second time with a 23-4 record and a league-leading 2.07 ERA. Bret Saberhagen had a strong 2.95 ERA but a 10-6 record reflecting the fact he’d been unable to work as much. No one else won more than John Wasdin’s eight. The Indians’ top man was Bartolo Colon (18-5, 3.95). Dave Burba (15-9, 4.25) and Charles Nagy (17-11, 4.95) rounded out their top three. The team ERA was an unusually high 4.89, where Boston’s was an even 4.00. For what it’s worth, the Indians had a team batting average of .289 to Boston’s .278, and the Indians had scored 1,009 runs in the regular season.

Given Boston’s drought in October baseball, it surprised on one when the Indians won the first two games in the best-of-five Division Series. With a solo home run in the second and a double that put him in scoring position for Mike Stanley, Nomar Garciaparra’s two runs scored gave Boston a 2-0 lead in Game One – though Pedro departed due to injury  after four in favor of Derek Lowe. A two-run Jim Thome homer in the sixth tied the game. Still tied heading into the ninth, Paul Shuey took over for the starter, Colon, and retired the side. Rheal Cormier came in to relieve Lowe after Lowe hit Manny Ramirez with the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth. He got an out, but then Wil Cordero singled and there were runners on first and second with the one out. Rich Garces came in to relieve Rheal. He walked Richie Sexson, and then Travis Fryman singled in Manny with the winning run.

Game Two was not a one-run game, unless the reference is to the one run the Red Sox managed to score. It came in the top of the third and gave them their customary first lead of the game. Jose Offerman singled in a run but was thrown out at second trying to take two bags on the hit. The sole run off Nagy was overwhelmed when the Indians landed on Saberhagen for six runs in the third, built with three walks, a triple, a double, and a three-run homer by Harold Baines. Cleveland added five more in the fourth, this time at the expense of “Way Back” Wasdin – four of the runs scoring on Thome’s grand slam.

Back in Boston, the Red Sox may have decided to try another approach by letting the Indians score first. Probably not. Pedro’s brother Ramon Martinez got the start for Boston. The Indians got a run in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the fifth, Lou Merloni singled and Jason Varitek doubled. Darren Lewis singled in Merloni to tie and a sacrifice fly brought home Tek. 2-1, Red Sox. But the Indians promptly tied it up with a run coming in on a groundout. The Sox put it out of sight, though, after a leadoff homer by John Valentin in the sixth, and then six runs in the seventh, most of them coming on a two-run double by Valentin followed by a three-run homer by Brian Daubach. Derek Lowe had taken over pitching duties back when it was still tied; he got the win. Jaret Wright got the L.

Game Four was a laugher (for Red Sox fans – Indians fans weren’t laughing in the least), 23-7. It was again, though, a game in which the Indians scored first – a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Jose Offerman led off with a walk for Boston in the bottom of the first and then Valentin homered. The Indians tied it back up, 2-2, in the top of the second. Three singles, a two-run double for Trot Nixon, and then a two-run homer for Jose Offerman and it was five runs in and still nobody out. That was enough for Mike Hargrove, who yanked pitcher Bartolo Colon.  A two-run homer for Valentin was part of three more Red Sox runs added in the third, and then they put up another five in the fourth. The big hit? A grand slam by Valentin, who now had seven RBIs in four innings. The Sox actually went through six pitchers themselves. Starter Kent Mercker hadn’t made it through the second inning himself. But Cleveland just couldn’t keep pace. Trot Nixon had five RBIs and so did Jose Offerman. There was only one inning in which the Red Sox didn’t score – and didn’t score at least two runs – the seventh.

The two Red Sox wins created the possibility of them winning it all, in the winner-take-all Game Five. It was back in Cleveland, and the Indians asked Nagy to reel the Red Sox in. Saberhagen started for the Red Sox. There was a lot of early scoring in this game. Boston got two off Nagy in the first, on a Nomar homer with Daubach on base. A walk, a stolen base and an Omar Vizquel double brought in one run and a Thome homer brought in another. It was 3-2, Indians. When Cordero singled and Fryman homered to start the second, Saberhagen was sent to the showers, 5-2 Indians. Derek Lowe came in and got three outs. Then the Red Sox got runners on second and third, with one out. Hargrove didn’t want Nagy to face Garciaparra, so he had him walked intentionally to load the bases and set up a force at any base and the possibility of a double play. What did Troy O’Leary do? He hit a grand slam. It was 7-5 in favor of the Red Sox. Lowe let Manny Ramirez double in a run, and then Jim Thome hit another homer, and the Indians were back on top, 8-7. It was still only the third inning.

A Valentin sacrifice fly tied things in the top of the fourth, and there they stood (things), tied. Until the top of the seventh. It was Paul Shuey on the mound for the Indians now. Valentin singled, and moved to second on a groundout. Hargrove saw Garciaparra in the on-deck circle, and once again decided to intentionally walk him.  As Shuey threw the four pitches, O’Leary was watching. For the second time, Hargrove had walked Nomar to get to O’Leary. What did Troy O’Leary do? He hit a three-run homer. It was 11-8, Red Sox. In the top of the ninth, the same situation presented itself a third time. Nomar was due up, there was a runner on first and there was one out. Hargrove had Michael Jackson pitch to Nomar – who doubled in the 12th run. Up came O’Leary. What did Troy O’Leary do? He walked – on four pitches, an intentional walk. And Jackson got the next two batters, but Pedro Martinez – who had come in after the third and pitched six innings of relief (and no-hit relief, at that!) retired the side and received the well-deserved win.

The next challenge for the Red Sox was to get by the Yankees in the league Championship Series.

By The Baseball Page

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