Sox 5, Indians 4
WP: Wakefield (10-11) LP: Lee (22-3) SV: Papelbon (41)
HRs: BOS-Youkilis (27); CLE-None
Boston withstood a couple of tense late-inning situations and rode a two-run homer from Kevin Youkilis and a clutch RBI single by Jason Bay to clinch a playoff berth for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
#1 Stunner(s): Oki and Paps 2IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 2K
First OkiÃ‚Â escaped a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh, andÃ‚Â then Paps did the same in the bottom of the eighth as both relievers ensured there would be champagne showers for all after this game.
The Biggest Loser: Cliff Lee 7IP, 9H, 5ER, 3BB, 8K
The Indians’ ace has been money all season, but heÃ‚Â picked a bad timeÃ‚Â toÃ‚Â break down, because no one likes seeing another team celebrate at their expense.
Well, that was easy, wasn’t it?
It only took an extra few days and countless innings of nail biting, but the Red Sox finally secured a coveted playoff spot, earning the chance to defend their title by defeating the Indians tonight, which eliminated the hated Yankees from postseason play for the first time in 13 years.
Talk about a doubly sweet treat.
While the Sox still have an outside shot at winning the AL East, the RaysÃ‚Â double header sweep of Baltimore today lowered their magic number to two games, almost assuring the Sox will have to go the Wild Card route if they hope to capture the trophy again.
Hey, that worked out fine in 2004.
But tonight wasn’t about catching the Rays or drop kicking the Yanks from the playoffs or home field advantage.
It was about a team successfully navigating an extremely long and chaotic season, one that started 3,000 6,000 miles away from home and was filled with enough injuries to stuff a medical journal, to earn a chance to do something that is extremely rare in this sport: repeat as champions.
Okay, maybe it was partly about knocking the Yanks out of the playoffs.
And it was fitting on a night when the team announced it was retiring the number of the legendary Johnny Pesky that the longest-tenured Sox player, Tim Wakefield, picked up the victory. It was also fitting that one of the newest acquisitions, Jason Bay, drove in the game-winning and playoff spot-clinching run.
Take that, ManRam.
The game was about as tense as it gets with one team basically assured of a playoff spot and the other counting the days until season’s end. Both Wake and Cliff Lee tossed three scoreless frames before Kevin Youkilis crushed a two-run shot in the bottom of the fourth, then Cleveland answered with four runs in the top of the fifth.
But the resilient Sox were determined not to let another possible clincher get away, and they dropped three runs on Lee, who hadn’t lost since early July, in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a two run double by Dustin Pedroia (2-4, R, 2BI) and a two out single by Bay that proved to be the winning run.
This being Boston, though, the win would not come so easy. Trailing by one run, Cleveland loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh inning off Manny Delcarmen, prompting Tito to bring exiled lefty Hideki Okajima into what had been a taboo situation for him all season – men on base.
All Oki did was run the count full on Victor Martinez before finally getting him to foul out to first, much to the delight of the chilly Fenway Faithful, and then it was six more outs to glory.
Except glory was delayed again when Justin Masterson and Javier Lopez combined to load the bases again in the eighth, prompting Tito to bring Paps in to another pressure-packed situation.
But instead of the wishy-washy Paps of recent history, the closer morphed back into his Terminator-like self, needing just one pitch to escape the jam and set up a potential celebration in the ninth.
No sign of drama in the final frame as Paps reared back and made quick work of the helpless Tribe batters, fanning the first two before inducing Martinez into a celebration-sparking ground pop out, and just like that all the pains and worries and fears of the past few weeks were drowned in a shower of Dom Perignon and Dirty Water.
Now the team can just relax a bit and treat these last five games as glorified exhibitions, playing some of the kids while resting some of the vets and lining up the rotation for what promises to be a tough first round match up, no matter which team they face.
Although it’ll be strange playing New York this late in the season without anything on the line for either team,Ã‚Â for completely different reasons.
Not that I’m complaining.