BOSTON – Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia and these Boston Red Sox are taking a sweet streak into the World Series, too.
Boston charged to its third straight win, completing yet another October comeback by overpowering the Cleveland Indians 11-2 Sunday night in Game 7 of the A.L. championship series.
A pair of rookie Red Sox helped finish off their rally from a 3-1 deficit and reach the Series for the second time in four years. Matsuzaka pitched five solid innings, Pedroia drove in five runs and Boston got some help by a key blunder by an Indians base coach.
“The season is almost over we were down 3-1, you get that sense of urgency,” said Pedroia, who hit his first postseason homer and doubled with the bases loaded. “Nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to say goodbye to each other. Once we got that win in Cleveland, we started to believe.”
Having ended their 86-year title drought in 2004 after digging out of a 3-0 hole against the Yankees in the ALCS, the Red Sox earned a chance to play Colorado in the World Series. The Rockies, who have won 10 in a row and 21 of 22, will come back from a record eight days off for Game 1 at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
“The Rockies are on a magical run and we are going to have our hands full. We’re going to try and represent the American League the best we can,” general manager Theo Epstein said. “We haven’t grown up any since ‘04. That’s part of what keeps these guys so good. It keeps us all loose and we never stop believing.”
Colorado outscored Boston 20-5 in winning two of three during an interleague series at Fenway in June. The Red Sox did even better in winning the last three games against the Indians, outscoring them 30-5 in that span.
While Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and ALCS MVP Josh Beckett helped the Red Sox win their 12th pennant, the Indians only added more misery to a city that hasn’t celebrated a World Series championship since 1948.
The Indians were a double-play grounder from winning the crown at Florida in 1997. They appeared to take control of this series with three consecutive victories, but aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona couldn’t win a single game between them.
“We won three games in a row and they won three in a row,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “I’m disappointed, obviously, we weren’t able to finish it off.”
Jake Westbrook settled down to offer a solid outing in Game 7, and still the Indians came up short. They had a chance to tie it at 3 in the seventh inning, but third-base coach Joel Skinner mistakenly held up speedy Kenny Lofton as he rounded the bag.
With runners at the corners, Casey Blake grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Then, the Red Sox blew it open. Pedroia, who homered earlier, hit a three-run double and Kevin Youkilis launched a bottle rocket, a two-run drive off the giant Coke bottle above the Green Monster.
Jonathan Papelbon pitched two innings for the save, finishing things off when center fielder Coco Crisp raced back into the center-field triangle, crashing into the wall to catch Blake’s drive.
Crisp was still on the ground when Papelbon chucked his glove into the air and then waited, crouching, for catcher Jason Varitek to leap into his arms.
The Red Sox poured out of the dugout for their first playoff clinching celebration at home since the first round in 2004.
“The champagne tastes sweeter at home,” they chanted in the clubhouse.
A star in big games throughout his career in Japan, Matsuzaka followed two sub-par playoff outings with his first American postseason victory. He allowed two runs on six hits in five innings, striking out three and walking none.
“I thought he pitched his heart out,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Those were some tough innings. He gave us what we needed.”
Fellow Japanese rookie Hideki Okajima pitched two innings of shutout ball. Papelbon closed, sending the sold-out Fenway into a frenzy.
Boston is 5-5 all-time in decisive Game 7s.
The Red Sox were already the only team to have rallied twice from a 3-1 deficit to win the LCS, in 1986 and ‘04. It was the first winner-take-all in the baseball postseason since the 2006 NLCS.