Daisuke Matsuzaka failed to get out of the fifth for the second straight start and Jake Westbrook induced three double play grounders—including one in the second, when the Sox failed to score despite loading the bases with none out—to quiet the once-scorching Sox offense as the Indians won Game Three of the AL Championship Series. 4-2, in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 44,402 at Jacobs Field.
The Indians lead the best-of-seven series two games to one and will attempt to take a commanding lead tonight, when Tim Wakefield takes the mound for the Sox against Paul Byrd. The most popular debate in Boston lately had been whether or not Terry Francona should scratch Wakefield—who hasn’t started since Sept. 29 due to a sore right shoulder—in favor of starting ace Josh Beckett on three days rest.
But it won’t matter who starts for the Sox tonight—or that Matsuzaka, who has allowed seven runs over 9 1/3 innings in his two starts, is in line to start a potential Game Seven Sunday—if their offense remains dormant. With two runs and a collective batting average of .196 (10-for-51) in their last 15 innings, the Sox are suddenly as cold over the last game-and-a-half as they were hot over the first 38 2/3 innings, when they scored 35 runs and hit .303.
“If you look at a lot of guys [in] crucial situations, they got decent pitches to hit and just missed the ball, which is a credit to the Indians,” Mike Timlin said. “They’ve got good pitchers over there. But we’ve got good hitters and those are the breaks that you need to have.”
The Sox suffered their share of odd misfortune and well-hit outs Monday. With Kevin Youkilis on first and one out in the first, David Ortiz hit into a 4-5-3 double play. Without the shift in effect, his ball likely would have squirted through the infield for a single.
After a leadoff double in the fourth, Ortiz was called out when he was hit in the thigh by a Manny Ramirez ground ball. “I had the ball right on me,” Ortiz said. “[Shoot], I wish I had Coco [Crisp’s] speed.”
With two outs, J.D. Drew laced a grounder down the first base line with two outs and Mike Lowell on second, but the ball hit the bag and bounced to Ryan Garko, who tossed to Westbrook for the final out. And in the eighth, Ortiz hit a scalding out to the warning track in right.
But the Sox also failed to display their usual patience—16 of their at-bats ended in three pitches or less—and they hit into double plays the only two times they had multiple runners on base. The inability to score in the second—when the Sox loaded the bases with none out before Jason Varitek flew out to left and Coco Crisp hit into a 6-3 double play—was particularly frustrating.
“It was a really pivotal point,” Terry Francona said.
“That was definitely the game there,” Ortiz said. “You’ve got to put pressure on guys. That made them loose. If you don’t [score] at the right time, it comes back to haunt you.”
Most of all, with Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell held in check, the Sox were haunted by the lack of production they’ve received this month from the other two-thirds of the lineup. Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell entered Monday hitting .455 with 17 runs scored, 22 RBI and a .612 on-base percentage in 67 plate appearances. They were 3-for-10 with two walks in Game Three.
Varitek hit a two-run homer in the seventh and a two-out single by Julio Lugo chased Westbrook and brought the tying run to the plate, but Dustin Pedroia’s rally-ending strikeout against Jensen Lewis was far more symbolic of the Sox’ success—or lack thereof—beyond the middle of the order trio.
Players not named Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell have batted .218 with an on-base percentage of .266. In addition, the runs in the seventh marked the first time in the playoffs the Sox have scored in an inning in which no one from the Ortiz/Ramirez/Lowell group batted.
“You put a good swing on the ball and you get nothing out of it—it’s not what you want to see,” Ortiz said. “You feel frustrated, but what else can you do about it?”
The Sox are running out of time to find out.
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-979-0979. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.