Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tribe Shoryukens Daisuke in Finale

The Tribe heads into the Detroit series on the right foot, taking the final game at Fenway Park 8-4. It took five innings, but the Indians broke through Matsuzaka's 7-pitch aresenal with a 4-run fifth. The Cobra continued to impress, going 6 innings with no walks and 2 runs (one earned). The bullpen went into lock-down mode and the offense added a couple insurance runs late to seal the win.

As well as Byrd has pitched this year, he has a tendency to get into jams late in the game. Even if his pitch count is hovering around 70 or 80, Byrd tends to get pulled with runners on base in favor of the bullpen's cleanup crew (Raffy, Mastny, Fultz). I went back and checked the play-by-play calls for the last few games to make sure I wasn't just imagining things, but the box scores from Byrd's starts definitely back up my theory. Whether it's due more to batter adjustments or fatigue (or both), Byrd's late inning jams have become fairly predictable.

Tonight, Byrd gave up three straight hits to start the sixth, loading the bases with no outs. Tom Mastny got the call this time, with Blake retiring Coco Crisp on a nifty flyball catch on the dugout steps. Mastny struck out Youkilis before Wedge brought in The Professional Lefty, Aaron Fultz, to retire Big Papi on a gutsy, nine pitch at-bat. Wedge's big three of Mastny, Fultz, and Betancourt have a combined ERA of 2.13 this season, with opponents batting a stingy .187 against them. Blake's catch going into the visitor's dugout was really the play of the game, since it prevented the pen from having to face both Ortiz and Manny in the same inning with the bases full.

Sizemore and Hafner were the catalysts tonight, going a combined 5 for 10, with 2 walks, 4 RBI, and 3 runs. The duo had only a single hit, run and RBI between them in the first two games of the series. The bottom of the lineup did some serious damage as well, with Shoppach acting as a one man wrecking crew (4-5, 3 RBI, R).

Wedge earned another gold star for resting Martinez (Garko started at 1b) before the big, four game series against Detroit. Wedge continues to be aggressive on the basepaths, taking advantage of Matsuzaka's long delivery tonight. Barfield and Sizemore each stole a base, while Blake had the signal for a hit-and-run early on.

Tonight's win was reassuring in that it demonstrated the focus and resolve of this year's team. I felt frustrated enough after watching Boston's two aces tear through the Tribe lineup the last two games, so I can't imagine how discouraging the losses must have been to the players. Instead of shrinking inside the Fenway pressure cooker, the offense responded in a big way to back up one of their most consistent pitchers.

I rarely cite intangibles as a reason for a team's success, but the Tribe is definitely playing with a certain swagger right now. The players know they have the tools to win any game, anytime. While they should have taken two of three in Boston, I was pleased to see the team step it up to get back on track and avoid the sweep.

Final Notes

Now, I'm not biased or anything, but the umps did a terrible job calling this series. An inconsistent strike zone, some questionable calls, and at least one totally blown call only made a close series even more tense. In game 3, Tim Timmons (remember him from Opening Day? Yeah, that's the guy) called Barfield out at second on a throw from Manny to Pedroia in the sixth. Thing is, Pedroia never touched Barfield, it wasn't even close. Wedge stuck up for J-Barf, but to no avail. Fortunately, Sizemore avenged his teammate by swatting a two-run homer to right field, plating four instead of just two that inning.

Since the game was nationally televised on ESPN2 tonight, I got to hear the comedic stylings of Steve Phillips in the background (I tend to turn the sound down when he gets on a roll). At one point, the conversation turned to the 1997 World Series. Phillips cited a lack of veteran leadership as the main reason Cleveland lost to Florida, which is utter garbage. As a veteran member of the '97 Cleveland squad, Orel Hershiser took offense to Phillips' remark:

Orel: "You get a couple things right [tonight] and then you have to bring that up. I'm not going to bring up any of the things you did..."

Steve: "Oh, please don't!"

Orel then goes for the throat and brings up the Mo Vaughn signing. You could tell it took all his self-control not to just shout SCOTT KAZMIR at the top of his lungs. I love it.

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