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Game One Hundred Seventy-Three: Red Sox 11, Indians 2

Box Score
Win Probability Added @ Fangraphs

Highest WPA:

Franklin Gutierrez .103
Kenny Lofton .022
Asdrubal Cabrera .004

Lowest WPA:

Rafael Betancourt -.168
Victor Martinez -.137
Casey Blake -.121

Hopefully history recalls how close this game was; it was 3-2 going to the last of the seventh, and the score should have been tied. Jake Westbrook turned in the best start of the series for the Indians. Everything was set up for at the very least a close ending. But a chain of events quickly turned a nail-biter into a two-inning coronation.

The Stop Sign

Thanks to Julio Lugo dropping a routine pop fly, Kenny Lofton was at second with one out. As soon as Lofton's ball dropped, I thought that this might be the play of the game, or at least the play most remembered. But Lugo's mistake was quickly upstaged, for Franklin Gutierrez then hit would should have been a tying double. The ball went right over the third base bag, glanced off a left field billboard, and bounded into short left field, well away from Manny Ramirez. When Lofton's foot touched third, the ball was still untouched. But Joel Skinner put up the stop sign, to the amazement of all watching, including Lofton.  

The Double Play

The Indians still had runners on first and third with one out, but what came next seemed preordained: a sharply-hit grounder right at Mike Lowell. The inning was over before the shock of the previous play had fully sunk in. What just happened? Unfortunately, we were going have all winter to figure it out.

The Error

Because Jacoby Ellsbury was likely to attempt a bunt base hit, the corner infielders played closer to home plate. So when Ellsbury hit a bounding ball to third, Casey Blake took a couple steps back to play it. The ball played Blake instead, and it went into the outfield. Ellsbury was at second, and the Indians had given the Red Sox the same golden opportunity they received a couple of minutes before.

The Rout

But keep in mind that Rafael Betancourt was on the mound. This was the best reliever on the team, and possibly the best in baseball. And because Jake Westbrook had gone six innings, Jensen Lewis was available as well. If Boston was going to score, they were going to do it off the Indians' best. Boston did score off those two - they scored eight runs in two innings. Was it all due to the innings that Betancourt and Lewis had to log thanks to poor starting pitching and Rafael Perez turning into Fernando Cabrera? Possibly. If you're partial to momentum, you could be right. Whatever the why, the what was the same: an ignominious 11-2 loss in Game 7.

The Aftermath

Can a team have a season that ends on such a sour note and call it good? Yeah, I think you can. The Indians won 96 games, ran away from the Tigers to win the division, and convincingly beat the Dreaded Yankees in the ALDS. It's the farthest the Indians have advanced since 1997's World Series team, and  you'd have to go back to 1995 to find a better combination of regular season and postseason success. Of course, to match the type of success we envisioned for this Indians team, you'd have to go back fifty-nine seasons.    

Next Up: March 31, 2008. Sabathia vs. Buehrle. Free snow shovels to the first 20,000 through the gates.