Bottom Of Order Must Be On The Mark

CLEVELAND—The Red Sox need history to repeat itself—in both the macro and micro sense—if they are to come back from a three games to one deficit and beat the Indians in the AL Championship Series.

As a unit, the Sox must channel the spirit of the 2004 team—which, as you may have heard by now, came back from a three games to none deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS. Individually, the likes of J.D. Drew and Coco Crisp must mimic Mark Bellhorn and snap out of their struggles in a big way when the Sox need it the most.

The struggles of Drew (6-for-26 with three RBI and no extra-base hits) and Crisp (5-for-26 with two RBI, one double, one walk and seven strikeouts) have Sox fans pining to see them benched and replaced by rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit .361 with three homers, 17 RBI and eight stolen bases in as many attempts in September but has been limited to pinch-running and defensive replacement duties in the postseason, and/or veteran outfielder Bobby Kielty.

Given his experience with Bellhorn in 2004, though, Terry Francona isn't likely to cave to the demands of the public. Bellhorn wasn't the only Sox regular to struggle for most of the ALCS—Johnny Damon was 3-for-29 with one RBI and eight strikeouts in the first six games of the 2004 ALCS before he hit two homers and racked up six RBI to lead the Sox to their comeback-capping Game Seven win—but he was the only one who had a capable replacement behind him.

So when Bellhorn followed a quiet AL Division Series against the Angels (1-for-11) by going 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts in the first four games of the ALCS, Sox fans clamored for him to get yanked in favor of Pokey Reese. But Francona stuck with Bellhorn and was rewarded for his patience when Bellhorn went 4-for-12 with two homers and four RBI in the final three games. Bellhorn stayed hot in the World Series, when he went 3-for-10 with one homer, four RBI and five walks as opposed to just two strikeouts in the Sox' sweep of the Cardinals.

Francona said during Wednesday's off-day workout that his patience with struggling players goes far beyond merely being loyal. "There's a difference between being loyal and doing what you think is right," Francona told reporters. "I think you can do both. Sometimes the loyalty part is when you tell somebody something they don't want to hear, telling them the truth. And we certainly do that all the time.

"Just think that we're going to do things the way we think is the right way to do it. And if it doesn't work, we go back and we think about it and we do it again."

Along those lines: Even though the sixth through ninth batters in the Sox order have hit just .208 with 11 RBI, five extra-base hits—including one homer—and 25 strikeouts as opposed to just three walks in 106 at-bats this month, don't expect a drastic lineup shuffle for tonight's must-win Game Five. Kielty will replace Drew against the left-handed Sabathia, just as he did in Game One.

"I think we tried so hard to get ourselves in a position where we could run this lineup out there, and then in Games One and Two really did such a great job," Francona said. "So in short doses, things certainly get magnified. I think what we need to do is get ourselves in position where we do manufacture runs and not just lean on solo home runs. I don't know that juggling people necessarily is going to make those solo home runs be different."


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE

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