Thanks to Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka gets his chance tonight to make all the extra zeroes in his paycheck irrelevant.
The oft-maligned Drew made 37,163 new friends by hitting a first-inning grand slam to lead a breakout performance by the bottom of the batting order that propelled the Sox to a 12-2 rout of the Indians in Game Six of the AL Championship Series at Fenway Park and into a winner-take-all Game Seven tonight.
The Sox will attempt to cap their second dramatic ALCS rally in four years—and become the 11th team to come back from a three games to one deficit to win a best-of-seven series—behind Matsuzaka, who hasn't gotten out of the fifth inning in his two playoff starts and appeared inconsolable after he allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings Monday. He'll oppose Jake Westbrook in a rematch of Game Three.
"We've been in a do-or-die situation twice and we've come through," Mike Lowell said. "So we've got to feel good about that. But I think it's very important to basically put that in the trash can right now, because we don't want to lessen our intensity just because we've taken two steps. We need to take three steps."
History suggests the Sox will take the last step: Of the six previous teams to force a Game Seven in an LCS after being behind three games to one, five have won Game Seven. (See sidebar for more)
And a series with three dramatic momentum shifts certainly appears to have swung in favor of the Sox, who have featured the type of starting pitching, balanced offensive attack and generally good luck they lacked during the first four games. Curt Schilling allowed two runs on six hits and no walks with five strikeouts in seven innings in improving to 4-0 in five "elimination game" starts and to 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA overall in the postseason.
Schilling and Josh Beckett have allowed three runs in the last 15 innings. In the first four games, Sox starters allowed 16 runs in 20 innings.
Schilling's third pitch was launched by Grady Sizemore over the foul pole in right field, but umpires ruled it drifted foul. He gave up a solo homer to Victor Martinez in the second and allowed the first two runners of the third to reach base, but retired the final three batters in order and gave up only three hits over his final four innings.
"His focus since we came in here today in the clubhouse was impressive," Julio Lugo said. "You knew he was going to give us a great outing. He came out and he did it and we're glad he did."
The middle of the order trio of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Lowell, which combined for 27 RBI in the Sox' first eight playoff games, reached base six times in 12 plate appearances Saturday but were complementary pieces to those around them. When the Sox chased Fausto Carmona and left-handed reliever Rafael Perez with six runs in the third, they did it without an RBI from Ortiz, Ramirez or Lowell.
Drew, batting sixth, had five RBI overall while eighth-place hitter Jacoby Ellsbury had an RBI single and ninth-place hitter Lugo had a two-run double. The Sox received just 11 RBI from their 6-7-8-9 hitters in their first eight playoff games.
In addition, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis continued their hot hitting atop the order by going 5-for-8 with four runs scored and reaching base seven times in 10 plate appearances. Over the last four games, the duo is hitting .500 in 24 at-bats and has an on-base percentage of .571 (reached 16 times in 28 appearances).
C.C. Sabathia and Carmona, who combined to win 38 regular season games, have thrown 175 pitches in eight innings in the last two games. The Indians threw just 256 pitches in Games Three and Four.
"This was about our offense just doing a phenomenal job of working the counts, not being overly aggressive," Schilling said. "And in you're in a situation where you're in a must-win, which we are—were—offenses can press and pitchers can take advantage of that. And our offense stayed the same."
In the first, the Sox loaded the bases in 15 pitches on a pair of infield singles and a walk. Ramirez struck out and Lowell flew out—on the first pitch—as Carmona threatened to wriggle out of the jam, but Drew, who hit .270 with 11 homers and 64 RBI in the first year of a five-year, $70 million deal, crushed a 3-1 pitch and punctuated the grand slam with an atypical pump of the fist halfway between first and second.
Drew's grand slam was the first in ALCS play in exactly three years—since Johnny Damon's Game Seven grand slam that put the exclamation point on the Sox' history-making comeback against the Yankees.
"This is not an easy place not to do well, especially when you're coming in with some of the fanfare that J.D. came in with," Terry Francona said. "But he wants to drive in five again tomorrow, I think he'll leave on a good note this winter."
Drew's fanfare was minimal compared to what Matsuzaka received after the Sox bid $51.1 million to win his negotiating rights and then signed a six-year deal worth $52 million. He was the first Sox rookie to ever record at least 15 wins, 200 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched, but he finished with a 4.40 ERA and had a 5.19 ERA after the All-Star Break.
He gets a clean slate tonight. "All the games I've seen that he pitched in Japan, he hasn't been n a back-against-the-wall, win-or-go-home game here yet," Schilling said. "[Today] is the first day. I believe based on his make-up, based on his demeanor, he's going to do something special [tonight].
"Just go out and win. I'm expecting him to come up huge."
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at email@example.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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