Sox Momentum Is No Sure Thing

BOSTON—The Red Sox and Indians rosters feature 12 players who have participated in a Game Seven. None, though, has the vantage point tonight of Mark Lemke, who knows exactly how both teams feel entering the decisive game of the AL Championship Series.

Lemke knows how valuable momentum can be for a team such as the Sox, who have climbed out of a three games to one hole and forced a Game Seven by winning Games Five and Six by a 19-3 margin. He was the starting second baseman for the Braves in 1996, when they fell behind the Cardinals three games to one in the NLCS but won Games Five and Six by a 17-1 margin and destroyed the Cards 15-0 in Game Seven.

Yet he also knows that it's possible for a team like the Indians to win Game Seven after blowing a three games to one lead. Lemke started at second base for the 1992 Braves, who lost Games Five and Six to the Pirates—the latter game was started and won by Tim Wakefield—but won Game Seven.

Lemke, who finished his career with the Sox in 1998 and hosts a pre-game show on the Braves radio network, said he's enjoyed watching both teams in the ALCS and was reluctant to make a prediction, but he said the team that wins tonight will be the one that best minimizes the pressure.

"What you try to do in this situation is try to channel it towards your side," Lemke said earlier today. "If I was the Red Sox, I'd say we've got nothing to lose, we weren't supposed to be in this thing. And if I was on the Indians, I'd say we can still beat them."

He believes the Sox could benefit from their playoff experience—seven players were a part of the 2004 team that came back to beat the Yankees in the ALCS—and realize the heat is off them after already winning two elimination games, just as the Braves did in 1996. "When you're down 3-1 in those kind of series, there's less pressure on you," Lemke said. "I've been on the other side, where we're up that many games, and I know the feeling. It was like you never wanted the other team to win one game. Someone will say ‘It's only 3-2.' Well, it was three games to one yesterday. And if you go 3-3, then you're going to have to play game seven and then you know what's going to happen: The pressure and the momentum starts to shift.

"You have no pressure because you go into Game Seven saying to yourself ‘We've got nothing to lose. We weren't supposed to win this game. We weren't supposed to do anything. We're supposed to lose this game.' No pressure. All the pressure's on the other side."

But Lemke won't be surprised if the Indians, who made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2001, mimic the 1992 Braves, who gained pressure experience on the fly against the veteran Pirates, who featured MVP Barry Bonds and sent former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek to the mound in Game Seven. The Braves were in their second straight NLCS after seven straight sub-.500 finishes.

"We had the same situation: We had guys that had never been proven and we had guys that came up in the clutch," Lemke said. "David Justice—you can name them all. That could be the case with the Cleveland Indians."

If the pressure's on the Indians, then history is certainly on the side of the Sox: Only four teams have led a best-of-seven series three games to one, lost the next two and then won Game Seven. The only team to do so in LCS play was Lemke's 1992 Braves.

"I think choke is a bad word—I don't think anybody chokes," Lemke said. "I think what happens is sometimes the momentum gets taken away from you. And once it does, if you've had it stolen from you, you try to regain it, try to get it back, but once you let it go and the other team takes it, they've got it and they're going to run with it as far as they can."

A Game Seven blowout by the team that has forced the winner-take-all contest is not unusual. Of the 10 teams to win a best-of-seven series after trailing three games to one, only one has won Game Seven by less than two runs (the 1925 Pirates). Four of the last five teams to pull off the feat have buried the opposition early in Game Seven: The 1985 Royals (led the Cardinals 5-0 after three innings in an 11-0 World Series win over the Cardinals), the 1986 Sox (led the Angels 7-0 after four innings in a 8-1 ALCS win), the 1996 Braves (led 6-0 after one inning) and the 2004 Sox (led the Yankees 6-0 after two innings in a 10-3 win).

Royce Clayton, who has traveled with the Sox this month but is not on the active roster, was the starting shortstop for the 1996 Cardinals and said he had an "eerie" feeling after the Cardinals failed to close out the series in St. Louis and that a sense of doom enveloped the Cardinals after Game Six. "It's definitely [a] somber mood going into Game Seven—you were just up three games to one," Clayton said. "It's tough to shake off that loss. You know you're so close. What people fail to realize is, after a loss, there's adjustments. There's a swing, you have to get your confidence back.

"To come back and face the same team the next day is kind of tough."

So with that in mind, Lemke had 12 words of caution for the Indians:

"You're in Boston. So, boy, if Boston gets a lead, look out."


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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