Indians can end ALCS tonight

Published 4:35 pm Friday, October 19, 2007

Manny Ramirez is the man in the middle of the Red Sox’s fading drive toward the World Series.

Boston’s quirky cleanup hitter stands at the plate to admire a mammoth homer. He keeps getting on base. He chats pleasantly for nine minutes, a filibuster for a slugger who prefers silence to speaking with reporters.

Ramirez was in the center again Wednesday, surrounded at his locker by writers whose pens sped up when he made a casual remark with the Red Sox trailing the Cleveland Indians 3-1 in the AL championship series that resumes Thursday night.

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“We’re not going to give up,” Ramirez said. “It doesn’t happen, so who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”


That’s not what Boston’s passionate fans want to hear when their team is one loss away from elimination after losing three straight games.

But Ramirez does care.

Why else would he show up at the ballpark many mornings long before night games to lift weights, do drills and hit balls? Why would he say his career records for most homers in the postseason and the LCS pale in significance to a return to the World Series.

“If I would have known that I was going to be in the World Series and not have those records, I would have traded in a heartbeat,” Ramirez said on Wednesday’s workout day between Games 4 and 5. “Who cares about the records, man? We just want to go have fun and win.”

Those words again: Who cares.

The Red Sox need more than Ramirez and the middle of their lineup to help postseason star Josh Beckett extend their season when he faces C.C. Sabathia in a rematch of Cy Young favorites who faced each other in the series opener.

They need the last four hitters in the batting order and leadoff man Dustin Pedroia to improve on their 16-for-77 showing with just six runs and six RBIs in the series.

Ramirez is confident that will change.

“It’s going to happen,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in our teammates. They’ve been good all year ’round.”

The other four starters — Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Ramirez and Mike Lowell — are a combined 21-for-57 with 14 runs, 15 homers and four of Boston’s five homers.

In the 10-3 win over Sabathia in Game 1, those four were 7-for-11 with seven runs, six RBIs, seven walks, a sacrifice fly and a hit batsman. In 20 plate appearances, they reached base 15 times.

They were patient, waiting for good pitches to hit, and Sabathia wasn’t aggressive enough.

“I didn’t even give us a chance the other day,” Sabathia said. “I look to stay calm and stay in control and not try to overthrow and do so much and I think I’ll be fine.”

The Red Sox must adjust to his power pitches after facing softer throwers Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd in the last two games. The Indians adjustment from Tim Wakefield’s knuckler in their 7-3 win Tuesday night to Beckett’s fastball — a difference in speed of 35 mph — is greater.

But six Indians starters are hitting .294 or more.

“We just got hot at the right time,” Sabathia said. “It doesn’t matter how you play during the season. It matters how well you’re playing right now.”

Cleveland manager Eric Wedge likely will have one different starter. Ryan Garko will return to first base while Victor Martinez moves from there to replace Kelly Shoppach, Byrd’s personal catcher.

Francona plans to use switch-hitter Bobby Kielty, who has hit well against lefty Sabathia, in right field instead of lefty J.D. Drew.

Surviving 3-1 deficits is nothing new to Beckett and Boston.

In 2003, Beckett’s Game 5 shutout over the Chicago Cubs kept the Florida Marlins alive in the NLCS. He ended up being the MVP of the World Series.

In 2004, the Red Sox lost the first three games then won the last four of the ALCS over the New York Yankees, the only time a team has overcome a 3-0 postseason deficit. Then they swept St. Louis in the World Series, their first championship in 86 years. But only seven current Red Sox were on that Series roster.

“When you see something that’s never been done before, you can believe in anything,” Youkilis said.

Wedge wants to give Indians fans an unprecedented present — clinching a pennant in Cleveland.

But it’s the prize, not the place, that’s most important.

“It’s not about where we play or who we play. It’s about how we play,” Wedge said. “We’d love to do it here at home, but the heartbeat and the pace and the way we play, it needs to be the same we’ve been doing all year.”

If the Red Sox win, they’ll return home for Game 6 on Saturday with Curt Schilling, an outstanding postseason pitcher who failed in Game 2, opposing Fausto Carmona. If the managers stick to their rotations, Westbrook would face Daisuke Matsuzaka if a seventh game is played.

“We can believe all we want,” Boston’s Mike Lowell said, “but we have to get hits off Sabathia and hold them down.”

Ramirez is confident the Red Sox will prolong the series.

“Hey,” he said, “anything’s possible.”

But if they lose, don’t expect him to sulk in his seat more than an hour after the game, staring into his locker the way Matsuzaka did when he lasted just 4 2-3 innings in Cleveland’s 4-2 win in Game 3.

“We’re always relaxed,” Ramirez said. “If a guy goes over there and gives me 100 percent and things don’t happen the way he wanted to, what is there to ask?”