The following is the tenth part of a 10-part series chronicling the Cleveland Indians’ championship history.
Following a disappointing postseason run in 2001, the Indians organization fell into a tailspin headlined by the resignation of general manager John Hart, the firing of manager Charlie Manuel, and the loss of free agent Jim Thome to the Philadelphia Phillies. Hart’s replacement, Mark Shapiro, quickly lost the support of the Indians’ fan base by trading away favorites Roberto Alomar and Bartolo Colon.
Shapiro hired manager Eric Wedge in 2003, marking the beginning of a transition period in which Indians greats from the championship teams of the 1990s would be phased out and replaced with young talent from Cleveland’s farm system. New stars emerged in the form of catcher Victor Martinez, designated hitter Travis Hafner, and center fielder Grady Sizemore.
Despite making a late-season run at the American League Central Division crown in 2005, the Indians failed to reach the postseason for the fourth-straight year, a stark contrast to the success Cleveland experienced in the 1990s. The Tribe finished fourth in the Central Division the following season, failing to live up to expectations.
Fan disgust following the 2006 season led to calls for Wedge and Shapiro to be fired. Feeling the pressure, Wedge and the Indians responded with an outstanding performance during the 2007 season. After a confusing start to the season in which the Indians were forced to play three home games in Milwaukee due to snow, the Tribe claimed their spot as one of the top two teams in the division, beginning a season-long battle with the Detroit Tigers.
The Indians split a two-game series with the Tigers in mid-August to move into a tie for first. Over the next month, Cleveland slowly built upon their lead, claiming their seventh American League Central Division Championship by finishing eight games ahead of the Tigers.
Cleveland’s offense featured five players with at least 20 home runs: Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, Jhonny Peralta, Travis Hafner, and Grady Sizemore. Martinez hit 25 homers, 40 doubles, and 114 RBIs while batting .301. Hafner contributed 100 RBIs and 102 walks. Sizemore recorded a team-high 174 hits including 34 doubles and 24 homers while walking 101 times as Cleveland’s lead-off batter.
The 2007 Indians featured a balanced attack, highlighted by dominant pitching by C. C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Sabathia posted a 19-7 record, including a shutout, and struck out 209 batters on his way to winning the American League Cy Young award. Carmona also won 19 games, posting a team-best ERA of 3.06. Veteran Paul Byrd also compiled a respectable season, earning 15 victories including two shutouts. Dominant relievers Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt each posted ERAs below 1.80, and closer Joe Borowski earned 45 saves for the Tribe.
2007 American League Division Series
Cleveland’s 96-66 record tied the Indians with the Boston Red Sox for the best record in Major League Baseball. Due to Boston having the better head-to-head record with Cleveland, the Red Sox earned the top seed in the American League, while the Indians received the two-seed. Cleveland earned home field advantage for the American League Division Series, in which they faced the American League Wild Card New York Yankees.
Game One took place in front of a sold-out Jacobs Field crowd who had waited six years for the return of postseason baseball to Cleveland. The Indians started Cy Young award winner C. C. Sabathia against the Yankees’ Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees jumped out to early 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Johnny Damon hit a lead-off home run near the right field foul pole.
The Yankees lead was short-lived as the Indians plated three runs on an RBI single by Ryan Garko and a two-run hit by Kenny Lofton. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera gave Cleveland a 4-1 lead on a leadoff homer in the third inning.
New York cut into the Indians’ lead, scoring one run in the fourth and fifth to narrow Cleveland’s advantage to 4-3. Sabathia left the game after the fifth, and the Cleveland bullpen kept the Yankees scoreless for the rest of the night.
Meanwhile, the Tribe’s explosive offense came to life in the bottom of the fifth. Victor Martinez hit a two-run homer, followed by an RBI single by Lofton and a two-run double by Casey Blake to give the Indians a 9-3 lead.
Cleveland extended their lead to 11-3 in the sixth inning on a Travis Hafner solo homer and an RBI double by Lofton. Lofton finished the night 3-for-4 with four RBIs. The Tribe would cap the night with a solo home run by Ryan Garko in the eighth, sealing a 12-3 victory and earning Sabathia his first playoff win since his rookie season.
Nineteen game winner Fausto Carmona took the mound for Cleveland in Game Two, facing off against the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte. Both starters were dominant: Carmona allowed only three hits and a home run in nine innings; Pettitte held the Indians scoreless through six and one-third innings of work.
Pettitte was replaced by the Yankees’ star reliever Joba Chamberlain in the seventh inning. As Chamberlain entered the game, a swarm of bugs surrounded the mound, landing on Chamberlain and flying in front of his face as he pitched. Play stopped briefly as members of the Yankees’ staff visited the mound with bug spray.
Chamberlain walked Grady Sizemore to start the eighth inning, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Sizemore moved to third on a sacrifice by Asdrubal Cabrera. With two outs and Victor Martinez batting, Chamberlain threw another wild pitch, allowing Sizemore to tie the game. After the game, Yankees’ faithful used the bugs as an excuse for Chamberlain’s blown save, however, Carmona was forced to deal with the bugs in the ninth inning and allowed only one hit while keeping the game tied at 1-1.
Cleveland failed to score in the bottom of the inning against Mariano Rivera, sending the game into extra innings. Rafael Perez relieved Carmona in the tenth, retiring the Yankees in order. Rivera remained in the game in the tenth inning, starting the inning with a strikeout of Sizemore, who reached base on a passed ball strike three. Sizemore moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Cabrera, and advanced to third on a groundout by Travis Hafner. Rivera loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Martinez and a hit-by-pitch to Ryan Garko. However, Jhonny Peralta struck out to end the inning, moving the game into the eleventh.
Perez continued his dominance of Yankees’ hitters, again retiring New York in order. Luis Vizcaino took the mound for the Yankees in the bottom of the eleventh and issued a leadoff walk to Kenny Lofton. Franklin Gutierrez hit a single and Lofton advanced to third on a groundout by Casey Blake. With two outs, designated hitter Travis Hafner hit a walk-off single to right field, scoring Lofton and giving the Indians a 2-0 series lead.
Looking to lock up a sweep of the Yankees, the Tribe traveled to New York for Game Three. Starter Jake Westbrook faced off against Yankees’ starter Roger Clemens. The Indians took an early 3-0 with a Ryan Garko RBI single in the first, a Trot Nixon home run in the second, and Jhonny Peralta RBI double in the third.
Clemens was forced to leave the game in the third inning due to a strained hamstring. Clemens was replaced by rookie Phil Hughes, who held Cleveland scoreless for three and two-thirds innings. Meanwhile, Westbrook appeared to be on-track, allowing only one run through the first four innings, giving Cleveland a 3-1 advantage. However, the Yankees plated four runs in the fifth inning, including a three run homer by Johnny Damon, to take the lead.
Westbrook was forced out of the game in the sixth inning as he and the Cleveland bullpen surrendered three more runs. The Indians scored again in the eighth, but it was not enough as the Yankees easily won their first game of the series by a final score of 8-4.
Still leading the series 2-1, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge made a controversial decision for Game Four in New York, starting veteran Paul Byrd instead of C. C. Sabathia, who won Game One. Yankees’ manager Joe Torre took the opposite approach, electing to start his Game One pitcher Chien-Ming Wang on only three days of rest.
Cleveland immediately took advantage of Wang’s lack of rest, scoring two runs in the first with a leadoff home run by Grady Sizemore and an RBI single by Jhonny Peralta. Wang allowed the first three Indians to reach in the second inning before being pulled from the game. Wang was relieved by Mike Mussina, who got out of the inning only allowing two runs.
Derek Jeter cut the Indians’ lead to 4-1 when he hit an RBI single in the bottom of the second. Cleveland put another two-spot on the board in the fourth on a two-run hit by catcher Victor Martinez. Byrd allowed a leadoff home run to Robinson Cano in the sixth inning before leaving the game with a 6-2 lead.
Alex Rodriguez and Bobby Abreu added solo homers off the Cleveland bullpen late in the game, but the Yankees were unable to overcome the four-run deficit. The Indians earned a 6-4 Game Four victory, earning a berth into the 2007 American League Championship Series.
2007 American League Championship Series
Losing the head-to-head regular season series with the Boston Red Sox turned out to play a dramatic impact in the 2007 postseason for the Indians, who would be forced to win at least one game at Fenway Park in order to advance to the World Series.
Game One of the 2007 ALCS took place on October 12, with American League Cy Young award winner C. C. Sabathia pitching against Cy Young runner-up Josh Beckett. Both pitchers allowed one run in the first inning: a solo home run by Travis Hafner off of Beckett and an RBI single by Manny Ramirez off of Sabathia.
After a scoreless second, the Red Sox got to Sabathia in the third, scoring four runs to take a 5-1 lead. Boston extended their lead in the fifth, adding three runs and forcing Sabathia out of the game. The Red Sox plated two more runs off of the Cleveland bullpen, finishing Game One with a dominant 10-3 victory.
The Indians appeared to be outmatched on both sides of the ball and, combined with Boston’s home field advantage, serious talk of a Red Sox ALCS sweep began.
In an attempt to rebound from Game One, the Indians sent Fausto Carmona, who allowed only one run in nine innings during the ALDS, to the hill in Game Two. Boston countered with veteran pitcher Curt Schilling.
Cleveland took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Grady Sizemore scored on a double by Victor Martinez. The Indians’ lead held until the bottom of the third, when Carmona walked Manny Ramirez with the bases loaded, followed by a two-run hit by Mike Lowell to put the Red Sox up 3-1.
Boston’s lead was short-lived as the Tribe posted three runs of their own in the top of the fourth on a Jhonny Peralta home run. Schilling was forced to exit the game in the fifth as the Indians took a 5-3 lead on a home run by Sizemore. However, Carmona and the Cleveland bullpen were unable to hold the lead, allowing three Red Sox runs in the bottom of the inning to give Boston a 6-5 advantage.
Cleveland came from behind again in the sixth inning, tying the game when Peralta scored on a groundout by Franklin Gutierrez. Suddenly, the bats from both teams went dead and no more runs scored through the ninth inning, sending the game into extra frames tied 6-6.
The Indians used six pitchers while the Red Sox sent eight different pitchers to the mound in Game Two. After a scoreless tenth, the Tribe finally broke through in the top of the eleventh, facing Eric Gagne. Cleveland scored seven runs in the inning thanks to RBI singles by Trot Nixon and Ryan Garko, an RBI double by Peralta, a three-run homer by Gutierrez, and a wild pitch by Gagne which allowed Asdrubal Cabrera to score. Closer Joe Borowski allowed two Red Sox hitters to reach base in the bottom of the eleventh, but was able to secure the victory with a double play to end the game.
With the 2007 ALCS tied at 1-1, the Indians returned to Cleveland with the opportunity to win the American League pennant at Jacobs Field with three home victories. Game Three featured an outstanding performance by Indians’ starter Jake Westbrook, who pitched six shutout innings until allowing two runs in the seventh.
Cleveland’s offense made the most of their opportunities against Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka. In the bottom of the second, Ryan Garko reached base on a line drive single, then scored on a Kenny Lofton home run to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
Cleveland’s lead extended to 4-0 in the fifth when Casey Blake scored on a single by Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore scored on a groundout by Travis Hafner. Tribe relievers did not allow a run, sealing Cleveland’s 4-2 Game Three victory and giving the Indians a 2-1 series lead.
Game Four was held the next night in front of a sold-out Jacobs Field crowd. Veteran Paul Byrd took the mound for Cleveland against Boston’s Tim Wakefield. Both Byrd and Wakefield dominated opposing hitters, keeping the game scoreless through four innings.
The Indians finally were able to figure out Wakefield’s knuckleball in the bottom of the fifth when Casey Blake hit a leadoff home run. Blake’s home run was the breakthrough the Tribe needed as Franklin Gutierrez followed with a single, Kelly Shoppach was hit by a pitch, and Asdrubal Cabrera and Victor Martinez delivered RBI singles to force the Red Sox to go to their bullpen.
Reliever Manny Delcarmen replaced Wakefield and promptly surrendered a three-run homer to Jhonny Peralta. Kenny Lofton followed Peralta’s home run with a single, then scored on Blake’s second hit of the inning. Cleveland plated seven runs in the fifth inning, giving Byrd a comfortable lead.
However, Byrd ran into trouble in the next inning, giving up back-to-back solo shots to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. Byrd was replaced by Jensen Lewis, who allowed the Red Sox’ third homer in a row to Manny Ramirez, before getting out of the sixth inning with a 7-3 lead. Lewis and fellow reliever Rafael Betancourt held strong in the late innings, preventing a Red Sox comeback. Cleveland’s 7-3 victory gave them a two game advantage in the ALCS, leaving the Tribe just one game away from the 2007 World Series.
Win or lose, Game Five of the 2007 ALCS would be the last game of the series played in Cleveland. Not wanting to return to Boston, the Indians hoped that C. C. Sabathia, who took the loss in Game One, would return to his dominant regular season form. The Red Sox again countered with Josh Beckett, who was victorious in Game One.
Both pitchers allowed one run in the first: Kevin Youkilis hit a solo home run off of Sabathia and Grady Sizemore scored when Travis Hafner hit into a ground ball double play. After a scoreless second inning, Boston took a 2-1 lead in the third on an RBI single by Manny Ramirez. Both pitchers settled in through the sixth, keeping the score at 2-1.
In the top of the seventh, Sabathia reached his limit, surrendering a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia and an RBI triple by Youkilis. Boston added another run on a sacrifice fly by David Ortiz later in the inning to take a 4-1 lead. Cleveland experienced a meltdown in the eighth, with an error, a passed ball, and three walks contributing to three Boston runs.
Cleveland failed to score after the first inning, allowing the Red Sox to easily claim a 7-1 victory and force the series to return to Boston.
Trailing 3-2, the Red Sox needed to win both Game Six and Game Seven at Fenway Park to advance to their second World Series in four seasons. The Indians needed to steal only one victory in Boston to return to the Fall Classic for the first time in ten years.
The Tribe sent Fausto Carmona to the mound to face off against Curt Schilling in Game Six. Facing elimination, the Red Sox attacked Carmona quickly, loading the bases in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs, J. D. Drew blasted a grand slam to give Boston a 4-0 lead.
The Indians began to chip away at Boston’s lead in the second inning when Victor Martinez hit a solo home run to start the inning. However, Carmona’s struggles continued in the fourth when he walked the first two batters before allowing an RBI single by J. D. Drew.
Manager Eric Wedge replaced Carmona with Rafael Perez, who gave up three hits and a walk while only retiring one batter. Boston plated six runs in the fourth and two more in the eighth to secure a 12-2 win and force a Game Seven.
The deciding game of the 2007 American League Championship Series featured a rematch of Game Three, with Jake Westbrook starting for Cleveland and Daisuke Matsuzaka taking the mound for Boston. The Indians were hoping for a repeat of Game Three, but fell behind early as the Red Sox slowly built a 3-0 lead, scoring one run in each of the first three innings.
The Tribe imitated Boston in the fourth and fifth, plating one run in each inning to cut the Red Sox’ lead to 3-2. Both starters threw solid performances: Westbrook allowed three runs and struck out five in six innings and Matsuzaka allowed two runs and struck out three in five innings.
With Boston reliever Hideki Okajima on the hill in the seventh, Kenny Lofton was able to reach base on an error and advance to second. A single by Franklin Gutierrez moved Lofton to third. As Lofton rounded third to tie the scoring run, he was held up by third base coach Joel Skinner. A frustrated Lofton turned around to see shortstop Julio Lugo and outfielder Manny Ramirez tracking down the ball. With Lofton’s speed and the Red Sox’ difficulty fielding the hit, it was likely that Lofton would have scored. Instead the next batter, Casey Blake, hit into a double play to end the inning.
Skinner’s controversial decision hurt the spirit of the Tribe and caused momentum to shift back to Boston. The Red Sox added two runs in the bottom of the seventh off of Cleveland reliever Rafael Betancourt and scored six more in the eighth inning off of Betancourt and Jensen Lewis to secure an 11-2 victory and their second American League pennant in four years. The Red Sox would go on to sweep the Colorado Rockies, claiming the World Championship.
With the meltdown complete, the Indians were forced to watch the World Series from home once again. Cleveland’s failure to reach the postseason in 2008 led to the dismantling of the team.
The Indians of the mid-2000s showed promise, fielding exciting young talent that was in contention for a postseason berth practically every other season. Failing to recognize the collection of talent he had amassed in Cleveland (or simply being content with a little success), Indians’ general manager Mark Shapiro traded away the players who had made baseball in Cleveland relevant again. Only three of the Indians’ offensive starters from the 2007 postseason are still on the team and Fausto Carmona is the only starter still in a Cleveland uniform.
The Indians finished the 2009 season tied for last place in the American League Central Division, the first time since the creation of the division in 1994. In danger of finishing in last place for the second year in a row, Mark Shapiro has announced he will become the team’s president and his assistant, Chris Antonetti will become the new general manager. Antonetti has vowed to continue along the same path as Shapiro, which could mean sub-par talent and last place finishes for many years to come.
Now the laughing stock of the league, it’s hard to believe the 2007 Cleveland Indians were just one win away from the World Series.
For more of the 10-part series chronicling the Cleveland Indians’ championship history and other work from this author click here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_ALDS “2007 American League Division Series” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_American_League_Championship_Series “2007 American League Championship Series” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_indians#2001.E2.80.93present:_The_Shapiro_years “Cleveland Indians 2001-Present: The Shapiro Years” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
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http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200710200.shtml “October 20, 2007 American League Championship Series (ALCS) Game 6, Indians at Red Sox” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200710210.shtml “October 21, 2007 American League Championship Series (ALCS) Game 7, Indians at Red Sox” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE200710040.shtml “October 4, 2007 American League Division Series (ALDS) Game 1, Yankees at Indians” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE200710050.shtml “October 5, 2007 American League Division Series (ALDS) Game 2, Yankees at Indians” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
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http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE200710160.shtml “October 16, 2007 American League Championship Series (ALCS) Game 4, Red Sox at Indians” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE200710180.shtml “October 18, 2007 American League Championship Series (ALCS) Game 5, Red Sox at Indians” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200710070.shtml “October 7, 2007 American League Division Series (ALDS) Game 3, Indians at Yankees” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200710080.shtml “October 8, 2007 American League Division Series (ALDS) Game 4, Indians at Yankees” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CLE/2007.shtml “2007 Cleveland Indians Batting, Pitching, & Fielding Statistics” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CLE/2007-schedule-scores.shtml “2007 Cleveland Indians Schedule, Box Scores and Splits” Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5iZCSHKrNQ8s5GEbYzl-jlYFlKSPQ “The Canadian Press: Indians’ Soon-to-be General Manager Chris Antonetti Likes Many Pieces in Place” The Associated Press. Retrieved September 11, 2010.