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Home » 2007 PostseasonOctober 2007 » Uiningu Shotto [ウィニングショットƒˆ ]

Uiningu Shotto [ウィニングショットƒˆ ]

ALCS Game 7: October 21, 2007
Indians 2 L: Jake Westbrook (1-2) ALDS: 3-1
ALCS: 3-4
WinRed Sox 11 W: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)
H: Hideki Okajima (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (1)
ALDS: 3-0
ALCS: 4-3
Highlights: Matsuzaka broke through at last as a playoff-caliber major league pitcher last night. Although not entirely brilliant, he displayed flashes of that artistry that that so transfixed his opponents at Koshien, the Olympics, and the World Baseball Classic. Over five innings his 88 pitches produced a line of six hits, two earned runs, no walks, and three strikeouts. In his final inning he allowed a sac fly that brought Cleveland within a run. To get a decision he had to convert Asdrubal Cabrera to an out with a runner on first. Battling the pesky second baseman Matsuzaka refused to relent until he unleashed his uiningu shotto, a phrase from the English “€œwinning shot” but equivalent to “money pitch.” Cabrera flailed at Daisuke’s high two-seamer to end the inning and begin the next chapter in Matsuzaka’s baseball Bildungsroman.

Daisuke Matsuzaka showed that the Detroit pitchers’ fielding woes in last year’s Fall Classic were an isolated incident. The pitcher deftly knocked down Victor Martinez’s sharp grounder on one bounce with his glove, looked Travis Hafner back to second, and pounced on the orb to throw Cleveland’s backstop out at first with time to spare.

Not only deft of hand but shrewd of mind, Matsuzaka exhibited a subtle mastery of retaliation. In the third inning Grady Sizemore called time too late in Matsuzaka’s delivery to pull back. The next time the leadoff hitter was in the box in the fifth the Red Sox hurler took his time, even going so far as to fiddle with his shoelace as the center fielder impatiently stood at the dish.

For six and half innings the deciding game was a taut contest. In each of the first three innings the local nine came away with one run but left men on base to moulder. Two of three double plays by Red Sox batters ended potential game-breakers (J.D. Drew in the first and Dustin Pedroia in the fourth) while Julio Lugo’s scored a run in the second.

The abundance of pitchers’ best friends kept a hittable Jake Westbrook in the game far longer than he deserved to be, and with that time the hurler transformed into the invulnerable pitcher from Game 3. No Boston batters reached base in the fifth and sixth innings while the Tribe gained ground.

Hideki Okajima relieved his countryman in the sixth and was on his way to a his second runnerless inning in the seventh when Lugo inexplicably called off Manny Ramirez on a fly ball to shallow left that had him twisting to attempt the catch. The ball dropped between them and Kenny Lofton was poised at the top of the horn ready to tie the score.

Then, even more mysteriously, Joel Skinner held up Lofton on Franklin Gutierrez’s caroming single off the expanded camera wells just past third base. Casey Blake decided to take the axiom “when in Rome” to heart and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the top half of the frame.

Blake carried his ability to assimilate with him to the other side of the field in the bottom of the seventh: Jacoby Ellsbury’s grass-cutter clanked off his glove for a two-base error. Unlike Lugo’s, Blake’s gaffe proved costly when Pedroia launched a ball into a part of the Green Monster seats where only the big boys can go.

The pressure lifted from the collective chests of Red Sox fans and breathing became easier. By the time the sixth run in the eighth crossed the plate, the air had left everyone’s lungs from so much exaltation.

It was happening again: the Red Sox were going to the World Series.

I was never one who thought there was a pall of doom, spanning time, space, and innumerable personages, draped over this team because of the trading of George Herman Ruth. For that same reason I am loathe to make parallels between 2004 and 2007.

But for the seven players who remain from the 2004 team, there is little carryover. That clubhouse was possessed of a streak of wanton audacity, ragtag freewheelers who did naked chin-ups with locks aflutter. Gone are the likes of Kevin Millar, although he briefly defected from the Orioles to throw the first pitch at last night’€™s tilt. Millar was out of place mingling with the 2007 Red Sox, like John Blutarsky tarrying far too long in college.

They have replaced the idiots with a more thoughtful set. This year the team is more Bill Mueller (who delivered the ceremonial pitch for Game 6) than Millar. (An exception to this rule and every other is Jonathan Papelbon, who would have fit in well with the idiots as well as the next generation, what with his Scrabble prowess.)

The spirit of three years ago was the recklessness of James Dean, who didn’t know where to draw the line and was fated to die young. Today’s climate is that of Paul Newman, who smoldered when young and yet grew in intensity with his years, a sustainable success.

Veteran and Gold Glover Lowell exemplifies this new attitude. The clubhouse is more international, a diverse group that benefits from the bilingual third baseman and coaches like John Farrell who took Japanese lessons to better communicate with his staff.

Or Coco Crisp, who never complained about being pulled from the lineup for the final two games of the ALCS. The center fielder slammed his body into the concrete wall of the bullpen to secure the final out of the series and his team’s place in the World Series.

It also has players whose only organizational affiliation has been the Red Sox looking to older players to be their mentors to ease their transition to the show. The 2004 team traded away homegrown talent to fix its fatal flaws while the 2007 roster has farmhands forming the foundation of its success. The influx of new talent mixed with the diligent veteran presence to cohere into the triumph seen today and hopefully for future seasons.

The strongest similarity binding these two teams is their devoted fan base and its ardent desire to see another championship trophy. Welcome back to the Fall Classic, all.

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