It’s Not 2004 Anymore

1192631704Let the record show that the first four innings, Tim Wakefield was as good as he has been all season. Let the record also show that if Wakefield doesn’t get his glove on Asdrubal Cabrera’s line drive, the Red Sox probably turn a double play and get out of the fifth down only one run.

But Wakefield did get a hand on the ball, and instead of a double play the Indians scored six more runs. After that stomach-punch of a fifth inning, the Sox are down to their last chance. In other words, it’s time to think like it’s 2004 again. (Note to the Inside Track: the Cowboy Up team was in 2003). It’s a nice comforting thought for an off-day. It’s just not that likely.

Here’s the fun scenario in the paraphrased words of Kevin Millar before Game 4 and the epic comeback of 2004, “Don’t let us win tonight. We’ve got Pedro and Schilling and then anything can happen in Game 7.” Well, the 2007 Sox have Josh Beckett and Schilling, and anything can happen in Game 7.

As long as Beckett is healthy, apparently a pretty big if by the way, the Sox have a shot in Game 5. You want to bet against Schilling in an elimination game? I don’t. The Sox certainly have a puncher’s chance, and anyone who suggests otherwise is a fool.

But, the inescapable fact of this series is that the Cleveland Indians have played better baseball. Every member of the Indian lineup has contributed at some point. Their bullpen, particularly Rafael Betancourt, has been lights out, and the back end of their rotation has been worlds better than Wakefield and especially Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd were supposed to be the soft underbelly of the Indians rotation, but they have sliced and diced the Sox hitters by carving up both sides of the plate and unlocking the secret to beating patient teams like the Red Sox and Yankees: Throw strikes.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, have not had a good start from anyone other than Beckett, have had two seven-run meltdowns, and the clincher: J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, and Dustin Pedroia are hitting a combined .199 (26-for-131) in the postseason with a grand total of six walks, seven extra base hits, and 30 strikeouts. There is no amount of starting pitching that can offset an offense that anemic, no matter how great David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have been.

The heat has come on Terry Francona to do something. Anything. Usually such talk is the desperate cry of the 4 a.m talk-show caller and best left there. This time may be different.

For starters, Bobby Kielty will take Drew’s place in right tomorrow against C.C. Sabathia, but the move everyone wants to see is rookie Jacoby Ellsbury leading off and playing center field. The chances of that happening are somewhere between slim and none, but its time has come. The offense needs a spark and there is little drop-off between Crisp and Ellsbury defensively.

The question for today, though, is: Can it be 2004 all over again? Short answer: No.

2004 changed everything for the Sox and their followers. It is no longer about disasters and the inexplicable. It is simply about baseball, and there is no denying that the Indians are playing it better than the Sox. In 2007, it is possible, even conceivable, that the Red Sox can come all the way back. It’s just not likely.