So we have a game 7 after all.
Originally I predicted Sox in 7.
Earlier today I predicted Indians in 7.
What do I feel after seeing this game?
I’m back to being uncertain.
Daisuke Matsusaka had his usual "implosion inning" after having pitched well for the first few innings in Game 3. Still, the final score was only 4-2, thanks to a good effort from the bullpen to keep it close. Westbrook was just better, as he threw a lot of first pitch strikes, and the Sox were patient, taking too many of them and falling behind in the count.
What adjustments will be made?
Will the Sox swing at those first pitch strikes in the middle of the zone? Will they get hits off of them? Will that play into Westbrook’s hands? Will he get all the double-plays he enjoyed last time?
After scoring so much in the last 2 games, I think the Red Sox are more confident. I think they’ll swing early in the first inning, to try to get Westbrook to adjust by starting to nibble with his first pitches, then they can go back to their regular game plan. The key will be whether the Sox get hits off those first pitch strikes.
Another key is the venue. Game 3 was in Cleveland. When Daisuke gave up runs, he didn’t have the crowd to support him and lift him up emotionally. Game 7 is in Fenway. The crowd will be on his side all the way. Schilling said tonight that the home crowd lifted his spirits many times and allowed him to fight through the rough innings. Will it work for Matsusaka, too?
Ellsbury hit the ball well in replacing Crisp. He was robbed of a triple by Grady Sizemore, so he only had 1 hit, driving in a run and later scoring, but he definitely looked like he had more offensive spark and confidence than Coco Crisp. Then again, the first Indians batter of the 7th inning hit a fly ball that he could have caught by just putting his back up against the wall and reaching up, but Ellsbury thought he was out of room and had to jump. He missed the catch. That led to a run, but it was too little, too late for Cleveland. Still, that’s a play that Crisp probably makes. Generally, though, Ellsbury is almost as good defensively as Crisp, and that’s extremely good.
Will Ellsbury start again in Center? It sounds like it. Why mess with a lineup that produced 12 runs? If the Red Sox make it to the World Series, I’d expect Crisp to start again in game 1, or at least against left-handed starters. The mental break might do him enough good that he’ll come in and produce.
This game will be difficult to predict. Cleveland had to use their bullpen longer than expected in this game, but in a game 7, all the previous starters are available, except the starters of game 6. That gives both teams plenty of depth, but the Red Sox have the advantage, only needing 2 innings from the bullpen, and having those go relatively quickly, to Lopez and Gagne, who had struggled. Those are big, confidence-building outings for those 2 pitchers, and could help the Red Sox in game 7 if the game goes to extra innings. Cleveland will be in trouble if their starter is out early and it goes to extra innings, as their bullpen is a little more depleted.
But barring that scenario, both teams should be able to get 4 or 5 innings of excellent relief from their game 4 and 5 starters, and from the best of their bullpen, so if either team is ahead in the 5th and their starter starts to struggle, expect a quick hook from their manager.
Given all that, and that Daisuke has often pitched 4 good innings, then had trouble in the 5th, I’d expect the Red Sox to have the upper hand in this game. Most likely, the crowd support, and Daisuke’s preparation, will calm him and allow him to pitch better than last time. Ortiz said that Daisuke was watching film of the last game all evening. If Daisuke starts to melt down anyway, the bullpen will be able to go long.
The key will be an early lead for both teams. If the game is tied after 4 innings, Cleveland probably has the advantage, and Daisuke keeping Cleveland from scoring in the 5th inning would be huge, and would shift the advantage back to Boston.
If Boston is ahead after 4, they’re in the driver’s seat, as they would have room to let Daisuke pitch a while in the 5th before taking him out if he gets into trouble.
If either team is up by 2 runs or more after 4 innings, that team wins. Otherwise, the game comes down to whether Daisuke can pitch a scoreless 5th inning.
So I’m not picking a winner, I’m just telling you what conditions to look for. The early innings are key.