I didn’t give Eric Wedge my vote for American League Manager of the Year — I opted for the Yankees’ Joe Torre — but nobody in the AL has done a better job in the playoffs than the Cleveland Indians’ skipper.
His handling of the Indians’ pitching staff has been fantastic. His decision to start Paul Byrd has panned out fine twice, as Byrd as contained potent lineups in the Red Sox and Yankees. His choice to use a rookie reliever — in this case right-hander Jensen Lewis — as a bridge to his late-inning relief shows courage many other managers might not have. And by opting to use Rafael Betancourt instead of closer Joe Borowski in the ninth showed Wedge is managing to game conditions rather than holding steadfast to “the book.”
Betancourt has been scintillating throughout the playoffs, and he buzzed through the Red Sox lineup in the eighth, and that was all Wedge apparently needed to see.
So what we have, then, is a situation that has Red Sox Nation — not to mention network executives — shaking in their boots. One more Cleveland win and the nation will be treated to a Rockies-Indians World Series, and that would be good for ball, if not good for the ratings.
Don’t count out the Bosox, though. Four of their everyday starters (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis) and two members of their rotation (Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield) were a part of the 2004 team that erased a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees, so by comparision, 3-1 probably looks like nothing.
Remember, too, that Josh Beckett will pitch Game 5 and would be available on short rest for Game 7. The laset time Beckett pitched in an LCS, he was a Florida Marlin, and his team trailed the Chicago Cubs by the same margin as the Red Sox trail Cleveland. Beckett dominated that day, and we all know the rest.
Tune in Thursday.