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Pitching-heavy matchup set for ALCS

Pitching-heavy matchup set for ALCS

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Though the Red Sox are no strangers to the American League Championship Series, they are a little unfamiliar with getting to that stage and seeing someone other than their fiercest rivals staring them in the face.

Unlike 1999, 2003 and '04 -- the last three times that Boston made it this far -- there will be no pinstriped nemesis standing in the way of a trip to the World Series. This time around, the Sox will face a Cleveland Indians team that finished the regular season with the same 96-66 record that Boston did.

But the series will start at Fenway Park on Friday night instead of Jacobs Field because the Red Sox won the season series, 5-2.

"It's just a great thing to be in there," said Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry. "It's just four teams left now. That sounds a lot better than eight."

Look for a tense series involving two teams that rely heavily on their pitching.

All year long, the Red Sox have gotten brilliant work from ace Josh Beckett, who opened the postseason with a four-hit shutout against the Angels. However, the Indians counter with two such aces in left-hander C.C. Sabathia and righty Fausto Carmona.

"I think the first thing you see is their 1-2, they're capable of dominating lineups," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "They've had tremendous years, the two of them. We've got to prepare ourselves and do the same kind of game plan that we did in this series. We need good pitching, we need to swing the bats. If we can do that, we'll be OK."

The Indians come into the game fresh off knocking the Yankees out of the American League Division Series in four games. The Red Sox steamrolled the Angels in a three-game sweep.

Beckett is all but certain to face Sabathia in Friday's Game 1 in a matchup that features perhaps the top two candidates in the race for the AL Cy Young Award.

Game 2 will be played on Saturday. Following an off-day, the series will resume in Cleveland for Game 3 on Oct. 15 and Game 4 on the following day. Game 5, if necessary, would be played on Oct. 18 at the Jake. Potential Games 6 and 7 would be played in Boston on Oct. 20 and 21.

The last time the Red Sox and Indians met was July 23-26 in Cleveland, when the Red Sox won three out of four in a series which showcased back-to-back 1-0 duels.

"Pitching is everything," said Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who has been unusually chatty with the media in recent days.

Of course, Ramirez is making a lot more noise with his bat than his mouth, which is the way the Red Sox like it. In fact, the most positive development in Boston's ALDS sweep over the Angels was the way David Ortiz and Ramirez -- arguably the most fearsome No. 3-4 combo in the game -- carried the offense. Ortiz went 5-for-7 with two homers, adding to his growing October legend. Ramirez went 3-for-8 with a pair of monster home runs.

"They're doing their thing," said Lowell. "If we're going to go far, we're going to count on them. It's one thing to count on them, it's another thing for them to come through. They've been doing it in big fashion. That's why they're our two big dogs."

Clearly, the Red Sox will be rested entering this ALCS. The three-game sweep over the Angels didn't feature any back-to-back games. And the Red Sox will have had four full days off by the time they take the Fenway field on Friday night.

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"I think we play well with rest," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "We just need to get our rest and stay healthy and prepare a game plan for the next series. With this team, I think being rested is probably more important than the fear of being a little rusty. I think we'll be able to shake off that rust with the adrenaline we have going."

There will be no shortage of subplots in this series.

Sox center fielder Coco Crisp played for the Indians from 2002-05. Trot Nixon, in his first season with the Indians, was a core member of the Red Sox from 1999-2006. Ramirez began earning his status as a legendary hitter during his years with Cleveland (1993-2000). Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell is in his first season with the Red Sox after serving as the Indians' director of player development for five years.

This will be the fourth time the Red Sox and Indians have faced off in the postseason, the previous three coming in the Division Series. Cleveland swept Boston in three games back in 1995. The Indians took the Sox out in four games in 1998. But in 1999, the Red Sox rallied back from a 2-0 deficit and won a dramatic Game 5 at Cleveland behind six no-hit relief innings from Pedro Martinez.

Now, they meet again.

"You come for the opportunity," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We got step one taken care of. We have to go out there with the same mentality and try to outplay our opponents."

The Indians will be a formidable one for sure.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
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