It'll be a battle of the two best teams in Major League Baseball, both finishing with identical 96-66 records. The Red Sox won the season series, 5-2, over Cleveland and thus have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The AL team also has that advantage in the World Series by virtue of its victory over the National League in the July 10 All-Star Game at San Francisco.
The Red Sox, who swept the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, are going back to the ALCS for the first time since then. Boston and Cleveland did not make the playoffs last year.
"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."
The two teams have met three times in the postseason before, but all in the ALDS, with the Indians having won two of those three series: 1998 in four games and 1995 in a three-game sweep. The Red Sox are only one of four teams to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a first-round series, winning in 1999.
The current Red Sox are well-versed with the Indians, particularly Cleveland's top two starters -- Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, also a 19-game winner.
"I think the first thing you see is their 1-2, they're capable of dominating lineups," Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. "They've had tremendous years, the two of them. We've got to prepare ourselves. We need good pitching, we need to swing the bats. If we can do that, we'll be OK."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have three top-flight starters to go against the Indians: Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling, who were all instrumental in helping the Sox sweep the Angels in the first round.
In the din of their champagne celebration on Monday night, the Indians maintained that there would be time during the next few days to begin reassessing their opponent. The Indians have a three-day break before the start of the ALCS.
"Well, I haven't really even thought about it," said Indians manager Eric Wedge. "Everybody who knows me knows I really don't work too much past today or the particular series we're in. We've got some time to prepare. The Red Sox have had a great season. I feel like we've had a great season. You're going to have two very good teams competing in the ALCS. I've got to do some more work there. We'll have to wait to see how that plays out. But we'll have a few days here to work all that through."
This is the Red Sox's eighth trip to the ALCS, and they're 3-4 -- they defeated the A's in 1975 before losing to the Reds in that World Series; they beat the Angels in '86 prior to losing to the Mets in the World Series; and, in 2004, the Sox beat the Yankees before winning their first World Series in 86 years over the Cardinals. Their losses came in 1988 and '90 to the A's, and '99 and '03 to the Yankees. It's also worth noting that in their 2004 victory, the Red Sox became the first team in MLB history to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game series.
This will be the Indians' fourth trip to the ALCS. They defeated the Mariners in 1995 before losing the World Series to the Braves. They beat the Orioles in 1997 before losing to the Marlins, and they dropped the 1998 series to the Yankees.
With the Yankees only barely vanquished on Monday night, even Indians Game 4 starter and winner Paul Byrd wasn't ready to think about the Red Sox.
"I don't know that much about them right now," he said. "I think I'm just trying to celebrate and enjoy the moment, and we'll study Boston and figure all that out later. But nothing's tougher than coming into Yankee Stadium and pulling this off."