Until the Red Sox's 11th-inning meltdown proved decisive in the Indians' 13-6 win, Boston and Cleveland called upon a series of strike-throwing bullpen hands, each more capable than the last. In 2007, the Red Sox posted the second-best bullpen ERA in baseball (3.10), and the Tribe finished sixth (3.73), while walking the fewest batters.
Game 2 tested the depth of both groups. But on Saturday, one was better.
No player typified the Indians' unheralded crew better than Tom Mastny, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who logged just 12 appearances after July 26.
"It was a battle," Mastny said. "Tonight's game was a battle. Both starters struggled a little bit. The bullpens came in, and we just fought."
Mastny entered in an unenviable position in the bottom of the 10th. When any swing could have ended the game, the 26-year-old had to face a one-two-three tag team of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell, who to that point combined to go 9-for-17 with 12 RBIs in the two ALCS games.
"You know who it is," Mastny said, "and you hear the crowd cheering. But you know, you've just got to focus and make your pitch."
On a 3-1 fastball, Ortiz grounded so hard to second that shortstop Jhonny Peralta, shifted over from his usual position, couldn't glove the ball, and it hit him in his chest. He picked it up, fired to first, and nailed Ortiz by a step.
Mastny then sat down Ramirez and Lowell on fly balls to right. Lowell's swing was all arms as he fought a 91-mph fastball to the opposite field before flinging his bat in disgust.
Mastny hadn't pitched in the postseason before two innings of mopup work in Friday's 10-3 loss.
"Tonight, with the dead heart of their lineup," said pitching coach Carl Willis, "to come in an extra-inning game in a tie situation, obviously, and get those guys out, that's an awful lot for him to feel good about."
"I think you've got to give him all the credit in the world," said first baseman Ryan Garko of Mastny. "We had the hardest time getting them out. And he came in and just went after them."
And yet Mastny was just one of a host of youthful heroes in the Tribe bullpen Saturday night. Jensen Lewis, a 23-year-old Vanderbilt product who pitched exactly 26 times in his rookie Major League season, was called on to stop the Red Sox attack in the fifth.
Ramirez and Lowell had just homered back-to-back, giving the Red Sox a 6-5 lead and feeding a crowd frenzy. When Lewis came in after a J.D. Drew single, the Boston bats immediately went cold.
From that point until Joe Borowski entered the game to close out the 11th, Lewis, Rafael Betancourt and Mastny combined to throw 5 2/3 electrifying innings, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out four. Lewis started the stretch by inducing a double-play ball off the bat of Jason Varitek.
"He stopped it right there," Willis said of Lewis. "You can't say enough about him. He started the season in Double-A and stepped in at the Major League level. And he's not intimidated by the surroundings or anything else. He goes right at people."
Betancourt presided over a dominant 2 1/3-inning stretch in which he faced the entire Boston order. Betancourt's last opponent, the Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis, was his toughest.
Hurling fastball after mid-90s fastball into the teeth of Youkilis' swing, Betancourt kept the Indians alive while the potential winning run, Jacoby Ellsbury, straddled second. Youkilis drove the 11th fastball he saw into left center on the fly.
"I guess off the bat, it kind of skipped a heartbeat there," Willis said. "But then, you know, once I got my eyes on Grady and saw how he was moving, I've seen enough of him to know that he's going got get there."
Sizemore zipped under the ball and made the catch.
"It was a long at-bat," Sizemore said. "It was tough. It's one of those at-bats where you feel like the ball's going to come to you every pitch. And he just kept fouling them off. You just want to try to stay in there and stay focused, and you end up going through every situation in your head."
Indians fans might never have imagined, given two final tours by a lineup that had blistered its aces in the first two games, that three relievers with eight years of combined experience would shut down the Sox.
But that's exactly what Lewis, Betancourt and Mastny did, when one swing could have been Boston's last.
"One bad pitch, one mistake and the game is over," said Joe Borowski, who closed out the win. "You don't get an at-bat again. So I thought the guys came in and did a fantastic job. And they've been doing it all year."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less