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Game 4 win not crucial, but pretty big

Game 4 win not crucial, but pretty big

CLEVELAND -- The math suggests it's not a must-win game, especially given the comebacks in Red Sox postseason history. Yet given what awaits the Sox and Indians, Game 4 could decide the command of the American League Championship Series.

Out of the 10 other times that the ALCS was tied at 1-1 since going to a best-of-seven format in 1985, eight Game 3 winners have gone on to win the series. However, the Indians know that the pattern has exceptions. They got to the World Series in 1995 after dropping Game 3 to the Mariners to face a 2-1 series deficit. Three years later, they took a 2-1 series lead before the '98 Yankees showed their dominance by winning three straight games.

The Tribe also came home with a 1-1 series tie 10 years ago before taking Game 3 from the Orioles. The key was to follow it up with a Game 4 win, which they pulled off with a walk-off victory. From there, the Indians went on to win the series in six.

Paul Byrd can't clinch this one for them, unlike the AL Division Series. Yet a win on Tuesday night would put them one win away from the World Series with their big duo of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona coming back around in the rotation for rematches in Games 5 and 6 (if necessary). Their struggles in the first two games doesn't guarantee anything, but given the situation, the Indians would be glad to take their chances that one of them could give them a shot.

To get to that point, they'll first have to count on another solid outing from the formerly forgotten man of the Indians' rotation. When Byrd took the mound at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 8 for Game 4 of their ALDS, he was the secondary figure in the headline story -- the debate over why manager Eric Wedge chose not to start Sabathia on short rest. Five innings of two-run ball later, that question was moot, and Byrd was no longer a bit player in the Tribe's postseason run.

"I think the whole world wanted C.C. out on the mound, except for my mom, Eric Wedge and my wife," Byrd said on Monday. "So the fact that he went with me, I think it made me feel really good. I can sit there and get angry and say that I don't get any respect and I want to prove everybody wrong -- that's really not me. I'd rather be focused on proving a few people right, and he was one of them."

Byrd's win in that game set up Sabathia and Carmona to be well-rested for the first two games of the ALCS. A win on Tuesday wouldn't affect their rest at all, but it would at least lessen the pressure on the dynamic duo as they try to bounce back from their rough outings over the weekend in Boston.

Instead of debating Byrd, the question of starting an ace on short rest this time fell on Boston, where Game 1 starter Josh Beckett is coming off an 85-pitch performance in the series opener. Moving him up, however, was never a consideration, and the ball goes to knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for the first time since Sept. 29.

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As Byrd jokingly advertised it, it could be the slowest-throwing matchup of right-handed pitchers that a postseason game has seen. But it's also a matchup of two savvy veteran starters that could provide the most unlikely of pitching duels in a series that has seen all three games decided in no small part from struggling starters. Sabathia didn't stand much of a chance with five walks in Game 1, Curt Schilling was unable to hold an early lead in Game 2 and Daisuke Matsuzaka was gone by the end of the fifth inning on Monday.

While Wakefield's knuckleball is one of the hardest pitches in the game to hit when he's on, Byrd forces opponents to hit his pitch by challenging hitters and issuing the fewest walks in the league by a regular starter.

Whoever wins the challenge puts his team in control. A Red Sox victory would merely tie the series at 2-2, but it would give the dominant Beckett a chance to send his team back home with a series lead that could make Game 3 a distant memory.

Jason Beck 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" ] }