A dizzying white sea of towel-waving Cleveland fans shook Jacobs Field, which quickly turned into a mine field for the Red Sox during the fifth inning of a 7-3 Game 4 loss in the American League Championship Series. The Sox ran into some tough luck and poor relief, and Cleveland pounced on Boston's misfortunes, moving the Tribe within one win of reaching the World Series.
"It's very stunning," said Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, who set Boston's tailspin in motion in the fifth. "You work and prepare and do all the things you're supposed to do, and sometimes a break's got to go your way."
The evening was going Wakefield's way for the first four innings. The knuckleballer surrendered no hits to the first 13 Indians hitters he faced, initially making Boston manager Terry Francona appear wise for starting Wakefield instead of 20-game winner Josh Beckett on short rest.
With two outs in the fourth inning, though, Wakefield finally came back to Earth, turning to watch one of his signature pitches bounce off the wall in left field for a double by Jhonny Peralta. Suddenly, the Indians realized that Wakefield was indeed hittable, and that epiphany revealed itself in force an inning later.
"It took us a few innings to figure out what we were doing," Cleveland catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "We needed to make him get the ball up. We were struggling, but once Jhonny got that double, we figured we could hit him."
And hit him they did.
The first blow came on a 65-mph knuckler, which Indians third baseman Casey Blake deposited well over the left-field fence for a solo home run. Franklin Gutierrez followed with a single, Shoppach was hit by pitch and Cleveland then put runners on the corners with a fielder's choice groundout off the bat of Grady Sizemore.
"The guys did a good job of moving it along down the line," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said, "and working hard to get to the next guy and pushing the inning forward."
For the Red Sox, the inning took another step backward when Asdrubal Cabrera stepped into the batter's box for the Indians. Cabrera hacked at one of Wakefield's knuckleballs, sending it high into the air in foul territory down the right-field line.
Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis tracked down the ball and appeared set to make a crucial catch. Instead, the baseball bounced off his glove, eluding both Youkilis and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who stumbled while trying to snare the ball. Both came up empty, resulting in a harmless foul ball.
"It was weird," Pedroia said. "He kind of slipped, and then I slipped and ran into him. The ball was just bouncing everywhere. If he catches that ball and the runner doesn't go home, maybe we're out of that inning with the next batter. A lot of things went on that just didn't go our way tonight."
Case in point, Cabrera followed by chopping a pitch up the middle, where Pedroia looked primed to turn an inning-ending double play. Wakefield stretched to his left and the ball ricocheted off the tip of his glove, falling into no-man's land between the pitcher and Pedroia. That allowed Gutierrez to race home to put the Sox behind, 2-0.
"The line drive," Wakefield said, "if I catch it, it's a double play, and if I let it go, it's a double play. It just nicks the end of my glove and keeps the inning going."
"I was right there," Pedroia said. "I was playing [Cabrera] up the middle and Wake reacted. He knows I'm back there, but if he can get it, we turn it, too. That was kind of a tough break for us there."
The bleeding continued two batters later, when Cleveland's Victor Martinez sent a two-out offering from Wakefield into left field for an RBI single that upped Boston's deficit to three runs. Seeing that, Francona decided he'd seen enough, summoning hard-throwing right-hander Manny Delcarmen from the Red Sox bullpen.
For the third straight game of the 2007 ALCS, the Red Sox's starting pitcher lasted only 4 2/3 innings.
"The formula that we used tonight," Francona explained, "bringing in Manny Delcarmen behind Wake, is something we've done a lot this year, because of the differential and the speeds giving hitters different looks."
Unfortunately for Boston, the transitional period was brief for Peralta. He drilled a 96-mph fastball that was up in the strike zone deep to right field, where it carried over the wall for a damaging three-run homer. Delcarmen then yielded consecutive singles to put the Red Sox behind, 7-0 -- a lead that proved to be far too much to overcome.
"It's the postseason and you have to stop the bleeding as quick as possible," Wakefield said. "Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to do that. Then, Peralta hit the three-run homer and kind of put the game out of reach."
Delcarmen understands the magnitude of his poor showing, which helped put the Red Sox on the brink of elimination.
"You can't really make mistakes right now, especially to these good hitters," Delcarmen said. "I tip my hat to him. I left it up and he took advantage. They won. It kind of [stinks]."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.