BOSTON -- A few eyes reddened. More than a few hugs were shared. Corrupting the quiet of the visitors' clubhouse was the distant roar of the Fenway Park crowd, as the American League championship trophy was hoisted by the home club. It could have been them.
The Indians swallowed that hard truth as best they could in the wake of their 11-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series on Sunday night. They wrestled with the knowledge that they had become just the sixth team in LCS history to see a 3-1 series lead go to waste. And then, just as they've done quite often in this season of unimaginable perseverance, they accentuated the positive -- even when it was at its most difficult to decipher. "There's no reason to hang our heads," said Jake Westbrook, whose six gutsy innings of work had made victory seem so tantalizingly obtainable earlier in the evening. "It's disappointing, yes, but you look back on it -- we came together as a team. I think we're going to look back at what a great year we had and what a great team we had. This is something we'll learn from." The lessons came hard and fast the last few days. One victory away from clinching the organization's first World Series berth in a decade, the Indians were blindsided, 30-5, over the last three games of this series. They were befuddled by Josh Beckett in Game 5, foiled by Fausto Carmona's roughshod Game 6 and ultimately eliminated in the late innings of this one, when a controversial decision by third-base coach Joel Skinner, an untimely error by Casey Blake and a deflating home run by Dustin Pedroia sealed their fate. Though the final score might not indicate as much, Game 7 was actually a Pepto Bismol-worthy affair, right up until the Indians bullpen imploded and let the Sox score eight runs in their final two at-bats. "We needed something special to happen tonight," Blake said. "It just didn't happen." Actually, the Indians got a special outing from Westbrook, who danced with danger in his first four innings of work, letting the leadoff runner aboard in each of those innings and letting him score in the first three. Boston attempted to nickel and dime Westbrook to death through ground-ball singles through the holes, but he managed to get three double-play balls to avoid a massacre. And when Westbrook suddenly found a feel for his changeup and the Indians strung together a couple mid-game runs off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, it was a 3-2 ballgame. The Indians had life, and that resonated into the stands, where general manager Mark Shapiro was expecting -- not hoping for, but expecting -- a rally. "With the way our guys battle and the way they fight," Shapiro said, "I just started to get that feeling that we were going to do it." That feeling dissipated in a hurry, though.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.