For a lesson in the madness of October -- how a series can swing in unexpected and flat-out unusual ways -- look no further than the epic American League Championship Series the Red Sox and Indians played 10 years ago this month.
It was a seven-game set in which the upstart Indians took Boston to the brink and looked primed to end what is now the longest championship drought in the sport. But as the Red Sox made their methodical march to their second title of the century, the Tribe came undone when a wide variety of factors -- from poor play to questionable coaching to strange scheduling to, believe it or not, Taylor Swift -- conspired against them.
With the possibility that these two clubs both advance to a rematch in this year's ALCS presented by Camping World (if the 2007 Red Sox could overcome a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS, perhaps the 2017 team can overcome an 0-2 hole in the ALDS), we spoke to many key figures from that 2007 bout to tell the tale of an LCS for the ages.
I. Setup Terry Francona, current Indians manager, then the Red Sox manager: Everybody knows about '04. But '07 was the emergence of [Jonathan] Papelbon, [Dustin] Pedroia, [Jacoby] Ellsbury -- the younger guys. They played such a big part in that.
Mark Shapiro, Indians general manager: We tied for best record [96 wins with Boston], but, on paper, you clearly knew how good the Red Sox were. You had a feeling they were the best team in baseball.
Eric Wedge, Indians manager: We beat the Yankees in four [in the Division Series], and somebody had brought up to me that three of their guys [Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter] made more money than our entire team. That was real to me. That meant something to me.
Paul Byrd, Indians starter: We were overachievers.
Carl Willis, current Red Sox pitching coach, then the Indians pitching coach: Opening in Fenway was such a challenge. But we had [19-game winners CC] Sabathia and [Fausto] Carmona lined up, and we felt we had a real good opportunity to come out with at least a victory.
Game 1 fit with the narrative of the Red Sox as favorites. They jumped on Sabathia, forcing him out of the game in the fifth, and Josh Beckett tamed the Tribe for a 10-3 win. But Game 2 was a 5-hour, 14-minute marathon in which Carmona [whose true name later was revealed to be Roberto Hernandez, but he will be referred to in this piece by the name he went by in '07], and Curt Schilling were chased early. The score was tied at 6 going into extras, and the Indians erupted with a seven-run 11th sparked by Trot Nixon's go-ahead RBI single against his old team.
Jensen Lewis, Indians reliever: Trot ran into the dugout just screaming. That was the turning point for us in that whole series.
Nixon: There's nothing better than that.
Byrd: When we broke it open, it was, "Hey, we belong with these guys. We're here, it's our time."
II. 3-1 The series shifted to Cleveland, where Jake Westbrook's terrific outing (6 2/3 innings, two runs allowed) was the backbone of a 4-2 Tribe victory. That left both managers with a decision to make for Game 4. Francona, for one, could have gone to Beckett on short rest instead of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
Francona: When I talked to Beckett, he said, "I'll do whatever you want, but if I'm on regular rest … [I'm going to be better]." That's all it took for me. Our goal wasn't to prolong the series. Our goal was to win the series.
And Wedge held firm to his conviction with his No. 4 starter Byrd, the veteran right-hander whose unimposing stuff seemed a mismatch against the deep Boston lineup.
Byrd: First inning, David Ortiz is up with two outs and two strikes. I do the double-pump where I swing my hands, stop and swing my hands again. I threw it as hard as I could, and it cut on the side part of the plate and it was 91 mph, and he swung and missed. I have never heard a crowd so loud in my life. I'm not exaggerating when I say I didn't know if something had happened. "My gosh, did we have an earthquake? Did something collapse?" It was so loud that it shocked me.
Byrd delivered five effective innings, and the Indians took over with seven runs in the fifth -- highlighted by a three-run blast by Jhonny Peralta -- to take the 3-1 series lead that nobody saw coming.
Lewis: We go to bed after Game 4, and it really starts to set in: "We're nine innings from making this dream come true, and we've got our ace on the mound."
Sabathia: We were confident we were going to get it done.
Tom Hamilton, Indians broadcaster: Then you had that unusual off day at home between Games 4 and 5 [the schedule has since been streamlined to include off days only on travel days]. To me, that was the first time the Indians really sat back and said, "Holy cow, we're one win away from the World Series."
Willis: I have to say the schedule worked against us. I firmly believe that, had we played the next day, it's a different outcome.
Mike Lowell, Red Sox third baseman: I do think that actually helped us. We had a little workout, informal, took BP. Nothing crazy. Afterward in the clubhouse, Ortiz and Schill were very vocal. David was more "rah rah" than you're used to from him. It was, "We're the Red Sox! We're not going down like this!"
Both teams had their aces aligned for Game 5. But thanks to a scheduling snafu, Beckett wound up with an odd extra motivator.
III. Anthem Lewis: You pull in the parking lot, and there are people five or six deep rooting you on. You walk in the concourse, and you've got all the cameras there. And then you walk into the clubhouse and go to the white board. Here's the time for the anthem, and here's who's singing the anthem. And you thought, "Oh no."
Bob DiBiasio, Indians vice president of public relations: We had announced Taylor Swift. All these years later, I'm not sure why she was unable to perform. But we had to find somebody else, and [country singer] Danielle Peck was chosen due to local connections with her people.
Lewis: The few of us that were plugged into pop culture at that point knew [Peck was Beckett's ex-girlfriend].
DiBiasio: We had absolutely no idea. None, whatsoever. I'm not that tied into the country western scene, nor the Josh Beckett dating scene. That day, the writers were asking about it, and I thought they were joking. Then you had to explain, "Do you really think that's who we are as an organization? When did we ever do anything like that before?"
Lowell: Knowing Beckett as long as I do, he has a chip on his shoulder, anyway. I've told him, "You're a good friend four out of five days. On the day you pitch, you're a jerk." So putting his ex-girlfriend out there kind of helped Josh. He didn't need extra motivation, but they provided it.
Willis: I would have rather seen Taylor Swift.
John Farrell, current Red Sox manager, then their pitching coach: Josh had the presence of mind that when the anthem started, he turned to me and said, "Just for the record, I broke up with her."
Francona: John heard that and thought, "Game over!"
Farrell: It was a sign of relaxation, a sign that, "If they're doing this to distract me, it's not working." And as it turned out, it might have honed his focus all the more.
Byrd: He had this cutter grip where, instead of cutting, he was throwing 98-mph sinkers to lefties on the inside part of the plate. Nobody else has that pitch, at that velocity. Guys were coming back to the dugout like, "We're not figuring this guy out."
Farrell: If you look at that entire month of October in '07, he was pitching that way throughout. He struck out 35 and walked two. So, we rode him.
Joe Castiglione, Red Sox broadcaster: He was fearless. He had pitched the walk-off game in the World Series against the Yankees [with the Marlins in 2003]. He was made for a game like that. That was a do-or-die situation, and he came through, big-time.
After the 7-1 win, in which Beckett allowed just a run on five hits over eight innings, somebody asked him about Peck's presence. "I don't get paid to make those [redacted] decisions," he said. "She's a friend of mine. It doesn't bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free."
IV. Back to Boston In the Indians clubhouse, first baseman Ryan Garko uttered another memorable, albeit regrettable quote: "The champagne tastes just as good on the road as it does at home." That publicly stated confidence, which would be posted in the Red Sox clubhouse back at Fenway, belied the private concern evident on the Indians' flight to Boston, where Carmona and Schilling were lined up for Game 6.
Lewis: That plane flight was dead quiet. It felt like Game 5 was our Game 7.
Wedge: If I had one great regret, I should have gotten in front of those kids when we went to Boston. I chose not to do that because I loved the kids, and I wanted to give them their freedom. All of my coaches were like, "Do your thing." I'm like, "No, I'm not going to do that." If you put a gun to my head, if I would have gotten in front of those kids and did my Knute Rockne, I'm confident we go to the World Series that year.
Farrell: You knew our home crowd was waiting for or anticipating something special. When [Schilling] finished his warmups and we walked from the bullpen to the dugout, it was a deafening and numbing ovation. He turned to me and said, "There's nowhere in America that it can get better than this moment right here."
The Red Sox loaded the bases against Carmona with none out in the first, but Manny Ramirez struck out and Lowell popped out.
Lowell: I was so upset with myself. It was like, "Are you kidding me? That was our chance to put a staple on it." And then J.D.'s [Drew's] grand slam was just monstrous. The big contract, new guy, replacing Trot, who was possibly the most polar-opposite personality. He had a lot of obstacles with the Boston fan base. And in one swing, he made up for all of it.
Castiglione: That was the biggest hit he had in his Red Sox career.
Francona: You could almost feel like, "Phew! We're OK." Because [Carmona] had a chance to pitch out of that inning.
After Boston's 12-2 win, the focus turned to the winner-take-all Game 7. But the Indians' higher-ups had an off-the-field issue to focus on, too.
V. Distraction Bart Swain, Indians media relations director: During Fausto's presser [before Game 6], my phone rang. I popped out of the room, and the reporter dropped it on me.
The San Francisco Chronicle was preparing a story that would run the morning of Game 7 and be quickly picked up by outlets across the country. The report was that Byrd, between 2002 and 2005, had bought nearly $25,000 worth of human growth hormone and syringes from a Florida anti-aging clinic targeted by law enforcement for illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
Byrd: In 2006, I had a TUE [therapeutic use exemption]. I had low testosterone. I was declined from taking testosterone in 2007. They had examined my pituitary gland and found a tumor. That was in Spring Training in 2007. At that time, they didn't give out TUEs or test for growth hormone. So when all of this came out, I'm like, "Oh, I'm fine. I've been working with the Indians and MLB, turned in all my paperwork required, everything is fine." What I didn't know is when I was taking growth hormone, I didn't know one of the doctors I was doing phone consults with had an expired license. So that was really frustrating on my part. I felt like I should have done a better job looking into the source.
Swain: We didn't want [the press conference] to be a distraction to the rest of the team on the field. At Fenway, there's no foul ground and the dugout's so small. So we did it [against the brick wall outside the visiting clubhouse]. Seeing that throng there and reporters hanging off the stairwell [listening in] was one of the most bizarre scenes ever.
Byrd: I'll never know if that affected my team in Game 7. That's something you'll always wonder.
Byrd would not pitch again in the series and never faced disciplinary action.
VI. Stop sign Indians fans will always wonder about a play in the top of the seventh inning of Game 7. The Red Sox led, 3-2, but the Tribe had Kenny Lofton at second with one out. Franklin Gutierrez ripped a single down the third-base line. The ball ricocheted off the photographer's pit and into shallow left field. Rather than test the mercurial Ramirez in left, third-base coach Joel Skinner put the stop sign on Lofton, who, at 40 years old, was still speedy.
Francona: What's hard is the third-base coach is the guy that has to make the call, and he's in the worst position of anybody in the ballpark to make it. You have to rely on the runner, and hopefully he sees it.
Lofton: Once I got past three-quarters of the way down from second to third, I'm looking straight ahead. So I didn't know what happened. I was thinking that the ball maybe caromed off and the shortstop picked it up. Then I looked back and I'm like, "Dude, the ball's right there! No one's by it!"
Skinner: I wish I would have sent him, obviously. But the ball caromed off that corner there and everything got real close. When the ball ricochets over there, everything happens in a millisecond.
Lofton: It hurt my whole body just to stop at that moment.
Wedge: Everybody put that on Joel. It was unfair. Kenny's been in the league a long time.
Skinner: I had a mason building a porch on the back of the house recently. He used my name as a reference. He was talking to a lady three weeks ago and said, "Did you call Joel?" She said, "No, he made a bad judgment call in the playoffs."
Lofton: You've got to know the situation, know your players. You know that you've got speed on second base … You've got to score.
Lewis: That's the ultimate regret. What would have happened if we tied it?
Lowell: And then Casey Blake comes up, first and third, one out. He hit me the groundball, it took just a little bit of a tricky hop and didn't go flush in my glove. But once I got it, I gave a good feed to Dustin at second. And when he turned the double play, I think it was the loudest I've ever yelled. Fenway just went absolutely ballistic.
Francona: It seemed like the whole -- not just the inning but the game and the momentum -- everything changed.
Castiglione: The Indians never had a chance to get over that, because the Red Sox opened it up in the bottom of the inning.
Willis: I'm reminded at least once a week by Dustin Pedroia that he took Rafael Betancourt deep to break that game open.
Farrell: Yeah, he brings it up often. Betancourt had a really tough arm action for a hitter to pick up, a tremendous amount of swing-and-miss, really pitched up in the zone well. Just so happens that Pedroia is such a good high-ball hitter. He was able to get on top of a fastball and hit it out of the ballpark. My recollection is pandemonium quickly took over with what might be coming in the final innings.
VII. Denouement The Red Sox piled on and won Game 7, 11-2.
Lewis: I remember all of us standing top shelf when the game ended. Ortiz came off the pile and kind of tipped his cap to us. That was an amazing series, a great fight. And then the emotions just boiled over in the clubhouse.
Shapiro: As you go along in your career and realize how hard it is, you get a little bitter about not having taken advantage of the opportunity.
Nixon: I never felt we choked. We just got beat.
Lowell: We went to Game On and were bartenders for a while. It was just a relief.
Francona: My guess is whoever won that series was going to win the World Series.
Farrell: The Rockies had won their NLCS in four straight, so they were sitting around for eight days. To have such a long layoff and [face] a team coming off a hard-fought seven game series on a roll, that's a tough tide to stem.
LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies reliever: Once we got to five, six days [off], we were like, "Man, I hope we can turn the light switch back on." The Red Sox were coming off a hard-fought series.
Francona: It was like the Yankees series [in 2004]. It took everything we had. That your worry is, "Do we have enough left?" But both times we went in and swept the World Series.
The Indians, on the other hand, have the 2007 ALCS as one of the many "what ifs" and "if onlys" that have colored the franchise's ongoing 69-year title drought. Sabathia was traded to the Brewers the following summer, just ahead of his free agency, and the young core that put the Indians on the precipice of the AL pennant never got back to October together again.
Sabathia: I think about it all the time. I feel like if I would have pitched better, we would have won the World Series that year and gave that city something that would have been special. But it was our only crack at it, and we just came up a little short.
Perhaps a rematch is in order.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. MLB.com reporters Jordan Bastian, David Adler and Thomas Harding contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.