The history of Cleveland sports is hung on a timeline of defeat. Born by bad luck and even worse collapses, Cleveland’s sports failures are noted by a functional shorthand for the heartbreak and pain that is the bridesmaid of all Cleveland sports successes. The Drive. The Fumble. Red Right 88. Jose Mesa. To that most inglorious of lists we can now add one more name: Joel Skinner.
Joel Skinner will be forever remembered in Cleveland lore as the guy who put up the stop sign on the Indians’ chances of winning the 2007 pennant. He made an egregious error that cost the team the tying run late in Game 7, holding Kenny Lofton at third base on a single down the left field line by Franklin Gutierrez. Skinner’s name will never be spoken without evoking that most painful of memories, the day the 2007 Cleveland Indians came to rest, aged 102 wins, 70 losses.
But Joel Skinner did not cost the Indians the pennant.
While assigning blame for such an epic failure so soon after its arrival might but be crass, it is nonetheless worth doing if only to better understand just what it is Joel Skinner’s name will be standing in for in all the years to come. Because let’s face it. There are only two undeniable truths about the 2007 ALCS: there’s a lot of blame to go around and Joel Skinner will be remembered for all of it.
* CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona finished the regular season as two of the best pitchers in all of baseball and they entered the series as the two guys everyone counted on to shut down the Red Sox. They were our aces in the hole. They were pitching four times combined. They were the biggest reason why this team had a shot at the title.
Then they pitched and came down on the wrong side of history. This was the first time ever in the ALCS that a team had two pitchers start two games each where both finished with an ERA higher than 10.00. Sabathia’s ERA was 10.45. For Carmona, 16.50. They combined for 38 wins during the regular season but when 0-3 in the ALCS. That the Indians managed to win three games is a testament to a team who, without either ace, no on would have given a chance in the series.
* Travis Hafner was a hole in the middle of the lineup. He went 4-27 with 12 strikeouts. In Game 7 he came to bat with two runners on base and the team down by three runs. Three pitches later he struck out.
* Jhonny Peralta completely disappeared after hitting what turned out to be the game-winning home run in Game 4. He had one hit in his final 10 at bats and manned the infield like a guy with shoelaces tied together. With two sinkerball pitchers on the mound in Carmona and Westbrook, Peralta’s lack of range was costly.
* Grady Sizemore failed to catch a lazy fly ball that got caught up in the wind in Game 5. The result was a 380 foot single for Manny Ramirez and a run for the Red Sox. Then he misplayed another fly ball later in the game that cost the team a couple more runs. At the plate he went 3-17 over the last five games.
* The Indians drew 16 walks in the series. The Red Sox, 31. Attribute this to the Indians’ lack of patience, Boston’s over-abundance of patience, and a healthy dose of getting squeezed by the umpires.
* Eric Wedge made a few poor decisions, the most glaring being brining in CC Sabathia to start the seventh inning in Game 5 and then not pulling him after a leadoff double by Dustin Pedroia. Youkilis was next to bat and had tagged CC for a homer to start the game. He promptly tripled. Entering the seventh the Indians trailed only 3-2, with a fully rested Betancourt waiting in the bullpen. With an off day on Friday Betancourt could have gone two innings. Instead he came in couple batters too late.
* The umpiring was comically bad, particularly behind home plate. Strike zones changed from pitch to pitch. When you face a team as patient as the Red Sox getting squeezed out of the strike zone is absolutely deadly. When you’re as aggressive as the Indians, thinking every pitch could be a strike no matter where it’s thrown is a recipe for failure. Is it any surprise that the Indians struck out 63 times compared to Boston’s 43?
And do not discount the importance of the missed call in Game 7 where Lofton attempted to stretch a Fenway single into a double. He appeared safe in real time and it was confirmed on replay. Unfortunately the 2B umpire called him out. Were he called safe he could have scored on Gutierrez’s single, with Gutierrez’s eventual run tying the game instead of bringing the Indians to within one.
There are probably other areas to find fault, and the Red Sox ought to be complimented on their victory. They earned it as much as the Indians gave it away, if not more so. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen here, at least not right now. Right now it’s about remember the Indians and the 2007 season, the one in which we came so close but ended up about 90 feet short.