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Friday, October 19, 2007

Electric Beckett dominates Indians

Red Sox ace twirls another gem, forces Game 6 on Saturday
By Ian Browne / MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The Red Sox aren't just going back home. They are going back to play some more baseball. With elimination staring his team in the face, Josh Beckett never blinked, pitching yet another postseason gem in leading the Red Sox to a 7-1 victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night at Jacobs Field.
Following an off-day on Friday, the Red Sox will again try to stay alive in Saturday night's Game 6, when they send Curt Schilling to the mound at what figures to be an electric Fenway Park.

The Indians lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, meaning they still have two more chances to get to the World Series.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, knew their margin was at zero, and they played like it.

In particular, Beckett pitched like it while improving to 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA this postseason. Over eight innings, the Red Sox ace allowed just one run on five hits while fanning a season-high 11 batters.

"I felt good," said Beckett. "Like we always say, it's easy when you've got everything going. Once again, I had great defense and I held them off just long enough for us to put up some runs. It was a team effort. We know what we have to do now: We have to win."

That's all Beckett has done this October. And at the age of 27, he is quickly establishing himself as a legendary performer this time of year, pushing his career postseason record to 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA.

"He's the man. He's the man in the playoffs," said Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who has transformed into a media darling in this series while remaining a hitting machine. "That's why he's our No. 1 starter. We've got a lot of confidence in him."

The Red Sox are still alive in their quest to try to become the 11th team in the history of postseason play to rally back from a 3-1 deficit.

"We just have to keep grinding it out," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "Our backs are still against the wall. We just have to play it pitch by pitch and go from there."

While Beckett was front and center in this win, the offense also regained its groove. Pedroia went 2-for-4 from the leadoff spot. Kevin Youkilis homered and tripled while driving in three runs. David Ortiz added a hit, two walks and two RBIs, while Ramirez went 2-for-4 and narrowly missed hitting a home run.

The Red Sox didn't trail once.

"I think getting ahead was a huge factor for us in this game," said Youkilis. "We know when Josh Beckett is on the mound, we know maybe that one run could be all we need in a game."

Clinging to a 2-1 lead after five, the Red Sox finally got the insurance they seemed to be on the cusp of all night against Indians ace C.C. Sabathia.

Pedroia led off the sixth with a double to right-center and Youkilis brought him home with a triple that went off the glove of a diving Grady Sizemore. Indians manager Eric Wedge then lifted Sabathia in favor of Rafael Betancourt, and Ortiz lofted a sacrifice fly to left to make it 4-1.

"When we have the little guys getting on base, it's a totally different situation," said Ortiz. "We had the little guys on base and the middle of the lineup comes up to hit."

And hit they did.

The Sox broke it open with three in the eighth, sending eight batters to the plate.

"We really did a good job getting runners on base early, but we didn't do a whole lot with it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "But we stayed at it and stayed at it and finally cashed in."

Looking to play with a lead, the Red Sox got one quick as Youkilis belted a solo homer to left with one out in the first. With two outs, Ramirez hit a double to left-center. Mike Lowell followed with a single to right, but Ramirez was thrown out at the plate by Indians right fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

The Indians bounced right back in the bottom of the first, as Sizemore led off with a bloop double down the line in left. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a single to right, setting up runners at the corners with nobody out. Travis Hafner then hit into a 6-3 double play, but Sizemore crossed home with the tying run.

"I thought I executed my pitches pretty well in the first inning," said Beckett. "Just unfortunately you give up a bloop hit to a guy that's ... good hitters find ways to get hits, and Grady is definitely one of those."

After that, Beckett basically pulled the plug on the Indians, throwing his mid-to-upper-90s heat on the corners and dropping in curveballs at will.

"He was unbelievable," said Ortiz. "We have a lot of confidence in Josh, and I'm pretty sure the rest of our pitching staff is going to put it together just like he did."

Back came the Red Sox in the third, with the top of the order again making things happen. Pedroia led off with a single to right. After Youkilis hit into a double play, Ortiz drew a walk. Up stepped Ramirez, who lofted a drive to right-center that landed on the top of the yellow line that rests above the wall before bouncing back into play.

Ortiz came home and Ramirez, who thought it was a homer off the bat, settled for an RBI single that made it 2-1 Red Sox. Ramirez and Francona both argued vehemently that it was a home run, but the umpiring crew, after huddling for a bit, stuck with the original call. According to the Jacobs Field ground rules, a ball must be hit over the yellow line to be a home run.

"I thought it was out [of the park], but what can I say," Ramirez said.

As it turns out, it didn't much matter.

The bottom of the fifth began with an interesting wrinkle. Kenny Lofton worked Beckett to a 3-0 count and then thought he had walked on the next pitch. But it was ruled a strike. Perhaps Beckett was upset that Lofton presumed he had walked. Because once Lofton popped the next pitch into shallow left, Beckett appeared to shout something in his direction. Lofton was not amused, and after turning the corner at first base, he went towards Beckett. Both benches emptied briefly but nothing came of it.

Beckett and Lofton had a similar war of words in 2005 during a Marlins-Phillies game.

"It was a lot of stuff," said Beckett. "It kind of goes back before today. Those things have a way of working themselves out though."

Casey Blake and Sizemore then produced consecutive singles, but Beckett blew a 97-mph heater by Cabrera to end that threat.

Though Beckett won't start another game in this series, he all but vowed to be there if his team needs him out of the bullpen in a potential Game 7.

"We'll delve into that later," Beckett said. "Obviously I'm preparing myself for them to ask me that, and as of right now, yeah, I think that would be something I could do."

But all Beckett was thinking about in Game 5 was getting his team another game. That mission was accomplished in dominant fashion.

"Awesome," said Pedroia. "He's been doing it all year long. That's why he's one of the best in the game. He dealt tonight."

And thanks in large part to that, Fenway Park is not yet closed for the season.

Joe Torre refuses to take pay cut, walks away from Yankees

Friday, October 19th 2007, 4:00 AM

It's the end of an era.

Yankee skipper Joe Torre yesterday rejected a one-year, "performance-based," $5 million contract to return as manager of the Bronx Bombers, ending a historic run in which he took the team to four World Championships and 12 straight playoff appearances.

The end came after a face-to-face showdown in Tampa with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in which The Boss refused to sweeten an offer Torre felt he could not accept.

The 67-year-old Torre, looking defiant but tired, returned in darkness to his home in Harrison, Westchester County, where he was met by a gang of photographers, flashes popping at machine-gun speed.

"It's been fun," Torre's wife, Ali, said after her husband walked into the house. "It's always difficult to say goodbye, but there's always hello."

As Torre slammed the door on prospects he might return to run the team he has managed since being hired in 1995, Yankees President Randy Levine said he was ready to find someone else to fill Torre's big shoes. "It is now time for the New York Yankees to move forward," Levine said.

Tributes to Torre, the first New Yorker to manage the Yankees, began pouring in as word of his refusal to bend to Steinbrenner's will rocked the sports world.

"This is a very sad day for anybody who is a Yankee fan," said Yankee fan-in-chief Rudy Giuliani. "Joe Torre was what I think athletes would describe as a class guy. Somebody who transcended baseball."

Mayor Bloomberg lauded Torre as a "great New Yorker who brought historic leadership and excitement - and incredible success - to the Bronx for the past 12 seasons."

Torre's fierce rival, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, added, "I think you're going to hear people in baseball, every area of baseball, say very, very kind, respectful things about Joe the next couple days, and they're all deserved."

Torre's fate had been hanging in the balance for 10 days, since the Yanks were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

During that time, speculation abounded that bench coach Don Mattingly, Yankees broadcaster Joe Girardi or other baseball stalwarts such as Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and ex-Mets manager Bobby Valentine might replace Torre.

Yesterday, general manager Brian Cashman, Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost and Levine surprised Yanks watchers by flying Torre to Tampa to meet with The Boss.

Torre had been offered a one-year deal that would have boosted his pay to $8 million if the team made it to the World Series. He flew to Tampa to try to get Steinbrenner to agree to a two-year deal.

"Everybody in this room, including The Boss, wanted him back," Cashman said. But Steinbrenner wouldn't budge and Torre stood up, shook his hand and left, sources told the Daily News.

The offer was a substantial pay cut for Torre, who made $7.5 million in the final year of his three-year, $19.2 million contract - and was the highest-paid manager in Major League Baseball.

"Joe Torre turned down that offer," Levine said after Torre flew back home.

Asked why, Levine said, "We're going to let Joe speak for himself." Torre is set to do just that today at a 2 p.m. press conference in Rye.

Levine explained the thinking behind their "performance-based" contract offer.

"We all have the same goal and that goal wasn't met," he said. "We thought we needed to go to a performance-based model."

Levine said the Yanks' failure to reach the World Series was "not one person's fault. ... It was collectively all of our faults."

Levine also said the offer was "very fair" and "clearly was at the top of the market."

Torre did not lose his cool during the talks.

"Joe was very respectful," Levine said. "He was the dignified man he has been. There was no acrimony, we had an open discussion and he declined the offer."

Superagent Scott Boras, who represents Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez, said Torre had no choice.

"It is ... near impossible to accept a salary cut," Boras told The Associated Press. "Successful people can afford their principles."

After landing at Westchester County Airport, Torre drove home in his gray Mercedes. The house was decorated for Halloween with a Frankenstein hanging from a tree out front and a skeleton emerging from the ground beside an ominous RIP headstone.

Dressed in jeans and a striped shirt, and carrying an issue of USA Today and a briefcase, Torre left the car engine running and did not speak as he made his way to the door. His hand appeared to be shaking as he fit the key into the lock.

Minutes later, Torre's wife pulled up in a silver Mercedes and joined her husband inside. After about five minutes, she came out and turned off the ignition to his car.

"I've got to turn the light off," she said.

Torre has been the Bombers' manager longer than anybody except the legendary Casey Stengel - and the first to guide the Yanks to 12 straight postseason appearances. When Torre succeeded Buck Showalter, the Yankees had not won the World Series since 1978. Few expected the Brooklyn-born Torre to do much better. The Daily News greeted him with the headline, "CLUELESS JOE."

Torre proved everybody wrong. With a mixture of off-field stoicism and on-field success, he kept the meddling Steinbrenner at bay.

Torre also inspired many men to take better care of themselves by going public with his prostate-cancer battle.

Torre's end was foretold last year when he was nearly fired after the Yanks were ousted from the Division Series - despite having the most expensive payroll in baseball.

Just before the Yankees fell to the Cleveland Indians last week, Steinbrenner made it clear that Torre's head was on the block. At the meeting with Torre yesterday, the 77-year-old team owner let his sons, Hank and Hal, do the talking.

"The objective of the Yankees since the '20s has been to win the championship every year," Hank Steinbrenner said. "None of us think we can win the championship every year, but that's the goal."

Torre's exit also puts the future of possibly departing Yankees Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada in doubt.

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