Beckett breathes new life into Red Sox

CLEVELAND -- Manny Ramirez was right: The sun will come up Friday morning.

Children will laugh in the park. Tourists will check out the autumn foliage in New England. And somewhere in the heart of Westchester County, N.Y., Joe Torre will contemplate a future without George, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner.

As a bonus, we finally have a postseason baseball series worth watching.

The Boston Red Sox don't have to plunge into wait-until-next-year mode just yet, because they have a minimum of nine more innings left to play this season. Down to their last gasp, before a Cleveland Indians crowd just yearning to celebrate, the Red Sox guaranteed that the Head of the Charles Regatta will not be the focal point of the Boston sports scene this weekend.

Josh Beckett, adding yet more luster to his reputation as an October money man, outpitched C.C. Sabathia for his third straight superlative outing, and Boston postponed the inevitable hand-wringing and Terry Francona second-guessing festival with a 7-1 victory before 44,588 drained, dispirited Indians fans at Jacobs Field.

Before the Sox and Tribe hooked up, your average Ellen DeGeneres dog-adoption saga had more suspense than the 2007 postseason. All three National League playoff series were sweeps. In the American League Division Series, Boston swept the Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland took care of the New York Yankees in four.

Now we've got some honest-to-goodness suspense awaiting us. The Indians, who looked completely ill-equipped to seal the deal Thursday, still lead this best-of-seven series 3-2. But now, they will have to duplicate the performance of the 1995 and 1997 Cleveland NL champions and win the pennant on the road.

The matchups appear to favor Cleveland, with 19-game winner Fausto Carmona taking on Curt Schilling in Game 6 on Saturday and Jake Westbrook opposing Daisuke Matsuzaka in a possible Game 7 on Sunday.

But any benefits the Indians derive from the pitching are sure to be outweighed by Boston's home-field advantage and the frenzied atmosphere of Fenway Park. The Red Sox went 51-30 at home this season, and the Indians won Game 2 at Fenway by a 13-6 score despite Carmona, not because of him.

Now, the Indians are sure to be engulfed by questions about Boston's miracle comeback against the Yankees in 2004 and the Schilling "bloody sock" game. You could sense a whole new mood in a Boston clubhouse that seemed beleaguered after losses to Westbrook and Paul Byrd in the first two games in Cleveland.

"I think we accomplished part one," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "We wanted to win this game and get it back to Boston. Now we have one super important game on Saturday. That's the only thing that should be on our mind right now."

If there's a reason for the Indians to feel good, it's because they are finished with Beckett, who will not be a factor again in this series after Francona's decision not to start him on short rest Tuesday.

Or will he? After Game 5, Beckett speculated that he might be able to give the Red Sox a couple of innings out of the bullpen Sunday, if necessary. Who knows? Maybe he'll be ready for more.

"Obviously, I'm preparing myself for them to ask me that," Beckett said. "I think that would be something I could do."

In a bizarre quirk of fate, the Indians invited one of Beckett's former girlfriends, country singer Danielle Peck, to perform the national anthem Thursday. Purely coincidental, according to club spokesman Bob DiBiasio.

"If we were that good, we would have invited Leann Tweeden to throw out the first pitch," DiBiasio said, referring to another former Beckett girlfriend.

Not that Beckett seemed to care. At this time of year, he's immune to anything short of Kryptonite.

"I don't get paid to make those [expletive] decisions," Beckett said of Peck's appearance. "She's a friend of mine, so it doesn't bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free."

With his eight-inning, 11-strikeout masterpiece Thursday, Beckett now is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in the postseason for his career. In 65 2/3 innings, he's struck out 73 batters, walked 13 and allowed a mere 34 hits. And his teammates are running out of superlatives.

Lowell, who was playing for the Florida Marlins in 2003 when Beckett threw a complete-game shutout on three days' rest against the Yankees in the World Series clincher, ranked Thursday's start among Beckett's best in light of the stakes and the expectations.

"He's expected to have a good outing, and he has a great outing," Lowell said. "It just shows you he has something other guys don't have. There's a much different feeling when he takes the mound than any other guy. I admire it. I don't really know how to explain it. But I'm really glad he's on my team."

The only time Beckett seemed flustered was in the fifth inning, when he yapped at Cleveland outfielder Kenny Lofton, who had just dropped his bat and started heading toward first base in response to a ball four that wasn't.

Lofton, true to form, yapped back and approached the mound after flying out to left field. The benches cleared and the bullpens emptied before order was restored.

I know Fenway is going to be pretty electric. It's going to be a great atmosphere. It's going to be fun.

--Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell

No big deal, according to Boston catcher Jason Varitek.

"It's two competitive people, period," Varitek said. "Nothing escalated. Nothing ended up being a problem. Nobody got thrown out. We got to play the game."

Beckett spent most of the night sucking the life out of Jacobs Field, forcing the Indians to swing late or awkwardly and prompting the fans to sit on their "It's Tribe Time Now" towels.

It's amazing how quickly the mood has turned for the Indians. Manager Eric Wedge expressed disappointment in his hitters' failure to adjust against Beckett. And no one seems more lost than designated hitter Travis Hafner, who went 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts and a double-play grounder during the three games in Cleveland.

As for the Red Sox, well, the prospect of a change of venue has done wonders for their collective spirits.

"I know Fenway is going to be pretty electric," Lowell said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere. It's going to be fun."

For one of these two teams, anyway.

"We have a chance," Varitek said. "It's the same thing as going into [Game 5]. We have a chance."

As the Boston players will tell you, to a man, that beats the heck out of the alternative.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.