CLEVELAND – Led by a throwback pitcher who looks as if he stepped out of their 1948 team photo, the Cleveland Indians moved one win from another crack at winning an elusive World Series title.
Pumping his arms with an old-school windup from yesteryear, Paul Byrd blanked Boston long enough and the Indians used a seven-run rampage in the fifth inning to beat the Red Sox 7-3 Tuesday night for a 3-1 lead in the AL championship series.
The Indians, who knocked out the New York Yankees and their monstrous payroll in the first round of the playoffs, now have the free-spending Red Sox on the ropes. Even three straight homers couldn't rally Boston.
A victory in Game 5 on Thursday night would send Cleveland back to the World Series for the first time since 1997, when the Indians lost a seven-game thriller to the Florida Marlins.
After a day off, the Indians will turn to ace C.C. Sabathia, their left-handed leader. Boston's Josh Beckett, who beat Cleveland in Game 1 at home, will try to send the series back to Fenway Park.
Another Series first-timer — the amazing Colorado Rockies — are patiently waiting for an opponent.
And it just might be the Indians, who haven't won a world championship since '48, when they beat the Boston Braves. Cleveland's 59-year drought is only eclipsed by the Chicago Cubs, those lovable losers whose futility now extends to 99 years this fall after an early-October flame out.
These Indians are burning brightly.
Casey Blake homered leading off the fifth inning against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, whose now-you-see-it-now-you-don't pitch had Cleveland's hitters swinging at air for nearly four innings.
But in the fifth, helped by a dropped foul pop and a ball seemingly destined for an inning-ending double play that tipped off Wakefield's glove, the Indians blew it open by hanging a seven spot on the scoreboard — just as they did in the 11th inning at Fenway Park to win Game 2.
Cleveland batted for 35 minutes in the fifth, and the down time seemed to hurt Byrd, who gave up back-to-back homers in a seven-pitch span to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to open the sixth before Indians manager Eric Wedge rescued him.
As Byrd walked to the dugout in favor of rookie Jensen Lewis, Cleveland's towel-twirling fans saluted the 36-year-old, who instead of trying to blow pitches past hitters, uses off-speed stuff to fool them.
Lewis gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez, who posed to admire his 451-foot shot, as the Red Sox became the first team in ALCS history to hit three straight homers.
They came too late as the Red Sox missed a chance to even the series and now must hope they can conjure up some of their 2004 magic when they came back from an 0-3 deficit, beat the Yankees four straight and swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the Series.
Byrd found his unique windup almost by accident. Following shoulder surgery in 2002, he began swinging his arms, hoping the momentum it created might give him more velocity. After trying it out during batting practice, a few teammates told him they had a hard time picking up the ball.
That's all he needed to hear.