This could be it.
Monday evening at 6:00pm ET, the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians are scheduled to play Game 3 of the American League Divisional Series.
The Red Sox find themselves down 0-2 in the best-of-five series, which means that a loss Monday would be the end of the 2016 season for the Red Sox, and the end of a hall-of-fame career for Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz.
The first two games of this series have offered up zero reasons for Red Sox fans to be optimistic.
In Game 1 the Indians chased Rick Porcello early and held on to win 5-4. Game 2 was a disaster with alleged Red Sox ace David Price lasting less than four innings and allowing five earned runs.
For all the griping about Price, the reality is that Price could have pitched eight innings of three-hit, one-run baseball with 11 strikeouts, and the Red Sox still would have lost 1-0. It might have felt better, but they’d still be down 0-2.
Pitching is of critical importance, that’s not up for debate, but if you don’t score runs, you don’t win. Friday the Red Sox, owners of the best offense in the majors, were totally shut down by Indians ace Corey Kluber.
Monday is a new day though, and the game is being played at home. Clay Buchholz takes the mound for the Red Sox, he’s been one of the team’s better starters over the last few months.
Can the Red Sox win? Not only that, but can they come back from the 0-2 hole they’ve dug themselves?
Yes, they absolutely can. As Kevin Millar once said, “don’t let us win today.”
Millar was 100 percent right back in 2004, and make no mistake about it, a win on Sunday would be a momentum changer.
Cleveland is one of the weaker road teams to qualify for the playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles were the only teams to make the playoff with road record worse than Cleveland’s 41-39 mark.
Then there’s the whole pitching issue. Eduardo Rodriguez is scheduled to start for the Red Sox if a Game 4 is needed, were he to win Boston could send Rick Porcello back to the hill in a decisive Game 5 this coming Wednesday.
Then there’s the little matter of history. Everyone knows about the Red Sox epic comeback against the New York Yankees back in 2004. It is arguably the most memorable postseason series in major league history.
There have been some other epic Red Sox playoff comebacks, and two of them have come against the Cleveland Indians.
One of them followed the same blueprint that the current series has been following.
In October of 1999 the Red Sox faced the Indians in the ALDS. Cleveland had home field advantage in the best-of-five series. The Indians won a close Game 1 by a score of 3-2. They followed that up with a convincing 11-1 Game 2 blowout. The Red Sox returned to Fenway down 0-2 and facing near-certain elimination.
Except that never happened.
The Red Sox won Game 3 9-3 and then absolutely clobbered the Indians by a score of 23-7 to force the series back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 5.
That game turned out to be legendary. Cleveland led 8-7 after just three innings. The Red Sox tied it 8-8 in the fourth, and then rode a perfect performance by Pedro Martinez out of the bullpen for the final six innings to win 12-8.
It was one of the most memorable winner-take-all games in Red Sox history.
In 2007 the Red Sox faced the Indians in the ALCS. Different teams, different scenarios, but still some similarities.
The Red Sox had home field and won Game 1 by a 10-3 margin. No problem right? Wrong.
Cleveland won Game 2 in Boston and then won Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland. The Red Sox were down 3-1. They’d need to win three games in a row, but two would be in Boston.
As of Sunday the Red Sox will need to win three games in a row to advance to the ALCS, and two of those games are in Boston.
Back in 2007 that ended up working out pretty well. The Red Sox beat Cleveland 7-1 in Game 5 and that brought the series back to Boston.
A first inning grand slam highlighted a Game 6, 12-2 Red Sox blowout to force Game 7. Game 7 wasn’t much better for the Indians who lost 11-2. The Red Sox went on to win the 2007 World Series and the Indians haven’t been back to the ALCS since.
Twelve times over the course of the 2016 regular season the Red Sox won three or more games in a row. This is a hole the Red Sox are fully capable of digging themselves out of, but to do that they’re going to have to score runs the way they did for most of the 2016 season.
That’s the real issue heading into Monday’s must win game. Josh Tomlin is a pitcher that the Red Sox are fully capable of pummeling. Cleveland’s bullpen will be fully rested, so count on manager Terry Francona to pull Tomlin at the first signs of trouble, but that doesn’t mean that the Red Sox bats can’t keep on hitting.
The reality is that the Red Sox aren’t going to win three games in a row if all three have to be 3-2 nail-biters, they’re going to need to unleash the league-best offense that won them so many regular season games over teams both good and bad.
An 0-2 hole is a tough spot for sure, but don’t let the Red Sox win today, because they’ve been down this road before, and they’ve come out on top.