Thursday, December 27, 2007

The List: MTAC's Top 5 Moments of 2007

5 tie. ALDS Game 2 - The Swarm Surrounds The Yankees - Forever known in Cleveland history as "The Bug Game," this was the night, I truly believed the Baseball Gods were on our side for once. For eight innings, Andy Pettitte and Fausto Carmona were locked in a pitching duel for the ages. The only run between the two teams was a third inning solo homer by Yankees OF Melky Cabrera.

In the seventh, Joe Torre went to his stud set up man Joba Chamberlain with Indians at first and second with one out. He easily disposed of Franklyn Gutierrez and Casey Blake. That looked like the best chance the Tribe would get.

But fate intervened.

Three Carmona groundout specials and the Tribe had another shot at Chamberlain. But as the Yankees came out for the home half of the eighth, it was as though someone opened a giant gnat cage on the field of play. Thousands of what we now know are called "Midges" swarmed the Yankees. The everlasting image of this game was the upclose shots in HD of Chamberlain with bugs crawling all over his neck while trying to look in for the sign.

The unshakeable kid was rattled. He had allowed just one earned run in just iver 22 innings during the regular season. He walked Grady Sizemore. Uncorked a wild pitch moving Grady to second. Watched as Asdrubal Cabrera sacrificed him to third. Uncorked a second wild pitch, allowing Sizemore to score and tie the game. Hit Victor Martinez with a pitch. Walked Ryan Garko, then finally got out of it by striking out Jhonny Peralta.

The damage was done. Carmona on the other hand, acted as if the bugs didn't exist in the ninth. He K'd Alex Rodriguez on his 115th and last pitch of the game and moved the game into extras. Amazingly, the bugs dissapeared.

Fast forward to the 11th, where Travis Hafner was singling home Kenny Lofton to give the Tribe a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. As for those bugs. "I'd never seen anything like it," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "It's like somebody let them loose ... just when you think you've seen it all." "There's not much you can do about it," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He was having trouble seeing out there. I'll tell you one thing about the kid he never lost his composure. Unfortunately it was at a bad time." But the timing couldn't have been better if you were a Tribe fan.

5 tie. Finally, The Tribe Takes Back the Central - It seemed like decades ago, but it wasn't. This was the sweetest division title since 95 was clinched at the Jake on a sunny Sunday afternoon against Oakland. They did it their way. Timely hitting, excellent starting pitching, and a nails bullpen. Jake Westbrook struck out nine and allowed just two runs in seven innings. A four run fourth, capped by Grady Sizemore triple was all they needed. Raffy Left pitched two thirds, Raffy Right pitched and inning and a third to close it out and the AL Central was theirs.

"Somewhere among the snow and the craziness of the schedule and the injuries, this team became a family," pitcher Paul Byrd said amid the delirium and flying liquid in the locker room celebration. "Everybody chipped in. I've never been on a team where everybody has been included in the victories as much as we have."

"This is just as special as the first time for me," OF Kenny Lofton said. "I think to the young kids, being their first time through this, it lets them know how special this team really is. When I got the chance to come back to Cleveland, I knew this team had a chance, but I don't think some of the guys here really understood how good they were. Said GM Mark Shapiro: ''The great part of this is doing it with the guys I always wanted to do it with. They are all good people. And they stand for all the right things.''

4. Eastern Finals Game 6 - The Cavs are going to Finals - Another in the long list of games MTAC attended this year, the scene outside in Gateway Plaza was not to be believed. The Indians had just finished a game with the Tigers and The Cavaliers had set up big screens so people could be a part of the magic going on inside the Q. The building shook. It rocked like I had never heard it before.

One Boobie Gibson three after another rained down on the Pistons. The kid who averaged just 4.6 points per game in the regular season blossomed into a playoff hero before our very eyes. Lebron was Lebron, dominating the game in all phases, but he couldn't have done it this night without his trusted gunner, who had a career-high 31 including 19 in the decisive fourth quarter. People forget this was a one point game heading to the fourth.

Lebron finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. He was doubled and triple teamed all night. That's when Boobie took over. "If I'm dreaming, please don't wake me up," Gibson said. "This was perfect, to win it for Cleveland."

"Boobie is a guy with a lot of poise and a lot of heart," Cavs coach Mike Brown said of Gibson during the trophy presentation. "He's a scorer and a shooter. You leave him alone you better watch out, because it's Boobie for 3." "This is like a dream," Lebron said, shaking his head. "This is probably the best feeling that I've ever had in my life." It was pretty sweet for the long suffering fans of Cleveland as well.

3. ALDS Game 4 - Eliminating the Yankees tastes so sweet - There was a ton of drama involving this game. Manager Eric Wedge's decision to go with Paul Byrd over C.C. Sabathia on four days rest seemed like a gamble. Starting Byrd also put his personal catcher, Kelly Shoppach in the lineup, putting Ryan Garko's bat on the bench in the process. In the end, he stood by his guys and it paid off in spades.

All we asked the Byrd man to do was give us five good innings and get us to the pen with a lead. Well how did a 6-2 lead and pitching into the sixth work for you? You just had a feeling things were going to work in the Tribe's favor when Grady Sizemore led the game off with a Solo Pizza. Even the Shoppach move paid dividends. He was 2-3 and was hit by a pitch. But it was a total team effort. The Tribe had 13 hits. The bullpen pitched four innings to close out the series in Yankees Stadium and they cracked Champagne in the home of team they went 0-6 against during the regular season.

Said Kenny Lofton after the game: This team hasn't had a championship in Cleveland for a long time. This is just an unbelievable feeling to be able just to start this process again." But the night was about Byrd, Wedge, and vindication. "I'm sure the networks wanted Red Sox and Yankees,'' said Trot Nixon. "You've got two marquee teams, so many big names and big payrolls. But if you're a baseball fan, this is what it's all about. The game is decided on the field, not by all that other stuff.''

2. Eastern Finals Game 5 - Lebron's Signature Performance - MTAC readers know the Cavs are a distant fourth for me, but what Lebron James did on this night was the greatest single-game performance of any Cleveland athlete of all time. Other than what Michael Jordan had done during his many great playoff performances, this ranked up in the annals of NBA playoff history.

With his teammates seemingly unable to do anything in the fourth quarter, Lebron took over. With 7:48 left, Zydrunas Illgauskas made a layup to give the Cavs a 79-76 lead. That would be the last field goal any other Cav not named Lebron would score. With 2:48 left, a Drew Gooden free throw would be the last point any other Cav not named Lebron would score. I'm talking about a double overtime game here.

Lebron went unconscious, scoring the team's last 25 points and 29 of their last 30. So many of them were ridiculously clutch. With 31 seconds left, a Lebron dunk put the Cavs up 89-88. After Chauncey Billups his what seemed to be a dagger three with 22 seconds left, the Cavs trailed by two. Everyone in the building knew who was getting the ball. Lebron didn't dissapoint, driving right past two defenders for a sick throw down to force OT.

In double OT, every time the Pistons had a lead, Lebron came back with a jumper. down 104-102, Lebron hit a fadeaway J to tie the game with 1:51 left. Chris Webber hit a basket and one to go up three and the Cavs looked like they were in trouble. At 107-104, Lebron was forced left and hit a fall-away three point shot in the face of three Pistons to tie the game. It was an incredible shot. But he wasn't done.The Cavs had one last shot to win it. Tied at 107, Lebron went into a 1-4 low set, drove straight past two Pistons defenders and hit a scoop layup with two seconds left for the win.

In the end, he finished with 48 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and one sensational performance that will never be forgotten.

1. ALCS Game 2 - Trot's season officially forgotten with one swing - If you are a dedicated reader of MTAC, you know the Tribe ranks #1 in our hearts. This game had it all. It was seemingly a must win wiht the Tribe losing game one in Boston 10-3. The Tribe jumped out 1-0 on a Victor Martinez double, but then Fausto Carmona turned into someone we hadn't seen all year. He gave three right back and Boston led 3-1 after three.

My mood swings were just about to begin. Jhonny Peralta 's two run pizza and Grady Sizemore's solo shot put the Tribe back on top 5-3. I was high again. Then Fausto imploded for a second time in two innings. Manny Ramirez hit a two run shot to tie it at five followed by Mike Lowell's solo pizza to give the Sox the lead again. Fausto's night was done, and depression was beginning to set in.

However, in the sixth, The Indians put two on with nobody out. Franklyn Gutierrez tied the game with a groundout, but with the bases loaded and two out, Travis Hafner lined out. We were now tied 6-6 in the sixth. As I was busy cursing Travis Hafner for the first of many missed opportunities to come up big in the clutch during this series, little did I know the next two and a half hours of my life were going to turn into a gut-wrenching, nail biting, experience I will never forget.

First, Jensen Lewis pitched a one-two-three bottom of the sixth for the Tribe. Hideki Okajima countered for the Sox in the top if the seventh. Lewis got the first two out in the bottom half, only to be relieved by Rafael Betancourt, who struck out Manny Ramirez swinging in one of the great at bats of the evening. Mike Timlin got the Indians in order in the eighth. Betancourt countered in the home half. Each half inning seemed to go on forever. The at bats were brutally long. I couldn't take it. I had no nails left.

Then we reached the ninth inning. The best closer in the game, Jonathon Papelbon entered and it seemed as though the Indians had no shot. He quickly disposed of Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera, but Hafner singled. Manager Eric Wedge pulled the move he has done so many times this year which i cannot stand, pinch running for Hafner with Josh Barfield. Essentially taking one of your best bats out of the lineup in a tie game and may come back around to haunt you. It was foreshadowing at its best. Barfield stole second, Victor Martinez was intentionally walked, and Ryan Garko grounded out to end the inning.

The bottom of the ninth had its own fireworks. Like Papelbon, Betancourt got the first two guys with ease, but Dustin Pedroia singled to bring up the uber-clutch Kevin Youkilis. In an at bat I will never forget, Youkilis fouled off six straight two strike pitches before lining one into Center. I thought we were done, but Grady Sizemore raced to his right and snagged it. Crisis avoided. On to extras we went.

The drama wouldn't stop. Because Wedge went to Raffy Perez to stop Carmona's bleeding in the fifth, Lewis had pitched two, and Betancourt had gone two and a third, the bullpen was down to the the guys you didn't want pitching in these types of situations. But the same thing had happened to the Red Sox who had already gone through Manny Delcarmen, Timlin, Okajima, and Papelbon.

Coming up for the Red Sox in the bottom of the 10th was the murderer's row 3-4-5 of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell. The Tribe had no choice but to go to the man, the myth, the legend, Tom Mastny. I thought the game was over and our boys were dead. The man we dubbed "Thomas Nasty" had gone from the 7th inning guy before Betancourt, to mop up man was suddenly thrust into a seemingly impossible situation. Don't forget about the fact that he hadn't pitched in over two weeks. After falling behind Ortiz 2-0 and with the crowd at a fever pitch, Mastny calmly set down Big Papi on a weak grounder, Ramirez on a lazy fly to right, and Lowell on a pop out.

Then came the inning that had to be seen to be believed. It was 1 AM EST. The Sox turned to their resident gas can Eric Gagne. The inning started with Casey Blake striking out (big shocker). Then it all happened. Sizemore singled and Cabrera walked. The Travis Hafner spot came back up again. Wedge the pulled the string that he waited to pull all game long. Josh Barfield was called back. The much maligned Trot Nixon was called upon to face lefty gas can Javier Lopez. Trot, who I have killed all year, erased his entire miserable season with one swing of the bat. He laced a single back up the middle scoring Sizemore and putting the Indians ahead for good. "I think we all know how a player can cross over to the dark side, but I fully expect that I'm the enemy coming in here," Nixon said. "I was excited to finally get in there at 1:30 in the morning."

But the flood gates were about to open.

A Lopez wild pitch scored Cabrera and moved pinch runner Jason Michaels to second, so Martinez was intentionally walked. Garko ripped a single scoring J Mike. Lopez out. Jon Lester in. Peralta greeted him with a double and I woke up Mrs. MTAC from a deep sleep, not that I cared. After a Kenny Lofton fly out, Franky G crushed a titanic three-run blast over the Monster and it was 13-6. The inning ended as it had begun, with a Blake strike out.

The damage ended at 1:45 AM.

Indians 13 Red Sox 6. Series tied 1-1. Momentum = Indians. The game had so much. The joys of taking the lead. The agony of losing those leads. It had unbelievable at bats from Ramirez, Lowell, and Youkilis against Betancourt. It had perfect relief pitching from Lewis, Betancourt, and Mastny. It had the most unlikely hero, Nixon. Games like this are why there is nothing like playoff baseball, especially when it involves my beloved Indians. Said Red Sox Manager Terry Francona "That was one of the better played games I've ever been a part of."

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