BOSTON -- It was all over, and in the quiet of the cramped visitor's clubhouse at Fenway Park, they were all there. There was
There was the third base coach,
"I've seen that ball kick right back to the shortstop, so you really have to be sure," the coach said of his decision to hold Kenny Lofton at third base in the seventh inning of the seventh game of the ALCS. Skinner shook his head as he added, "What exactly that angle is ... you just can't really be sure."
The Indians know: they blew it. With a 3-1 lead in the series entering Game 5, Cleveland went on to get outscored 30-5 by the Red Sox over the next three games. The Indians never once enjoyed a lead in any of the final three games of the series. Boston is now 14-3 in their last 17 elimination games.
"I think that games of a huge magnitude, our guys don't get overwhelmed," Boston manager
The Indians, meanwhile, are left to wonder what could have been. What would have been if Skinner hadn't put the brakes on Lofton after
Indeed, the Indians had such little room for error in this series after their two 19-game winners provided such disappointing performances in four of the series' seven games. Sabathia and Carmona could not get to the fifth inning in three of their four combined starts. "We had a chance to finish out at home and I didn't come through," said Sabathia, the likely Cy Young winner who was tagged with the loss in Games 1 and 5 after allowing 12 runs in the 10 1/3 innings he pitched.
In Game 7, the Indians got as fine of a performance from
"Any mistake we made they hit," said Indians closer
Meanwhile, Cleveland's best hitters went cold at the worst possible time -- with their team one win from the World Series,
The Indians also know this: they're loaded for another run in 2008. Every significant piece of their postseason roster is locked up through 2008; Sabathia's pending free agency after the '08 season is the most urgent question. The Indians payroll will likely rise from $62 million this year to $80 million. "Yeah, we know we're a young club with a good future, and we learned a lot here," said Sabathia. "But this still hurts a lot."
The hurt won't go away anytime soon. Still four months to spring training, 2008. The long and cruel off-season begins now.