By Mike Shalin
BOSTON (Reuters) – The Boston Red Sox advanced to the World Series with a crushing 11-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on Sunday, taking the American League Championship Series by a 4-3 margin with the Game Seven victory.
The Red Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to blow open the contest and complete a stunning rally from a 3-1 series deficit.
“We did it. We came back as a team, all 25 of us,” Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon told reporters.
Boston will be making their 11th appearance at the World Series when they host the Colorado Rockies in Game One on Wednesday, the Red Sox aiming to win a second title in four seasons after their triumph in 2004.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia led the offensive onslaught, blasting a two-run home run in the seventh inning and a three-run double in the eighth as Boston outscored Cleveland 40-8 in their four victories in the series.
On the mound, Japanese rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka worked the first five innings to pick up his first post-season victory, while Papelbon pitched the last two innings for the save.
“I thought he pitched his heart out,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Matsuzaka. “They were some tough innings.”
The Japanese ace praised his team mates for never losing hope.
“After our three straight losses, the team kept telling me to get ready to pitch Game Seven, and I think everybody on this team worked very well together to bring us there,” he said through an interpreter.
“I just wanted to respond as best I could to my team mates today.”
The game ended on a sensational catch by Coco Crisp in deep right-centerfield, triggering wild celebrations on the field as the sellout crowd roared from the stands.
“I remember sitting in Cleveland when we got beat that third game and trying to find a way to turn this around,” Pedroia said.
“We worked so hard all year long to have our season cut short. Nobody wanted to go home. Nobody wanted to say goodbye to everybody.”
The Red Sox collected nine hits off Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook through the first four innings but three double-plays limited Boston’s scoring as they only managed one run in each of the first three innings.
Manny Ramirez drove in the first run with a single, the second run scored on a double-play and the third on a sacrifice fly by Mike Lowell.
The Indians pulled a run back in the fourth off Matsuzaka on doubles by Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko before they made it 3-2 in the fifth when Grady Sizemore delivered a sacrifice fly.
Matsuzaka’s compatriot Hideki Okajima came on to pitch a perfect sixth and got the first out in the seventh before Boston shortstop Julio Lugo dropped Kenny Lofton’s fly ball in short left field to allow the batter to reach second base.
Franklin Gutierrez singled into left field but Indians third-base coach Joel Skinner held Lofton coming around third.
Casey Blake then grounded into an inning-ending double-play on his first pitch as the Indians squandered a good chance of tying the game.
Pedroia soon made the visitors pay with his first post-season home run as the Red Sox stretched their lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh.
The rookie second baseman came through again in the bottom of the next inning with his three-run double and Kevin Youkilis capped the six-run inning with a two-run homer, his third of the series and fourth of the post-season.
“We fell short but I think we learned a great deal this post-season,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
“I’m disappointed we weren’t able to finish it off. I’m proud as I could be of our players.”
Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett was named MVP of the series after winning Games One and Five.
“There are a lot of MVPs in here,” said Beckett, who is expected to open the World Series against Colorado’s Jeff Francis, the Rockies coming in with 21 wins in their last 22 games and a perfect 7-0 post-season record.
The World Series opponents did meet in the regular season when the Rockies beat the Red Sox 2-1 in a three-game interleague series at Fenway Park.