While there may not be much love lost between fans of the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, the two were, for a long time, almost kindred spirits. The two storied franchises had traveled two distinct paths for a substantial portion of their existences, but both knew far too well the difficulty in bringing home a championship.
Both organizations joined the American League in 1901. Within three years, the Americans knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates in eight games for the World Series title, backed by the strong pitching of former Cleveland pitcher and future Naps starter Cy Young. There would be five titles in total for the Boston club in its first 18 years of existence, while Cleveland needed its 20th season in 1920 to secure its first postseason trip and the first world championship in franchise history.
Over a span of nearly 30 years, the Red Sox fell to the bottom of the American League and stayed there, ultimately resurfacing in 1946 with a loss in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. It would be another 21 years before they saw playoff baseball again, losing in seven games again to the Cardinals in 1967 after an impressive 20-game turnaround that took them from ninth in the AL standings the season before to the AL pennant. They would lose in seven games again in 1975 and once more in 1986.
The American and National Leagues did not split into two divisions until 1969, keeping any head-to-head postseason matchups between the Indians and Red Sox from happening prior. The two did have as close to such a game as possible with a game 155 to conclude the 1948 season – a tie-breaker with each club sitting atop the AL with 96-58 records. The Indians, who would be the only team the Red Sox did not post a winning record against that season, won the tie-breaking game to hoist their second AL pennant. They finished the season series 12-11 over the Red Sox and went on to World Series glory with a victory over Boston’s NL team, the Braves, in six games.
After their triumph in 1948, the Indians hung around the top half of the AL, but needed six more years to get back to the biggest stage of all. Despite their club record 111 wins in 1954, the team was swept in four straight by the New York Giants, preceding a 41-year playoff drought for the loveable losers.
When the Indians returned to the postseason in 1995, it was the Red Sox who came to Cleveland to start the American League Division Series. Former Red Sox catcher Tony Pena hit the instant classic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th to win Game 1, 5-4. One of the more iconic moments in Cleveland sports history occurred earlier that game in extra innings, when Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy accused Albert Belle of using a corked bat after the slugger tied the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the eleventh. In response to the accusation, Belle screamed at the Boston bench and infamously rolled up his sleeve and pointed at his bicep.
Indians pitching, often overlooked that season because of the team’s incredible offensive lineup, combined on a three-hit 4-0 shutout in Game 2 and Cleveland swept the series in Game 3 at Fenway Park, 8-2, to send the Tribe to the American League Championship Series and, later, a six-game defeat by the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
The two would not see each other for the next two seasons in October, as the Red Sox were on the outside looking in while the Indians lost in the ALDS to the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 and suffered their own Game 7 World Series heartbreak in 1997 to the Florida Marlins.
In the playoffs for the fourth straight season in 1998, the Indians hosted the Red Sox again to start the ALDS. The visitors claimed Game 1 at Jacobs Field, 11-3, with Pedro Martinez on the mound, but that would be the end of the celebrating for the Sox. Cleveland won 9-5 in Game 2 before the series shifted to Fenway Park. The Indians got two homers from future Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez and held on to a 4-3 Game 3 win in Boston and got an eighth inning game-changing two-run double from David Justice as the Indians would win Game 4, 2-1, to eliminate the Red Sox again.
The Indians would be defeated in six games in the ALCS by the eventual world champions, the New York Yankees.
Boston got its revenge the following season against yet another stacked Cleveland lineup. The Indians used their home field to their advantage by taking the first two games for a sizeable early lead in the best-of-five series. Travis Fryman won Game 1, 3-2, with a bases loaded walk-off single to left to score Ramirez with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. The next afternoon, Cleveland scored six in the third and five in the fourth on the way to an 11-1 win.
The tide may have turned in the seventh inning of Game 3, when the Red Sox, back at home at Fenway Park, scored six times to break a 3-3 tie and won 9-3. They scored early and often the next night, putting up at least two runs in seven of their eight innings at the plate in a 23-7 embarrassment. Back at Jacobs Field the following evening, Boston relied on the clutch relief work of the future Hall of Famer Martinez, who worked six hitless and scoreless innings out of the bullpen to put a stop to an Indians offense that had scored eight times in the first three innings. Boston’s 12-8 win sent them to the ALCS against New York, but the Yankees won before sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
The Indians made the playoffs in 2001, taking a first round exit against the Seattle Mariners. Boston would reach three straight seasons from 2003 to 2005, finally ending their World Series title drought in 2004 with current Indians manager Terry Francona at the helm of their club.
But once again in 2007, the two teams met in the playoffs with their paths crossing in the ALCS. For the first time, the Red Sox held home field against the Indians, but each team claimed victories in Boston before the series shifted to Cleveland for three straight.
The Indians won Game 3 at Jacobs Field by a 4-2 final and used a seven-run fifth to win Game 4, 7-3, to take a three-games-to-one lead over the Red Sox. The Red Sox defeated CC Sabathia 7-1 in Game 5 to shift the series back to Fenway Park and evened the series at three-all with a 12-2 thumping in Game 6. The ALCS finale will remain a black eye in Indians lore, as pitcher Paul Byrd addressed the media prior to the game about allegations of human growth hormone usage and during the game, Kenny Lofton was given a stop sign by third base coach Joel Skinner with one out down 3-2 in the seventh inning. Casey Blake grounded into a double play and the Red Sox tacked on two more in the bottom half and six in the eighth, with five runs coming courtesy of the bat of Dustin Pedroia, as Boston won a lopsided 11-2 final before sweeping the Colorado Rockies in four straight to win their second World Series in four years.
The Red Sox made the playoffs again in 2008 and 2009 before winning the 2013 World Series. The Indians have not been back for a full series since that 2007 AL Central Division title, appearing in only the 2013 AL Wild Card game, a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, who would go on to lose to Boston on the way to their third championship in ten seasons.
All said, this will be the 12th time that the Indians have played in some sort of playoff baseball and it will be the fifth time that the two teams have met in postseason battle in the 48 years of expanded divisional play, not including the tie-breaker in 1948. This season will mark the fourth such series with Boston that Cleveland has held the home field edge and the fourth different time the two clubs have faced off in the first round.
The Indians hold an 11-8 lead against the Red Sox in postseason play, including a 7-3 mark at the ball park that was still known as Jacobs Field when the two last met in the playoffs. For Francona, it will be a chance at some nice revenge against the organization that unceremoniously disposed of him following its rough conclusion to the 2011 campaign.
Photo: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press