The Sox were leading, 6-0, at the time, and would have qualified anyway with the win they wound up producing. But the Indians took the edge off and made the rest of the afternoon a stress-free 10-1 victory over the Yankees.
With owner John W. Henry in his usual front-row seat next to the dugout, some members of the Red Sox became aware that the team was in the playoffs before the scoreboard declaration.
"I heard him let out a little, like a yelp, kind of," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "But I kind of heard some guys down the hallway. I kind of figured [Tom] Brady threw for a touchdown or [the Indians lost]. You kind of hear it filtering."
It was much-appreciated news. One week ago, when the Indians and Yankees were both on fire, a postseason trip was highly uncertain.
"There wasn't a whole lot that was easy," said Francona. "We went through so much and it was sometimes so hard to be good. As important as the game is today, when word filters down and you see the scoreboard changing, it is hard not to feel emotional."
So they celebrated, as champagne corks flew and beer flowed.
"We get to defend our title," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We have a good enough team to win it again. We just need to be on."
The Red Sox will open the postseason on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Chicago when they play the White Sox in Game 1 of the best-of-five Division Series. Right-hander Matt Clement draws the start for the Red Sox. Game 2 is on Wednesday. The series returns to Fenway Park for Game 3 on Friday and Game 4 (if necessary) on Saturday. If the series goes the distance, Game 5 would be played at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday.
John Olerud was just settling into his at-bat in the bottom of the fifth when the final score of the Indians-White Sox game was posted.
After the cheers subsided, it was business as usual in a game that suddenly meant more to the Yankees (who were trying to earn the home-field advantage in the Division Series against the Angels) than the Red Sox.
The way things turned out, the Yankees wound up losing that and were set to board a flight to Anaheim, Calif., after the game for the start of their Division Series on Tuesday night. While the Yankees, at least by a technicality, won the American League East thanks to winning the season series, 10-9, the Red Sox finished with the same record at 95-67. And the fact that both teams will open the postseason on the road further exemplified how the two rivals are basically on equal footing as the second season gets ready to start.
The best game-related development of the day was the pitching of Curt Schilling. The right-hander finished up his frustrating regular season (8-8, 5.69 ERA) by going six innings and allowing eight hits and one run while striking out three.
"I'm not where I want to be. But it's a new season now," said Schilling. "Everyone starts 0-0 tomorrow."
Red-hot Manny Ramirez opened it up for the Red Sox, ripping a three-run homer to center in the fourth to make it a 6-0 game.
From there, both teams began emptying their benches.
Once the game ended, the Red Sox divided their time between celebrating and gearing up for the flight to Chicago, where they will work out on Monday afternoon.
"It's great to have a sense of relief," said Damon. "We've had Game 7s every single day. For us to finally get to relax for a couple of days, it feels good."
While qualifying for the postseason for a third time in a row was historic for the Red Sox, it was also sweet.
"Every time is very meaningful," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "Every time you get in, the season is so long, you look back at all the hard work from the players most importantly, the managers, the coaching staff, the front office, and you're proud for everyone else in the clubhouse. So it means a lot every time."
The Red Sox hope that their locker room will be filled with champagne three more times this October.
"It feels good," said Schilling. "The goal in Spring Training is to get to the postseason. Once you get to the postseason, your goal is to win the World Series."