LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
"IT WAS HUGE. YOU HAVE NO IDEA."
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 17
More than for the game to which I first applied them, there really are no words, though millions will be written. No philosophic exegesis upon the inevitability of that Yankee power can do justice; nor epic prose poetry upon the predestination of the Red Sox at the mountaintop, allowed to gaze upon the Promised Land, and getting that swift kick to the jagged rocks below as the view comes into full focus.
"The gods of baseball," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, to a Sports Illustrated writer, on the night before, "wanted this to happen." He meant a seventh game, the American League pennant absolutely on the line, between the most incandescent rivals in baseball. Or, did he? What, really, was "this"?
Played so arduously, so polyrhythmically, you could not answer the question for hours after it ended, for hours after Aaron Boone deposited Tim Wakefield's knuckleball into the left field seats, and not the most smug Yankee fan or the most self-immolating Red Sox fan could blame you, necessarily.
Was "this" Roger Clemens, looking somewhat less than his future Hall of Fame self, in the hole, 3-0, after two innings, when his former club mulcted the three in the top of the second; when Trot Nixon followed Kevin Millar's one-out single with a cannon shot over the right center field fence, preceding Jason Varitek's fence-hopper double and Johnny Damon grounding to third, only to have Enrique Wilson throw the ball into the photographer's section, letting Varitek score?
Was "this" Pedro Martinez, starting at something less than full power, picking up pitching speed almost gradually as the game went on, but staying with a plan of speed changing and keeping the New York Yankees off balance just enough to call, before Millar in the fourth got him a fourth run for good measure with a leadoff blast over the center field fence?
Was "this" Nixon walking and taking third on Bill Mueller's single in the same inning, sending Clemens off the mound in what looked too vividly like the final gig of his luminous career, and bringing in from the Yankee bullpen a man who had never pitching an inning in relief in his major league life, but who struck out Varitek swinging before getting Damon to ground into a double play to Derek Jeter?
Was "this" Mike Mussina, the aforesaid unexpected middle reliever, shutting the Red Sox down for two innings, interrupted only by a pair of singles that put Red Sox on first and second before a swinging strikeout and a grounder to short?
Was "this" Felix Heredia relieving Mussina in the top of the seventh and getting two quick enough outs before handing it over to Jeff Nelson to get the third out about as quick?
Was "this" Jason Giambi, dropped surprisingly enough to seventh in the Yankee batting order, busting out of his postseason slump by busting one solo over the right center field fence to lead off the Yankee fifth, before Martinez zipped through the next three Yankees, punctuating it by striking out Alfonso Soriano looking at maybe the single nastiest edge-of-the-black breaking ball he'd thrown all postseason?
Was "this" Giambi ringing up the second Yankee run of the night, with two out in the bottom of the seventh, again at Martinez's expense, with a shot over the center field fence that looked even more curvaceous than his first one had been?
Or, was "this" Millar at first, fielding a grounder from Wilson hitting next, ranging left to spear it, intent on carrying it to the bag himself despite Martinez hustling over to cover, then going down in a heap when his legs went right out from under him as he turned on the foul side grass to come to the bag, leaving Wilson safe.
Maybe "this" was Martinez recovering from that jolt and cranking up his arm an extra time or two, as if to say to the Red Sox spirits, "Here, I'll wave the bloody Curse right upside your heads!", letting Karim Garcia single Wilson to second before striking Soriano swinging to end the threat.
Maybe "this" was David Wells, brought in to relieve Felix Heredia, who'd spelled Mussina, getting Manny Ramirez to start the Red Sox eighth grounding out to Jeter ahead of David Ortiz shooting one into the right field bleachers for the fifth Red Sox run, before Wells settled enough to keep Jeter a busy man with a groundout and a popout to keep the Red Sox at five.
But maybe "this" was Red Sox manager Grady Little, after Nick Johnson popped out to short before Jeter doubled off the right field wall and Bernie Williams singled him home, visiting Martinez on the mound, with lefthander Alan Embree warming up in the pen and lefthanded Hideki Matsui due up to hit, and asking Martinez if he still thought he could pitch.
Maybe "this" was Little letting a little foolish pride get in the way of a lot of baseball sense, and at a time when the Red Sox needed all the sense they could get, having the Yankees a mere five outs away from wait-till-next-year. He left Martinez in with more heart than fuel, and Matsui fueled a ground rule double over the corner wall in right, pushing Williams to third, before Jorge Posada flared a single to center to send them both home.
Maybe "this" was Little finally bringing in Embree and looking momentarily like a man who had just dodged a howitzer shell, when Embree broke Giambi's bat for a flyout to center.
Maybe "this" was Little bringing in righthander Mike Timlin despite the fact that Wilson, the scheduled hitter and a switch hitter while we're at it, whose season to date had indicated he couldn't hit lefthanded pitching with a warehouse door. But Yankee manager Joe Torre went to his bench, sent up Ruben Sierra to hit, and Timlin put him on intentionally. And before he walked Garcia on four straight pitches, Torre sent Aaron Boone out to run for Sierra and ultimately take over at third base.
Maybe "this" was Soriano, four times a strikeout victim to this point, whacking one off the pitching rubber, the carom jumping up and meeting a leaping Todd Walker behind second, Walker spearing it and flipping to Nomar Garciaparra for the inning-ending forceout, keeping it tied at five.
Maybe "this" was the Yankees and the Red Sox going at it hammer and tongs otherwise, no holds barred, throwing everything at each other they could possibly throw. Mariano Rivera coming in for the ninth and dodging a small two-out bullet, Varitek running a surprise 3-1 count off The Mariano before singling to right, before The Mariano got Damon to chop out to third and Walker to line out on a floater to second.
Maybe "this" was Timlin working a Rivera-like bottom of the ninth of his own, the highlight a one out, to-the-death contest with Jeter. First, he pushed Jeter back off the plate twice. Then Jeter, looking almost like a child scoping the kitchen, waiting for Mom and Dad to vacate so he could mount a cookie jar raid, snuck a peek at Mueller playing far enough back at third to tempt him to bunt. He squared. He turned the bat on the pitch. And his right hand fell off the bat as strike two crossed the plate, before Timlin struck him out swinging. Then Williams ripped one that looked like it would streak past second, until Walker launched a huge right-side dive to stop the smash and throw him out to send to extra innings something that simply could not have been settled in nine.
Maybe "this" was The Mariano and Tim Wakefield whose knuckleball had so throttled the Yankees in two of the previous three Red Sox wins matching each other in the tenth, the only disruption Ortiz cueing one off the left field wall for a double, his pinch runner Gabe Kapler stranded as Millar popped out to short to end the top half.
Maybe "this" was The Mariano, going for a third inning in a game in who knew how long, and at a point where he was historically most vulnerable, running an ERA around five and a walks and hits per innings pitched of 1.35 or thereabout when he was up past forty pitches, but getting two strikeouts and a squirting out to second base.
Maybe "this" was Boone, leading off the bottom of the eleventh, batting for the first time in the game, Wakefield's knuckleball on its way to the plate, under the ceiling scream that was Yankee Stadium's tireless cheer, against a Red Sox club who had so gallantly challenged the twisted reach of yestercentury's extraterrestrial sorrows.
Roll over, Chris Chambliss, and tell Bobby Thomson the news. "It was huge," breathed The Mariano, to ESPN's Jon Miller. "You have no idea." But perhaps even he doesn't, yet. He will not be anywhere close to alone.
And I just can't bring myself to think about what struck me for a moment when Millar's legs went out from under him and Little left Martinez in for two hitters too many. About Luis Aparicio stumbling twice rounding third and the pinch-hitter for Jim Willoughby. About Ice Water Sprowl and B.F. Dent. About a passed ball scored a wild pitch preceding Mookie Wilson to Bill Buckner.
Because this time calamity did not score the finality; this time, two gallant teams fought to the finish, the vanquished didn't roll over, and the victor earned it. This time, the Red Sox went down like champions. And the Yankees know it.
The poor Florida Marlins, waiting at an airport for what seemed eternity, to learn where to fly for the World Series' beginning, are faced with the challenge of consummating the impossible. But so, in a sense, are the Yankees. Neither team can be envied, as they join for a possible seven games, for having to try topping what we can call nothing short of the greatest baseball game that was ever played.
THERE ARE NO CURSES HERE
Peter Schilling Jr.
Friday, October 17
I have two thoughts regarding these Championship Series, and pardon me if I sound a bit gruff: but I really wonder about these dinged curses. Sure, a fan interfered in the NL Game six, and hands over the pennant to the accursed Marlins. But this is where the management of the Chicago Cubsa team that was called, by one writer (or many), "right in the middle of the spending pack"can show their true colors. For there is no team which should be considered less of a small market franchise than these Cubs. They are connected to a huge cable network. They regularly sell out. Tons of Cubbies merchandise is sold every year, more now. They have young pitchers, a good, maybe great, manager. All they need now is some money.
Time for the Tribune to spend.
There is no excuse not to. In fact, thats my marketing plan for these geniuses: "There are no curses here". Show Chicagoans that you love them, build on this foundation. Pick up the free agents, make the future now. Dont let Prior become the next Greg Maddux, sign him now. Unless things happen, there will always be a curse.
Why? Because the Cubs were overmatched. The best team won, and its amazing they won it in seven. They probably shouldve won it in six. When the Cubs stumble into the postseason with their usual irregularity, youll see the mediocre teams fail, and, now and again, the good or great teams fail. This happens every yearso if these Cubs can go year after year after year, that curse will vanish.
As far as the Sox are concerned, I get the feeling their management is going to send them back, again and again. But if theyre going to hand the game to the Yanks, then I guess I have to say that perhaps they hire people to maintain that curse, in the form of Grady Little. On the radio last night, both Joe Torre and Joe Morgan stated that they hoped a good game was played without miscues (read: no goat), and it wasfor seven plus innings. Then Mr. Little apparently thought that its been so long since a managerial decision could be chalked up to goatdom that he quickly volunteered. Maybe hes being paid by the Society to Maintain the Curse, but whatever the reason, this games loss rests on his shoulders. I dont blame Pedro because hes not in chargeas Tim McCarver pointed out (yes, now and again he says something intelligent), a manager should overrule his superstar if its for the better. We all know it was for the better, as the thousands of die-hard and casual fans were crying "No!" all across the land. It boggles my mind that anyone wouldve thought that keeping Pedro Martinez in the game after he gave up three hits in succession the inning before is something even I, a lousy strategist, would have known better not to do. And while I agree with good Mr. Kallman that this was ONE of the greatest games, that it was decided by a boneheaded maneuver on Littles part, it is not, in my book, the greatest.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Thursday, October 16
Apparently, Jack McKeon and his Marlins dont watch movies. They dont have any clue how great drama unfolds, didnt listen to the pundits or pay any attention to what Foxor the rest of the nationdreamed would be the most incredible World Series, perhaps in history. There were no scripts to go by, just the cold hard facts, like you get nine innings to do your job, that 5-3 is surmountable, that you can beat a pitcher like Kerry Wood if youre patient.
And patient they were. And grounded in reality they were. They didnt flinch when the world laughed and said, "Two in Chicago? Against Prior and Wood?" Theyre hardened their hearts and didnt feel sympathy for the fan whose life in Chicago might be over (made even worse by Jeb Bushs offer to stay in Florida for three months. To what, sleep with the fishes?) No, these Marlins didnt bat an eye when, miracle of miracles and the stuff of Hollywood, Kerry Wood blasts a home run to tie the game early. They didnt care that Moises Alouhe who mixed it up with the same poor fanknocks in the home run to win the game. Win the game, do you hear me!
The Cubs had a dream and the Marlins had a game to play, but reality trumps fantasy and today its a funeral in Chicago. The sun is probably shining and what a cruel sun it isdoesnt the world know to stop? Why are the Els rumbling by Wrigley, shaking the red "L" flag, last of the season, and why is the grass still green?
Would it behoove anyone to replay the slow cancer that was this game? Why couldn't it have been a quick heartbreaker, a ninth inning homer, win by one? No, it was slow and deliberate, torturous. I was stunned and Im not a Cubs fan. From a journalistic standpoint, it was a killer. I watched what I could, seeing the story of the new Century evaporate before my eyes. Red Sox-Cubs, and nothing could have been better. I had it all laid out, the End-of-the-World Series, Weekly World News gets a few seats in the Press Box, Armageddon, Babe Ruth, Billy Goats, the spirits of Cubs and Red Sox of old, Ted Williams shaking in his tube of whatever it is his bodys soaking in. Live from Wrigley, live from Fenway, for Tigers fans and Orioles fans and Dodgers fans, it didnt matterthis would be the World Series of all time. It didn't happen. James Dean in a car wreck, the Titanic goes down, it's all the same. Soft fantasy meets hard reality and we know who wins every time.
And with the emotions of their namesake, the Marlins just didnt care. Black, lifeless eyes, cold to the touch, slicing through the postseason, oblivious to what a cityno, a nation!wants. Is there anything more disturbing than the sight of those black-uniformd players, howling into the stunned silence of Wrigley air, jumping up and down while tears flow not forty feet away? Not in my book. The won it because they played the game the Cubs should have played, fighting, not giving up. They hit and scored when they were down. When they needed to win, they're pitchers stepped up and demanded that ball. Sadly, the Cubs might not have had a pitcher who could demand a ball with any confidence: if were looking at this clearly, without the cloud of curses to fog our vision, well wonder, not if a fan named Bartman made a difference, but if Prior would have had he not pitched 116 pitches through seven innings in game two, keeping him on fumes for game six. Or if they had won the first game after a four-run opening.
Already theyre using that oft-spoken refrain: "Wait til next year". And so they go, children, adolescents, adults and the elderly: waiting. Waiting. For that day when their Cubbies will pull it out, storm into the World Series. Waiting for teh months to turn to years, the years to decades, one lifetime to generations of futility. Because they dared to dream, and one team dared not to dream, they might have to wait a long time.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 16
Two wild pitches in one wild inning. One wild walk after a free pass to load the bases, bringing home the eventual winning run. One wild, monstrous home run in the top of the ninth to sign off on the insurance. One wild wind trying to blow an oncoming center fielder onto his rump roast as he's approaching the second out of the bottom of the ninth.
This sounds only too appropriate a scene for any American League Championship Series script starring the Boston Red Sox fighting elimination at the hands of the New York Yankees. Except that the script doctors must have gone on strike, this one was so off the formula.
Write in a wild top of the seventh? Sounded like a winner. But you had two Yankee pitchers serving up the two wild pitches. As if anyone is going to believe that stretcher. Here, have ten dollars and go buy yourself a clue. It is Red Sox pitchers who are supposed to throw down the wild pitches around here. 'S'matter, the names Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley never crossed your sword? (I know, I know, it was really a passed ball, in Stanley's case
Write in an intentional walk to load the bases and then an unintentional walk to score the lead run? Masterful. Only the Red Sox are supposed to give up these walks, not working them out and bringing in the go-ahead run.
Write in a monstrous ninth-inning homer? Absolutely. Virtuoso high drama; got to have that megaton climax in there, somehow. Say, what? Trot Nixon? This is not supposed to be the Red Sox style. You really think people are going to buy that at all, never mind in Yankee Stadium?
Here is what they would have bought: The Red Sox entering prospective elimination having left thirteen men on base in the fifth game, with four of their biggest bats (Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar) hitting no higher than .188 in the League Championship Series pending Game Six, and the Yankees outscoring the Red Sox despite the Yankees hitting only .190 as a team.
They would have bought gallant Andy Pettitte taking the mound with little enough like his real stuff, the wind blowing out to the fences at all fields, and the Red Sox still prying nothing out of him for two innings, while Jason Giambi stayed on script, rudely interrupting John Burkett's early easy grooving with a two-out belt over the right field fence in the bottom of the first.
They would have bought Mueller catching the wind and driving a double just over Hideki Matsui's head in deep left, with two out in the top of the second, leaving Nixon to kill the threat with a squirt out back to Pettitte.
But they had to buy Pettitte in the third still not rounding up the best of his usual repertoire and Jason Varitek refusing to wait for him to round it up, starting the inning with a bomb to the upper deck in left. And they had to buy Johnny Damon following with a walk, Todd Walker singling to right, Manny Ramirez walking on four straight pitches after Garciaparra forced out Damon, and David Ortiz knowing not and caring not whether the pass to Ramirez was unintentionally intentional, stroking a floater to short-short left, just beyond a leaping Derek Jeter, scoring Walker and Garciaparra, before Millar flared one to short center sending Ramirez home with a 4-1 Red Sox lead.
They had to buy Damon making a sliding slap-and-cone-it catch off Alfonso Soriano's short fly and a little reverse-the-Curse perversion when a Varitek grounder slip-slid under Aaron Boone's glove, a la Durham-Buckner, before he was stranded with a popout to left and a golf shot out to right center.
Now, here's the one they bought eagerly. After Millar dove left and shoveled to Burkett to get rid of Bernie Williams leading off the Yankee fourth, Jorge Posada singled to right and Hideki Matsui pushed him to third when his flare single just eluded Garciaparrac. Nick Johnson bounced a ground rule double into the right field seats to make it 4-2; Matsui scored on Boone's groundout to close it to one run; then, Garciaparra crossing toward second mishandled Karim Garcia's grounder, setting up Soriano doubling deep to left center to send home Johnson and Garcia with a 5-4 Yankee lead. For that they gladly ponied up.
And they bought it likewise when the bottom of the sixth began with one out and Posada going yard to the opposite field. 6-4 beats 5-4. Start writing that Pulitzer Prize speech. In came Jose Contreras for the Yankees and this Bronson Arroyo kid for the Red Sox, and Arroyo survived the Yankee fifth before turning it over to Todd Jones. Nice touch he made, giving up a single to Soriano and letting him take second on a passed ball. Along went Jones and in came Alan Embree, maybe a little early this time, and the Red Sox dozed a little bit, letting Soriano and Jeter (who reached on a walk) steal third and second, before Giambi struck out swinging to break up the monotony.
But they couldn't believe how this one got snuck into the script. Williams smashed a low liner to third, where Butterglove Mueller scooped up on the quick hop and threw him out at first. Well, it can hardly hurt the final act, of course.
And they wondered just who was the keeper of the blue pencils when Garciaparra started the Red Sox seventh by hitting one deep enough to catch the wind and bounce off the left center field wall. What was this jive about him turning it into a triple and coming home when Matsui threw the ball way past third and into the seats? What was this nonsense about Ramirez doubling off the base of the center field wall right after that? What were they thinking, writing in a wild pitch to let Ramirez take third, in time to come home with a brand-new 6-5 Red Sox lead, when Ortiz banged a broken bat hit off the bag at first?
Oh, we get it. They were thinking a little dynamic tension to break up the load, what with Millar hitting opposite field and flying out to just near the right field foul line. Very little, as it turned out, with Mueller bouncing a base hit hopper up the middle to chase Contreras and bring in Felix Heredia who uncorked another wild pitch to make it second and third, walked Varitek intentionally to set up the anywhere force with the bases loaded. And then Damon worked out a walk, Ortiz coming home with the seventh Red Sox run.
Now, they could hardly wait to get to the part where the inevitable Red Sox collapse was set up. And they hardly minded the Olde Towne Team making it interesting against Jeff Weaver in the eighth, just as long as Weaver got to wiggle out of it. They could even live with Mike Timlin relieving Embree and getting out of the bottom of the eighth with a little more fancy glove work from Mueller, he's a nice enough fellow, give the poor sap a break, let him bobble that tricksy hop off Jeter's bat and still throw him out to end the inning.
That was what they called a setup for the ninth. And that swinging strikeout by Millar was right by the book. OK, here comes that Mueller. He's had his fun. Wait a minute. What on earth is this? He's shooting one off the left center field fence? The Yankees are bringing in Gabe White to face Nixon? Good. We are back to the book. Lefty on lefty.
But the book called not for a hanging slider which Nixon hung about ten rows into the upper deck in right, leaving the Red Sox to bring on Scott Williamson to slither through the bottom of the ninth, protecting a 9-6 score, with a lot of help from Damon making a one-handed, slipping catch, landing on his can and holding onto the ball with a soft chuckle, before Posada flied out to right to send it to Game Seven.
Game Seven. The two words now most secure on a Yankee fan's lips. They taste an awful lot better than the flavour of the first time ever that the Evil Empire took the Red Sox to an elimination game and lost. But if Red Sox Nation has had too many hopes blown away to do more than brace for the seventh game, too many prayers answered in metaphysical mockery when the Yankees especially stand once more between themselves and the mountaintop, there was still real enough reason to allow just a pinch of hope to rock them to sleep the night before.
WHATS GOING ON?
Peter Schilling Jr.
Wednesday, October 15
All through these playoffs there have been a number of references, here and in other sources, of the curses of both the Cubs and Red Sox. If anyone needs any proof as to the Cubs own so-called curse, they only needed to look to the eighth inning to see evidence. Myself, I didnt get to watch the game, for I was working. My good wife managed to call me about every thirty minutes with updates, the last of which said 3-0, Cubs, in the eighth.
Imagine my surprise when I got in my car and heard: Marlins win 8-3. Unbelievable. When I got home there was virtually nothing on the web yet, and those few who dont have cable know that theres a dearth of news once the games up. Today, however, theres a ton of material, and most of it is infuriating.
A fan reached up and kept Moises Alou from snagging a fly ball. Thats sad. Of course, that only wasted one out, the Marlins rallied for eight runs, for cry-eye, so I think its a bit overstated to suggest that this guy had everything to do with their loss, or possible denial into the Big Show. Perhaps its part of the curse, and if Chicagoans feel that way, if it makes crying into their beer more fun, the Halloween month seem more spooky, more power to them. Quite frankly, I wish I loved a cursed team. Cubs and Red Sox fans might wallow in self-pity and feel as if they have it bad while others taste the success they will never have, but to be a Sox or Cubs fan is better than many of the teams out there today. Their losing ways result in a bevy of good, and sometimes great, literature, while fans in cities like Cleveland, Houston, Arlington, and even the South Side of Chicago have had just as many hard times. So the Cubs last won it all in 08, the Red Sox 18? The White Sox last won in 17, but who cries for the Comiskey Park regulars? In reality, the Cubs and Red Sox have had more interesting series in the last ten years than my Detroit Tigers, whose only curse seems to be the Curse of the Owner-Who-Loves-Hockey-More-Than-Baseball. I say, curses are fine. Theres one more game to go to overcome said curse, and if not, oh, the heartbreak. The Curse marches on.
Only now Im mad. Because some poor sap grabs this ball and now people want to kill him. Security had to lead this man off to a holding facility, and he had to put his coat over his head to avoid being seen. And get this: a fireman who was sitting next to him, and who is being misidentified as the one who knocked the ball, has been receiving hate calls at his firehouse. A fireman for God's sake!
I know you get this all the time in professional sports, and there were hundreds of people in that section, thousands more in the park, many of whom didnt yell or throw beer at the guy. Maybe I would been equally pissed off. Truth be told, my first reaction was "what an idiot", and thoughts of havoc. But, like most people, I keep these to myself, and then stop to think about the big picture. I still wish that hed stayed out of the way so that there wouldnt be any what-ifs. And we can't forget that there's still a seventh game (even if there weren't, it doesn't excuse treating someone this way). But it happened, and whether or not the guys an idiot (and I also have to admit that theres no telling how I, or anyone else, might have acted in the same situation), heand those around him!dont deserve this fate.
THE PROVERBIAL SILVER LINING (FOR TIGERS FANS ONLY)
One good thing about a Marlins advance to the World Series (or even their newfound success, whether they make it or not), is the fact that this team, for the most part, is the work of one Dave Dombrowski, now GM of the Detroit Tigers. As the Detroit Free Press noted, Mr. Dombrowski essentially built this winning team after watching the dismantling of the 97 World Series winning club. Although Mr. D has his work cut out for him in a big way, maybe, just maybe, we distraught Tigers fans can find a sliver of hope in this postseason, watching the fruits of his trading and development grow into a pennant contender. Seems like a long way off, and it probably is a long way off, but thats enough for me.
GOOD WILL BETWEEN NATIONS
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 15
Somewhere amidst the towers and alleys of Chicago walks a Cub fan carrying a heavier weight than any Cub, or any other player on any other star-crossed team, has ever carried. And it is probably a fair enough guess that the most benign reminder he will see of his foul ball faux pas lay across a page of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Cubs Take It On Fanny." It is probably a fair enough guess, too, that 39,576 other people who sat in Wrigley Field in the top of the eighth may believe justice servable with nothing short of a necktie party. At the top of the Hancock Tower.
Lend me your eyes; I come to embrace Cub Country, not pour salt into any Chicagolander's wounds. There is no suggestion intended that the final disaster is pre-ordained just yet. Not if you can send Kerry Wood to the mound to atone for the World Series ticket that got away because one fan wanted what no human being in that park would reject in proper circumstances, seeking nothing criminal but a souvenir of the night the Cubs finally got to the mountaintop from which they could see the Promised Land clearly now.
Here it was, for those who know of it only by way of the dropped-jaws dialoguing over sports talk radio and in the morning after papers:
Mark Prior, living up to his budding reputation of getting a little stronger as the game got a little older, carried a 3-0 shutout into the top of the eighth. The pitch count was climbing but so was Prior's will. And when he got Florida's Mike Mordecai to fly out to Moises Alou in left field to put the Cubs five outs away from the World Series, it seemed not a question of whether but how Prior and his company would finish the gig. Not even when Juan Pierre rifled a double to Alou's territory, bringing up Luis Castillo with a man in scoring position and one out and Prior breaking not a single bead of sweat that hadn't been there already.
Then Prior threw Castillo a neat little fastball, a little bit down and a little bit in, and Castillo swung a four-iron shot up and down the left field line, curling just foul and heading toward the seating rail, as was Alou, gliding over and priming for the leap. Alou leapt with his glove hand up as straight as Lady Liberty herself and it looked for the moment as though the ball would meet his glove in the right spot for the second out. And a young man in a Cubs cap and a headset, most likely listening to the radio play-by-play as many fans like to do even at the ballpark, reached for the ball at the same moment.
Let us be absolutely clear about this. By the technical letter of the law, this was not fan interference. The ball was at the rail and technically out of play. But players have been known well enough for reaching beyond the border to haul them in, whether foul balls lofting to the seats or home runs about to land on the other side of the fence, and Moises Alou was about to join some impeccably select company. The Flying Wallenda Mets helping to nail the 1969 Series, Lou Piniella in the 1978 American League East playoff game, Kirby Puckett in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series.
"I thought we had Castillo out without the fan interference,'' said Dusty Baker, the manager who had made an entire believer out of a city with only too much reason to disbelieve, to the Sun-Times. "But they can't call fan interference because the ball wasn't on the field of play. Naw, it has nothing to do with the curse. It has to do with their bats. No, history has nothing to do with this game."
Mistake number one, Mr. Lizard.
Chicago's signature scrivener, about whom enough said without hyperbole that he was living, breathing Chicago history, was a Cub fan of long and locquacious enough suffering that he might have been the sole acceptable candidate, should anyone have dared even to think of renaming Wrigley Field. Thus it was that on 21 March 1997 Mike Royko wrote a Chicago Tribune column in which he said it was about bloody time Cub Country knocked it the hell off with blaming Cub futility on a poor, dumb farm animal owned by a genial urban tavern rat. "It had nothing to do with a goat's curse," he wrote. "Not unless the goat wore a gabardine suit and sat behind a desk in an executive suite."
Royko filed that column and headed for a Florida vacation with his second wife and their two children. He suffered a brain aneurysm and survived surgery long enough to fly home to die, which he did a month later, his lovely memorial done in the Friendly Confines themselves. That'll teach him.
When Moises Alou came down from his elegant leap screaming blue murder over the biggest Fish that ever got away from him in his life, before Castillo worked out the most powerful walk of all time, before the ball bounced out of Alex Gonzalez's glove you had better not think that 95 years of Chicago Cub baseball did not march across Cub Country's eye like a parade of demons passing Beelzebub's reviewing stand. Forward marched the bench jockeys goading Babe Ruth against Charlie Root, Jolly Cholly Grimm sending out Hank Borowy for the seventh game on one day's rest rather than Hy Vandenberg who'd pitched two and thirds in Games Four and Five, Philip K. Wrigley's College of Coaches, Ernie Broglio, Tommie Agee safe at home, Lee Expletives Undeleted Elia, and the ball squirting through Leon Durham's legs.
"The only words I have
is maybe he was a Marlins fan," Baker went on to say. "That's the only thing I can come up with. If you are for your team, you have to give your players every chance to catch that ball. Mo said he timed it perfectly and all of a sudden the ball was gone. He said the ball was just about to enter his glove."
And when Prior's unexpected ball four wild pitch sent Pierre to third, before Ivan (What A Surprise) Rodriguez singled Pierre home; when Miguel Cabrera's bounder meant all hands safe and the bases loaded, after the bounder bounded out of Gonzalez's glove pocket; when Derrick Lee doubled beyond Alou to send Castillo and I-Rod home and a clearly heartbroken Prior to the shower; when Mike Lowell took a free pass from Chad Fox; when Jeff Conine skied a sacrifice fly to bring in Cabrera and push Lee and Lowell to better scoring position, Todd Hollandsworth got a free pass, and Mordecai ripped a bases-clearing double to deep left center; when Pierre greeted Kyle Farnsworth with an RBI single before Castillo finally popped out to end the calamity
maybe the only people in these United States who could possibly feel the agonies were those who had seen it all in a thousand deaths from Red Sox Nation.
No Boston fan to anyone's knowledge has ever so hungered for a big game souvenir as to snatch defeat from the jaws of a Red Sox triumph. But Red Sox Nation has a few too many citizens to this day who would like to measure for a de la Renta noose a former Cub named Bill Buckner, come to the Olde Towne Team in a trade for Dennis Eckersley. The Nation has clamoured for a World Series reunion with the Cubs from, oh, the moment Mookie Wilson's chopper slunk through Buckner's brittle ankles. Some in the Nation think that sending Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper to Wrigleyville just to take Lee Smith off Andy MacPhail's hands (MacPhail, explaining why he was shopping one of baseball's premier closers: "You get tired of hearing him say 'motherfucker' every time you walk into the clubhouse") was not punishment enough.
Include me out of that contingency, if you please. I have neither a wish to hang Bill Buckner nor a desire to bury Cub Country and its team.
Brace up, Cub Country. Heads high, Chicago Cubs. You gave the best you had to give, you got caught short in a human enough moment of absolute unbelief, and you proved to be human beings, not android supermen, when the Marlins did what tenacious teams tend to do and take advantage of the transdimensional.
Red Sox Nation salutes you. We want nothing more than for the Cubs and the Red Sox to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, start all over again, and nudge aside the flying Fish and the Evil Empire, making for ourselves a World Series for which there can be no words possible, though millions will be composed. We beseech you to ask a certain fan down the left field foul line to come forth, cheer once again, and accept the forgiveness of one and all, side by side with Alex Gonzalez, because there is really nothing to forgive.
And there is nothing we would want less than to be struck down dead over the ghosts of Bill Sianis and Mike Royko. We have enough contentiousness from our own ghosts.
DUMB AND DUMBER
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 15
In the event you were gripped tightly enough by Wrigley Field's tortuous Tuesday night episode of The Twilight Zone, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees consummated the fifth game of the American League Championship Series by switching their fourth game roles.
On Monday night, the Yankees played a little dumb and batted feebly enough when they least needed a futility player, and the Red Sox took advantage enough to win. On Tuesday afternoon, the Red Sox played maybe a little dumber and batted a little more feebly when they least needed futility players, and the Yankees took advantage enough to take advantage enough, sending the series back to New York for a sixth game at least and a seventh game at best.
For the Red Sox, upon whom Providence has bestowed the unhappy necessity of finding the light at the end of tunnels long enough to cross the Atlantic, going back to New York down three games to two the Yankees having taken the fifth game, 4-2, after David Wells pitched in and out of trouble with stubborn will, his mates propped him up with a little leather lather and just the right amount of woodsmanship, and his opponents demonstrated an impeccable knack for playing in diametric opposition to their obvious enough heart could actually be an omen of wonderment yet to be.
The Red Sox need that wonderment after Aaron Boone, in the Yankee second, with first and third and two out, bounced a hopper to third that had "tough, not impossible" stamped on it, which Bill Mueller made impossible when he juggled the ball from his glove as though someone had dropped a red hot can of bolts into his hands. That loaded the bases for Karim Garcia to stroke a clean up-the-middle single to score Jorge Posada and Nick Johnson, before Alfonso Soriano sent Boone home with another single.
They need that wonderment after Wells showed a moment of unhinging by plunking Trot Nixon to start the Red Sox third, before Jason Varitek fired a single just past Derek Jeter's right, the runners moving to second and third on Johnny Damon's bounceout to first. But then Todd Walker flare-flied out to short left center on a scampering catch by Hideki Matsui, and Nomar Garciaparra continued his postseason paralysis, striking out swinging to end the threat.
They need that wonderment after Lowe pitched into and out of trouble in the top of the fourth, with no little help from his friends, as Walker's offbalance wide throw forced Kevin Millar at first to reach and clap it shut before just missing a backsweep tag on Matsui. He took second on a bounceout, before Bounce bounced one to third that Mueller picked clean but threw high and wide to force Millar to spear it offline, leaving things testy enough until Lowe got plate-crowding Garcia to fly out to left and Soriano to strike out swinging.
They need that wonderment after nothing much else came from Manny Ramirez stepping up to start the Red Sox fourth, Wells steppingd forward delivering the first pitch of the inning, and Ramirez delivering it first class into the seats atop the Green Monster. David Ortiz immediately turned a jammer into a base hit on a flare to short center, and the Red Sox had a little shove turning to push for just long enough to let Millar ground to Soriano at second, who shovelpassed to Jeter for the throw on to first and a double play before Mueller struck out swinging to keep things 3-1.
They need that wonderment when, after seeing and raising the Soriano-Jeter shovel double with a stylish one of their own to end the Yankee fifth, Nixon started the bottom of the fifth reaching on an error bouncing on and off Soriano, leaving (after Jason Varitek struck out swinging, on Wells's best fastball of the day) thanks to Damon bouncing one up the middle which Soriano glove-shoveled to Jeter for the force. Then Ramirez grounded to third to force out Walker to end that threat.
They need that wonderment after Jeter clamped down on another would-be pressure push by diving portside in the seventh, on Varitek's sharp one-out grounder, and throwing high, compelling Johnson to high jump and spin for the tag, before Damon grounded out a little more routinely to short.
They need that wonderment after the top of the eighth, when manager Grady Little was faced with a running-on-empty Lowe and the Yankees due to send up two lefthanded bats sandwiching a switch hitter whose strong side is his left side. Little had lefthander Alan Embree warm in the pen but left Lowe in, to walk Jason Giambi, get Bernie Williams to force him at second, and give up Posada's single to right, pushing Williams to third. Then Little brought in Embree. And Matsui promptly bounded one off the reliever's body toward third base, dead enough to let Williams on third cheat and chug toward home, forcing Mueller to settle for the sure out at first, before Johnson flied out to left, leaving a 4-1 Yankee lead in the oncoming hands of The Mariano.
They need that wonderment after Walker, starting the bottom of the eighth, did the customarily undoable against The Mariano, hammering a long triple off the low right field corner fence and scoring on Garciaparra's unassisted groundout to first before Ortiz singled to center. Unfortunately, Ramirez followed up with a swinging strikeout, mostly on pitches closer to the opposte batter's box than the strike zone. And The Mariano continued feeding the Red Sox in his customary manner, getting Millar to force Ortiz at second to end the eighth, then breezing through the ninth to finish off.
Only once have the Red Sox returned to New York in a postseason series with a three games to two lead. All they did then was snatch the most infamous defeat from the jaws of victory of which history and NBC Television have record. One might think that returning to New York needing a two-game sweep to return to the World Series can mean only wonderment this time around.
Dare to dream.
O'ER THE RAMPARTS, WE WATCHED
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 14
One certainly hopes that those expecting to go to a Fenway Park riot Monday night were not too terribly disappointed that a baseball game broke out, and a magnificent enough one at that, and stayed broken out even in the fourth inning.
Surely I was not the only one to know a certain perverse relief that the fourth inning of the fourth game passed with a different kind of bang than Saturday's fourth inning had done. A bullet liner by Yankee first baseman Nick Johnson, smothered with a portside dive by his Red Sox counterpart Kevin Millar, retiring the Yankees and pausing the frame, surely went down with far less abrasion than the Saturday fastball that went upside Karim Garcia's back and emptied the benches for the first of two grotesque spells.
And surely the Red Sox had concluded that, this time, the fourth inning would resume with no bang but the kind that hangs up on the scoreboard, after hanging up long enough to land back in the right field seats. With no runs and two hits for each side, with Mike Mussina matching Tim Wakefield in a mound duel of craftsmen and not marksmen, the right field seats are precisely where Todd Walker banged a Mussina service, opening the scoring that would even up the American League Championship Series with a 3-2 Red Sox win.
The Yankees had a little bang for themselves in the top of the fifth. David Dellucci, spelling Garcia in right field, the better to rest the hand Garcia injured leaping into a foolish Saturday bullpen scrum with a Fenway grounds crewman, came home when Derek Jeter ricocheted what turned out to be a double off the bag at third. And the Red Sox retaliated in the coin that cashes in far more than a shot in the mouth or a chorus of chin music, reclaiming the lead when Trot Nixon - who seems to have developed a postseason knack for such swinging launched a satellite programmed for the far side of the center field fence.
This is not to say that the evening's performance continued or concluded without a momentary lapse of rhythm or a brief spell of cacophony. There are those who believe it easier to pass an Israeli through the eye of a Palestinian than for the Yankees versus the Red Sox to waft gently into the hanging mist.
There was the manner in which the Red Sox picked up what proved the game winner. Jason Varitek, relieving Wakefield's usual knuckleball catcher Doug Mirabelli, ripped one to Jeter which should have been a double play to end the frame. Except that Alfonso Soriano took the toss over to second as though tangled, before planting his feet flat enough to allow him no better than a slop toss to first. The net result was a Red Sox catcher with all the fleetness of an eighteen-wheeler making it safely to first while Millar shuffled across the plate.
Felix Heredia relieved Mussina following the Yankee starter's gallant six and two thirds innings, and clearly Heredia felt unloved striding in amidst the Nation's lyric chorus of "We Want Nelson! We Want Nelson!" He could hardly comprehend the charisma of a Yankee reliever whose Saturday night umbrage at Fenway grounds crewman Paul Williams's rooting for the Red Sox did or did not translate into assault and battery.
Knowing it unwise to rejoin upon his baffling tormentors, Heredia settled instead for the rejoinder most available to him within the bounds of total war, plunking Walker on the shoulder in the eighth inning and briefly sending a hush around the park. But Walker speeded the resolution of the hush by taking his base post haste rather than taking Heredia out for a brief business beating. And Heredia could leave the game knowing that he had speeded the crowd's satisfaction because They Got Nelson! They Got Nelson!
And it took only one pitch before Nelson found himself frisked, but it went without disturbance and he was not bound over. It had nothing to do with the still-unresolved Saturday night bullpen bull and everything to do with Red Sox manager Grady Little wondering to the umpires whether an apparently suspicious sighting around the mound indicated a one-man conspiracy to commit what an old pitching coach called the Staten Island sinker. As it turned out, Nelson was most likely committing only a conspiracy to double play, which is precisely what he got to end the Red Sox eighth.
The only other known conspiracy on the grounds seems to have been a dash of the usual prankishness from the Red Sox gods, Scott Williamson coming in to close it out in the top of the ninth, doing so only after serving up a sacrificial lamb of a pitch that pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra pinched parabolically into the seats behind the bullpens. We may record the sacrifice acceptable by virtue of Williamson's striking out Dellucci and Alfonso Soriano to finish.
Once again, Mussina pitched with yeoman grace that did not deserve a loss for his effort, given his ten strikeouts in six and two thirds. Once again, Wakefield performed fluttery virtuosity, after an early uneasiness that ended when Millar bailed him out with a magnificent spear of a low Jason Giambi liner that doubled up Jeter in the first. He kept the Yankees to a single run, atoning for four walks with eight shivery strikeouts, including striking out the side in the Yankee sixth and disposing of the Yankees on four measly pitches in the seventh.
And the worst that happened on the evening was Michael Bolton taking a long pause, singing the National Anthem, because he lost his place o'er the ramparts we watched. He was forgiven for the most part on the night baseball unsullied found its place again across the woven garden of the Fens.
THE GHOST OF SATCHEL PAIGE
Peter Schilling Jr.
Sunday, October 12 (Late)
One of the many things that makes baseball so great is that, every once in awhile, there's an individual performance that just blows your mind. You won't see that in the other sports: for Joe Montana to do what he did, or Michael Jordan, you had to have a number of receivers and defenders around to give them the room to shine. Baseball does, too
most of the time. Every once in awhile a player comes along who dominates a game so soundly it makes you think he could have stepped in there all by himself and won.
I don't normally like to run a 'line of the day', but this one really wowed me:
J. Beckett IP: 9; H: 2; R: 0; ER: 0; BB: 1; SO: 11.
Too bad it was for the other team. And I would really hate to have another wheel on the bandwagon go flat, and watch that goofy contraption with its black and teal and fish logo go riding on down the road to the World Series. As I wrote earlier today, this series is far from over, despite what ESPN and others may claim. Especially since the Cubsthose fellows who've been drawing first blood and lighting up the basepathsdid nothing this game but look awed. Because of (I'm still shaking my head) Josh Beckett.
Now I remember reading a story from long ago, where some ballplayer, before a game, cut a four-inch hole in a fence and challenged everyone to throw a ball through it, from sixty feet, six inches away. No one did except one guy, who, on his sixteenth try, hit it. Eight more tries and he couldn't repeat it. Satchel Paige moseyed on over and sent it through ten times without a miss, and moseyed on away.
Josh Burkett looked like Satchel Paige today. He tossed 80 of his 113 pitches for strikes and he was hitting the corners like the lanky one. None of the Cubs managed to hit anything decent off him, just a Texas League single by Gonzalez in the fifth, a screaming foul by Ramirez in the seventh, and a clean hit by Alou in the same. It was one of those games where he did not make the Cubs look bad: no one could hit these pitches. From the booth you had Al Leiter sounding as if he'd just seen Beckett reinvent the sport. Cubs batters, like Tom Goodwin, watched a curveball break perfectly across the plate for strike three and begin their walk before the Ump made the call. Beckett hit corners, his curves dropped four feet, his fastballs and changeups moved like sparrows. Josh Beckett?
Unfortunately, you perusal of the box score might lead you to believe that the game was close. It wasn't. I was most amazed that Zambrano's didn't bite his own tongue off (does he always keep it out?), nor gave up ten runs. By contrast, his was one of those performances where you wonder just when the fireworks will begin... for the other team. The Marlins pounded the ball even on most outs, filled the bases twice in a row, and finally slammed the door shut with a two run homer in the fifth that had all the appearance of being the game-ending shot. The Marlins scored twice more, but did it matter? Satch was coming in to finish it off, cool as a gin and tonic. Now the Marlins get to come back to the city on the make, looking, in my book, like someone to contend with.
So this is good, right? A good series, yes? Seven games is the best, correct? Well, that might be true, except that history and the mental health of an entire city might argue otherwise. I fear for both the Sox and the Cubs should these games go to seven apiece.
You could look at the statistics and say to yourself that the Cubs have the definite advantage, and they do. The ghost of Satchel Paige is haunting both pitching staffs, drifting into Prior now and again. Being a former Marlin himself, I'm hoping old Satch won't head that way again, but vanish altogether, leaving the Cubs and Marlins to their own fates.
But I worry: Prior's been pitching like a madman, and eventually that performance has to come to an end. Does anyone know how Carl Pavano's going to fare? I don't and neither do you: Beckett sucked in his last assignment, but pitched, in the eyes of the almighty Fox broadcast team, the best game of the whole series today. Maybe Prior pitches a two hitter
and loses 1-0 as this accursed Billy goat bites the Cubbies in the rump. Should that occur, Kerry Wood has to run on fumes against former Twin Mark Redman
and the mentality that goes with a team playing baseball and fighting history.
The Marlins ran away with today's game because one player, Josh Beckett, became amazing for one day, and could carry his team on his back. Four runs might not be enough in game six. Come Tuesday, for either team to win, everybody better show.
THERE WAS GOD, CRYING ON FENWAY
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 13
Walking the Fenway Park turf earlier Sunday, New York Yankee first baseman Nick Johnson said the rain "is standing over your feet." By the scheduled game start Sunday night, darkness had fallen onto the park long enough, a few thousand fans still scattered around the seats, light patches around the structure, the Green Monster a curtain only partially funereal.
Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte, the Game Two winner, backlighted from a fencing to his right, looked beatific performing his customary between-starts throwing, the dark Louisianan in dark workout jersey throwing with gentle aplomb, manager Joe Torre a few feet to his side, the two men haloed occasionally by continuing, intermittent, atmospheric light rain made subdued starlight in the dulled park lighting.
The hours since the Saturday night soiree seem to have proven a few reflective moments, some irrigated by a small round of fines passed down from baseball's lord of discipline, Bob Watson. Don Zimmer, the septuagenarian Yankee bench coach, who had rumbled across the field on a self-appointed mission to deliver Pedro Martinez a left hook, and collapsed to the grass after the Maestro cupped his head in his hands to shove the old man away, was one of the fined, making what the wire services called a short and emotional statement before Game Four was declared a washaway. "I'm embarrassed for what happened last night," said Zimmer, who was described as being in quivering voice and shaking body. "I'm embarrassed for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the fans, the umpires, and my family."
Behind the distinctive countenance inspiring such nicknames as the Gerbil and Popeye rests a man who has survived no few baseball wars and carries a coarse intelligence and spirit that endears him even to those who otherwise lament his management of the Red Sox's incandescent 1978 meltdown. However much lighter in the money clip Watson has made him for now, Zimmer needs no reminder of how foolish it is that, if a 31-year-old pitcher is well out of line to shove a septuagenarian aside, at the risk of the older man going down in a heap, the older man is even more foolish to travel long distance for planting a roundhouse into the younger man's grille.
Zimmer might care to deliver a parallel reminder to New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a man who seems to practise Marxism Groucho, that is: looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and misapplying the wrong solution. "If that happened in New York," said Bloomberg of the Gerbil v. the Maestro, "we would have arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period. You start doing that pretty soon you're going to throw a 61-year-old man to the ground, and I have a big vested interest in that."
We forgive His Honour's adding two years to Zimmer's life as we reproach his indifference to the thought that it is nowhere consecrated for a septuagenarian bench coach - whose Yankees keep Crescendo in Chin Music, Op. 22 in the book, at least until Roger Clemens retires officially; who has rarely if ever been known to object when the opus is played by any pitcher sharing his colours to hold by seniority a license to carry a shot in the mouth.
And while Clemens earned a rightful sheaf of hosannas for keeping himself composed on the mound after the Gerbil v. the Maestro ended, he could ill resist enunciating with his old disingenuous aplomb. It is one thing to stand aghast when Pedro Martinez under Yankee fire wings one upside Karim Garcia's back, but Roger Clemens saying that being hit around gives you no right to stick one behind somebody's head equals Joseph Stalin saying that having political opposition gives you no right to stick them into the nearest Siberian concentration camp.
The Red Sox lack not for enunciating their own kind of foolery, a case in point being relief pitcher Scott Sauerbeck, a man whose future probably does not include ringside analysis for HBO. "It was kind of funny," said Sauerbeck of the Gerbil v. the Maestro, to ESPN columnist Jim Caple. "It reminded me of when Tommy Lasorda fell down during the (2001) All-Star Game. Zim hit the ground and he just kept rolling. It looked like he was rolling downhill. We thought he was going to roll into the dugout."
The following evening, the only thing rolling the field was residue of the rain that put the fourth American League Championship Series game on hold for another day. If those lingering after the game was called included subscribers to the famous line from "A League of Their Own", that there's no crying in baseball, a line which customarily flunks the Boston polygraph, some might have been rethinking or canceling that subscription.
For God with His nature had wept upon Fenway Park following the soiling of what had built, until then, into as metaphysically gripping a series as the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry could compose. And if indeed tears cleanse the soul, we should hope His washed away the worst toxins in a rivalry whose best and most passionate elevates the game for participant and rooter alike.
ROLLIN' AND TUMBLIN'
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 12
"The fact is they filled those holes up with what they call tantalum buttons that act kind of like corks in a bottle. I can therefore truthfully state that all of those players who played for me through the years and thought I sometimes managed like I had a hole in my head were wrong. I actually have four holes in my head!''
Don Zimmer, in Zim, on the net result of a 1953 beaning he suffered in the minor leagues.
"I know it's the playoffs and a great setting, but gosh, when I told y'all the other day it was going to be festive, I didn't know it was going to be this festive."
Roger Clemens, after Game Three, ALCS.
Which was the more "it figures" moment, in the ninth inning of the American League Championship Series' third game, when too much was said and likewise done? Was it Mariano Rivera retiring the side in order to save a 4-3 Yankee win? Was it the small scrum between the Yankee bullpen and a Fenway Park grounds crewman before the bottom of the ninth, into which was drawn Yankee right fielder Karim Garcia, who shortly left the game with a small hand injury?
Perhaps none but the Lord of Hosts knows. But if you ponder for a moment and turn your passions off likewise, there is a possible interpretation of poetic justice, given that Garcia was the earlier catalytic wick to a powder keg exploding into yet another manifestation of the absurdism forever underwriting and haunting the Red Sox.
We take you back to the top of the fourth, amidst a bristling-enough duel between Roger Clemens, approaching the end of his luminous career, and Pedro Martinez, who remains among the elite by way of mixing speed and direction in a deft compensation for the pure power that has dwindled in small phases the past few seasons. Martinez was staked to an early 2-0 lead, but Garcia singling home Jorge Posada in the second made it 2-1 and Derek Jeter driving one over the Monster and onto Landsdowne in the third tied it up.
The Yankees in the fourth took a 3-2 lead, when Hideki Matsui bounced a ground rule double into the right field seats, sending Posada home and Nick Johnson to third, adding no little edge to a battle requiring no invitation for edge. Garcia then stepped in to hit, seeming now to inch his way toward crowding the plate, something which never goes unnoticed by Martinez, and the Maestro (as Martinez is called sometimes) threw one up and in which tailed toward the husky Garcia's upper back.
Various replays made it somewhat an open question whether the ball grazed Garcia's bat off his upper back, but home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez ruled Garcia a hit batsman and Garcia took his base, after jawing with no little animation at the Red Sox marksman, while Marquez warned both clubs about throwing inside, a warning not unforgotten a half inning later. Then Alfonso Soriano grounded one to shortstop, sending home Johnson with the fourth Yankee run as Garcia headed toward second base. He was out at second trying to break up the double play and, while he didn't break it up, he settled for nearly breaking up Todd Walker, plowing the Boston second baseman as if with amputation on his mind and murder in his heart.
Then, after runner and fielder performed a shoving match that invited each man's mates to step out of the dugouts barking, one made a note that Posada, Clemens, and Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer seemed the most animated of the snappers, before Garcia finally dusted himself off and returned toward his dugout. Posada and Garcia barked a little back and forth with Martinez, with the Red Sox pitcher pointing to his own head a time or two, saying what seemed to be next time, the pitch goes into and not behind your head.
Martinez got Enrique Wilson, a customarily benign hitter who happens to own him (10 for 20 lifetime in regular season play, with four doubles and two runs batted in), to pop out to end the inning, preceding a few moments more nattering between the two sides, before settling just enough for Clemens to come forth and begin working the bottom of the fourth.
Here was Clemens, pitching postseason baseball, in the park where he once transcended and sometimes personified the metaphysical agonies of Red Sox baseball, in all its deceptive highs and incandescent lows. He began the bottom of the fourth pitching to Manny Ramirez, whose first inning single drove home the first two Red Sox runs. And, as the Rocket flared an early even count to Ramirez, whose bat can be as big as his often-suspected indifference, the mind trailed back to a July series between the two dueling clubs, in which Clemens speared Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar with a pitch two games before Martinez crunched both Soriano and Jeter.
Now, Clemens winged one high and tight enough at Ramirez, not quite into Ramirez's skull but at least an inch or three above his eye level. Ramirez ducked, spun, and snapped back to. He also snapped at Clemens while he was at it, lifting his bat just so, perhaps aghast in light of Marquez's earlier warning against both clubs and their pitchers. Both dugouts' worth poured out to the field, the bullpens not that far behind, Jeter hustling to keep Clemens from making things worse enough to get himself tossed anyway, a few minor-looking tussles coming and going among a few Yankees and Red Sox troops.
And, then - as Ramirez's mates did yeoman's work to keep their man from thought or deed of poleaxing Clemens (David Ortiz, the on-deck hitter, got to Ramirez first, wrapping his arms around the angry left fielder) and Clemens's mates had a little lesser work of keeping their man from anything more than tossing a few warm-ups to keep himself on task it happened.
Zimmer's bejowled, cheek-inflated countenance provokes some to nickname the former Red Sox manager Popeye, though he is known far better as the Gerbil. (He was thus nicknamed by his then-Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, perhaps in part along the line of his distinctive appearance. The creature itself is not considered a nasty being, but the nickname riled Zimmer enough that he put Lee on ice and kept him there, despite his players' entreaties and Lee's past success against the Yankees, for the final game of the Boston Massacre weekend in 1978, sending a nervous rookie named Bobby Sprowl into the terminal currents of Red Sox infamy.) But now Zimmer wears the colours of the Evil Empire itself, and he rumbled out from the Yankee dugout looking more like Poopdeck Pappy, as you might expect of a septuagenarian, knees replaced surgically, head including a partial plate and four tantalum buttons, the merit badges of a brain-spattering beaning he suffered as a minor league player in 1953.
Zimmer did not take a long day's journey across the Fenway Park infield to the first base side merely to settle his team. He came to clock Pedro Martinez one upside the head, as a television replay showed was Zimmer's clear enough intent, evinced by the left fist rising as he approached a pitcher young enough to be one of his grandchildren. By defensive instinct, Martinez sidestepped the oncoming Zimmer, putting his hands on either side of Zimmer's head, shoving the feisty coach aside, with Zimmer tumbling to the grass. To have seen it as it transpired was to see what resembled an angry child tossing a rag doll to the floor after receiving a particularly excessive chastisement.
The Yankees scurried to tend Zimmer, who came out of it with a bruise on his nose and recovered well enough to be seen chuckling in decent volume after the game had resumed well enough. One prefers to think Zimmer took stock enough to find it rather on the absurd side that a man his age could even think of crossing two foul lines to take out a far younger, more wiry being. If some scream bloody murder over Martinez assailing a defenceless old man (and there were those on the Internet forums saying words to just that effect), there should be others screaming likewise to ask where on earth it is written that a 72-year-old man has a licence to travel long distance looking, for eyes that can see, as though his only thought is throwing a left hook.
Considering Clemens's thickly documented ability to treat baseball as total war, his composure once the scrum began to settle was remarkable in its own right. He finished what he began in the fourth, retiring the side in order, and finished his day's work retiring six in a row and yielding one hit in his final three innings' work. He yielded to Felix Heredia for the bottom of the seventh, and the Red Sox mounted one final threat after Heredia walked Ortiz to start the inning. Jose Contreras came in promptly and was welcomed rudely, Kevin Millar singling to left center and Ortiz, keeping well enough in mind Bernie Williams's benign throwing arm, grinding all the way to third. But the Red Sox could get only Ortiz home, as Trot Nixon bounded into a double play and, after Bill Mueller drew a walk, Jason Varitek popped one high and foul outside third, with Aaron Boone, spelling Wilson, catching the ball just inside the seats to end the inning.
Martinez, too, recomposed himself well enough and actually pitched a little bit better than Clemens did for his own final three innings' work, recovering his fastball well enough, getting the last eleven men he faced in order, though not without a little help from Nixon, taking a possible second homer away from Jeter with a magnificent leaping catch. The Maestro turned it over to Mike Timlin for a one-two-three eighth and Alan Embree for an almost as neat ninth. Embree started by getting Posada to bounce out sharply to Millar at first unassisted, but Johnson whipped a single up the middle. Then Matsui whacked into a 5-4-3 and the Red Sox kept the Yankees from adding an insurance run or two.
As if they needed it, with Mariano Rivera performing the usual virtuosity in the eighth and ninth, his only edgy moment coming in the eighth when Walker drove a one-out shot right toward the Monster which Matsui hauled down as it fell to the left of the scoreboard. But he got Nomar Garciaparra to ground out to Jeter to end the eighth, then got Ramirez on a sharp groundout to himself, Ortiz lining out sharply to first, and Millar flying out to straightaway center, and the Yankees got themselves a two games to one League Championship Series lead.
Unfortunately, the ninth inning did not finish without one more spot of trouble, appearing as the Red Sox prepared to bat in their half. A Fenway Park grounds crew member, Paul Williams, either stationed or climbing into the Yankee bullpen, was spotted waving a rally towel such as was handed out to fans entering the park. Yankee relief pitcher Jeff Nelson was not amused, telling Williams that if he was rooting for the Red Sox he should step back into the Red Sox bullpen. Nelson subsequently told reporters Williams, who acknowledged pumping his fist as he waved his rally towel, "took a swing at me."
But Williams seems to have taken a lot more than a punch. He was reported with cleat marks in his back and his arm. One Red Sox official told reporters the man may have been kicked in the mouth, and police appear to believe the grounds crewman was the victim in the incident.
And Garcia had hopped over the right field fence to join his mates in the bullpen, somehow incurring a hand injury for his trouble, even needing a police officer or two to restrain him. As if he hadn't been in the mix enough already, on such an incendiary day during an incendiary series involving baseball's most historically incendiary rivalry.
PLEASE DON'T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS
Peter Schilling Jr.
Sunday, October 12
During last night's Cubs-Marlins laugher, we were reminded, over and over, that the Cubbies are but one game from entering their first World Series since the awful '45 Series against the Detroit Tigers. This is true. And what a wonderful thing this would be, for baseball, for Chicago, for ailing Ron Santo and the ghosts of Cubs and Cub fans hovering throughout the afterworld.
However, the Cubs are also three games from their worst upset since they lost three in a row to the San Diego Padres in 1984.
There's a curse on here, people, something involving billy goats, or Bill Veeck's pop, or the Tribune Company's bottom-line thinking. It's too damned early to celebrate, although I do have to say that the Cubs are looking very, very good. But I won't be convinced of anything until this team actually sees the ivy turning color. Which hasn't happened yet.
But there's a lot to like with these Cubs. That the Marlins have to take three straight, including two against the Prior/Wood combo is hardly reassuring. But they're also getting production from down in the order, not making too many mistakes (though gave three showed them making quite a few; which, to this pessimist's mind, makes one shudder at the thought of the Cubs v. Yankees). So I'm hopeful
but not too hopeful.
For a bandwagon team, I have to say that the Cubs are a lot of fun. There's a number of items I never noticed about them before, most notably (to me) Randall Simon's batting stance. That guy just doesn't leave the box, even when he's thrown at. A pitch to the head and he collapses then jumps right up and readies himself to whack the ball. And can anyone tell me what's the deal with the onion on the bottom of Sammy Sosa's bat? I'm sure there are hundreds of the faithful out there who know. Does it improve the swing? The weight?
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 10
Trying to beat Andy Pettitte he of the dark Louisiana countenance and that distinctive routine, when taking a sign from his catcher: cap over his eyebrows, glove covering his face up to his lower eye outlines, likeable to a burglar peering over a window sill before deciding the household jewelry is his for the taking is arduous enough, without making errors of omission before the Yankee lefthander brings his better stuff to bear at last.
It may have taken Pettitte about two innings worth before he was comfortable enough to have a full try at the Red Sox's jewels Thursday night, but it took the Red Sox the same amount of time to leave the jewels unlocked. When seven of your first nine batters reach base on one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball, and you get one (count it) run for your trouble, you might as well just hand Pettitte the keys to the house and save him the trouble.
While giving each other the attaboys after evening up the American League Championship series with a 6-2 win, the Yankees had to be thinking for a moment that there but for the lack of grace of the first two innings went they. Especially the top of the first.
Gabe Kapler, in for the not-yet-back Johnny Damon, led off with an infield hit. He was caught stealing as Bill Mueller struck out, but Nomar Garciaparra immediately followed with a single to center, taking third when Manny Ramirez singled to likewise. Then, David Ortiz drew a walk, and just like that, before the game was a complete inning into the books, the Red Sox had the bases loaded. But, just like that, Pettitte got Kevin Millar to pop out to shortstop, and just like that pop went the Red Sox.
They didn't make that heavy a threat bringing in their first run in the top of the second, when Damian Jackson, spelling Todd Walker for a slight defensive edge (or so it was speculated), drove home Jason Varitek to open both the scoring and the only lead the Olde Towne Team would have all night. And that lead lasted long enough for Derek Lowe, who otherwise pitched a fine game in his own right, to get three groundouts after walking Jorge Posada to start the Yankee second. The problem was that, sandwiched between two of those groundouts, with Hideki Matsui on after forcing Posada at second, Nick Johnson wrapped one over the right field fence for an early enough 2-1 Yankee lead.
Lowe's worst inning proved to be the third, after Alfonso Soriano led off with a fly out to left. Derek Jeter chopped an infield hit up the third base line, on a sharp sinker that wasn't quite out on the black enough, with Bernie Williams singling him home. The Yankees got that run cleanly enough and could have gotten more, after Posada grounded to Jackson, who tried tossing the ball to Garciaparra to begin an inning-ending double play before he really had the ball in his hand. The toss short-hopped the shortstop and reached Lowe, who snatched it up to stop any further damage, before getting Matsui and Johnson on groundouts to keep it 3-1.
Both the Red Sox and the Yankees stumbled upon scoring opportunities and got stumbled off them just as quickly in the fourth. The Red Sox put a man on when Trot Nixon walked with two out and stole second, only to watch helplessly enough when Pettitte bagged Jackson on a slicing strikeout. The Yankees almost one-upped the Olde Towne Team when Aaron Boone got on base the hard way to start their half, getting plunked by a pitch and stealing second, before taking third on erstwhile Cleveland Indian Karim Garcia's groundout. But Jeter grounded out to Garciaparra and the Yankees got grounded. Temporarily.
Again with two outs, this time in the top of the fifth, the Red Sox had another chance, when Garciaparra lined a single to left, getting sure enough hold of a low-breaking, soft curve ball that you could begin wondering whether Pettitte was tiring a bit. Only a bit, however, as Ramirez pushed Garcia practically up against the right field fence to haul in the fly and end that alleged threat. And the Yankees padded the lead in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a quick flash of brains on the bases. Williams had lined a one-out double toward and then off the left center field wall and, after Posada popped out to left, Matsui nudged a single to short right. Then, he lured the Red Sox into a right field to secod to shortstop to first rundown, keeping himself alive long enough for Williams to head home for the 4-1 Yankee lead.
Matsui had not long to wait before putting another obstruction in front of the Red Sox. He glided back toward the track and then over to the left field foul line corner to take at least a double away from Ortiz. Millar went down on swinging strikes immediately, but the Red Sox looked encouraged enough by another warning sign that Pettitte might be close to done for the night. That's what Varitek promptly lining one over the left field fence, before Nixon flies out to deep center to end the inning, does for you, aside from closing the deficit to two runs.
And, after Lowe buried the Yankees with three straight groundouts in the bottom of the sixth, the Red Sox pushed again with two outs in the seventh, when Mueller lined a single to left. The next thing anyone knew, Pettitte was coming out (to a noisy, and well deserved, standing ovation, to which he tipped and waved his cap proudly enough), Jose Contreras was coming in, and the nimble Cuban got rid of the Red Sox with one pitch, Garciaparra popping out to Jeter.
The bottom of the seventh began well enough for Lowe when he got Soriano to bounce out to first unassisted and Jeter to ground out to third to continue. But Giambi then singled to right and Williams drew a walk, drawing in Scott Sauerbeck from the bullpen and David Dellucci to run for Giambi. And Posada drew one off the left center field fence for a two-RBI double, which might not have been that much of a shock if one realized that Sauerbeck and inherited runners do not mix, about half the time. (He seemed this season to strand inherited runs and allow inherited runners to score about 50-50.) But after Posada took third on a passed ball and Matsui walked, Sauerbeck got Johnson to ground out to second to keep it 6-2, Yankees.
Contreras with a perfect eighth (a swinging strikeout and two pop outs) did his best to keep it that way, as did Bronson Arroyo as he dispatched the Yankees with disarming ease in the bottom of the inning, including two strikeouts. But Mariano Rivera made sure it would end that way with a ninth inning compromised only by Todd Walker, pinch hitting for Jackson, singling down the left field line with two out and taking second on the house. Then David McCarty, pinch hitting for Kapler, struck out swinging in classic Rivera style, and the Yankees put the LCS-opening split in their back pockets.
Red Sox Nation has patience enough, with the series moving to Fenway Park and a Saturday date between Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, to think about snatching the jewels back. All they have to beware is tripping the Yankees' late alarm.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY RUDE
Peter Schilling Jr.
Friday, October 10
I don't get the Florida Marlins. By 'don't get', I mean that I have no idea why they are in existence. There are four teams that confuse me in this way: both Florida teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Montreal Expos.
They confound me for a number of reasons. The Expos make me wonder about the mentality of baseball. Here it is, 1969, and Major League baseball decides to forgo Milwaukee, Florida, Denver, to put a team in North America's most European city. And allow them to be called the Expos. Granted, this was a time when they were calling teams the "Colt .45s", after Texas' favorite weapon and/or malt beverage, but still. What the hell is an Expo. (Yes, I know that there was an international Exposition. It is still a silly name).
But to my mind, the addition of teams in Florida and Arizona gets my bile up. To me, it's all about the population. Does anyone really come from either of these states? My impression is that people move there a) to attend one of their party colleges, b) to work in the tourist industry and, c) to die. I'm sure there are people who live in both states, though I can't imagine why.
Actually, I know a gentleman from there, but he is an intelligent man, and roots for the Yankees. See, many of the great baseball teams hold spring training down in those parts, and many of the locals actually follow those teams, much in the same way they follow the news from where they used to live. Even native Floridians follow the Northern squads. Like the Cubs. Like the Yanks. Maybe even like the Tigers.
But who cares about the Marlins? Has there ever been a team that was such an underdog that no one gave a rip about? Let me add that I know that part of this is the ghost of Wayne Huizenga, whose jerk move to rip apart his team in '98 forever tainted the Marlins. But even if he hadn't, I can't imagine anyone wanting this team to win.
I think the problem lies not in their need for a new stadium, but because this is just another amusement in a state filled with amusements. Baseball as theme park, not baseball as a passion, baseball as a religion. Who are the Marlins fans dating 'way back? You're going to hear tons this postseason about the passion of the Yankees fan, the angst of the Red Sox fan, the transcendent joy of the Wrigley bleacher bum. But you're not going to hear anything about those Marliners. What you'll hear is stories about the men on the teamsame stuff you heard in '97. If memory serves, that team basically existed, not to buy Florida a victory, but, in the human interest angle, to win Jim Leyland a trophy after all these years. This year it's Jack McKeon. And maybe Pudge.
So if you really root for baseball teams as an end in themselves, root for the Marlins. Or, do as I do: don't love them, don't hate them, just furrow your brow and wonder, why?
A BRIEF NOTE ON THE DISPARAGING OF THE ATHLETICS
I know that the reason the Athletics are on the receiving end of so much criticism is entirely due to Billy Beane's ego and Moneyball. For good reason: Moneyball, great book though it is, paints this team as if it had reinvented the sport. That's what makes it such a thrill, but undoubtedly it is what also ruffled feathers. And pundits being what they are, love to knock people off their high horses whenever possible.
I've read a few of the articles, which state that the Athletics were stupid, slow, unable to be flexible and play differing styles of baseball, that they don't stress the fundamentals. True, there are the defenders, but because there's a 'system', this system must be a failure. How else do you explain their failures?
Think about it for a moment: if the As were speedy, executed the fundamentals, played reliable defense, and had a balanced offensive attack, they'd be
The Atlanta Braves.
Because of all their press, the As don't get to bow out as silently as the Braves. Or the Rangers. Or the Pirates of the early '90s. It's only curses that haunt the Cubs and Sox, and it took a monkey to remove the curse of the Angels. But because someone was brave enough to try something newand then egotistical enough to crow about itthe As are going to forever be under the microscope. I suppose that's just the way it is.
READERS RESPOND TO THE NEW BUMS
I know that Bud Selig would just as soon make me commissioner as take my advice, but I still think the Expos should move to NYC. Readers were split; here's some comments:
From Mr. Sam Person: "As a former resident of Brooklyn, I assume you had tongue in cheek. It was most unfortunate that the Dodgers left, and it may well be that their departure accelerated the demographic changes that were happening in Brooklyn.
But they left, and that should he that. Past glory should be remembered and cherished, but it is true that you can't go back again.
Had Walter O'Malley's team built his dream stadium in the area he wanted - the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn- it would have prevented the decay that lingered in that area for decades to follow. Again, there is a big but; it didn't happen.
Three teams in the New York Metro area is not a reality, in my view."
One Mr. Bill Suphan stated: "I was hoping the Mets' minor league NY-Penn league team would have been named "Da Bums". Having major league ball back in Brooklyn would be a super retro-move but baseball won't do it and I presume the Yankees would move heaven and earth to block it."
Rod Nelson suggested reading Andrew Zimbalist's great book May The Best Team win, and to visit Doug Pappas' Business of Baseball weblog, which is a great one, indeed.
THE RETURN OF THE BUMS?
Peter Schilling Jr.
Thursday, October 9
Truth be told, I did not get a chance to see last night's Cubs-Marlins match. For starters, I was at work. Had I not been at work, I would have had to go down to the local pub to watch the game, which has its ups and downsthe upside being I wouldn't be able to hear Fox's great commentary.
However, considering that the Cubs utterly destroyed the Marlins, I doubt my coverage of that game would be very interesting. I could say that this game may have proved me wrong about yesterday's analysis (that this year's Marlins were looking very much like last year's Angels), but I'm too worried about jinxes to write that. Except that I just did. So maybe you can blame me for whatever trouble the Cubs run into.
Instead of covering yesterday's game, I thought I'd phone in this little tidbit, a question that's been rattling in my head about the Montreal Expos.
The Montreal Expos? Yes, the Expos, those hapless fellows moving around the country like the Ruppert Mundys of old. I've heard numerous pundits arguing about where these poor guys should play. Suggestions include Washington, D.C. to Portland to Las Vegas, Mexico City, and Puerto Rico.
But I ask: why not Brooklyn?
Doesn't that make sense? If you were to divide New York City three ways, you'd still have a metropolitan area much larger than the three American cities in consideration. Probably combined. And while you certainly couldn't name the team the Dodgers you could come up with some fascinating names, maybe even something that ties in with the Expos. Maybe we could relate them to the World's Fair that the city hosted in 1964. I have no idea what you'd call them: the Fairs? The Fountains (after the "Fountain of the Planets")? Better still, you could name them the Bums.
Of course, you wouldn't necessarily have to put them in that fabled borough. The point is, New York City could support a third team, better, I believe, than any of the other possibilities. The fan base is there. The media outlets are there. For a time, they could play in Shea Stadium, sharing the field as the Giants and Yanks did 'way back when. Historically, it's sound: we all know (or should know) that the city had three franchises before 1958. Since two were in the National League, this would retain that balance. And think of the rivalries within the Eastern Division! A cross-town doubleheader betwixt the Mets and the Gothams.
All joking aside, I can't see any reason not to do this. That having been said, I also firmly believe that Major League Baseball would never consider this option because it is somewhat daring and too good an idea to really fly for those dinosaurs. It would reduce the influence of the New York teams already in existence, which might help even the playing field in the so-called 'large market v. small market' contest, by making that market, well, smaller. But Selig doesn't really care if the markets are big or small, he wants every team to have a new stadium, so good ideas aren't worth considering.
I'd like to know everyone else's opinion of this: please write and let me know. I consider myself well versed on the current state of the sport, but I have yet to hear anyone suggest New York as a possible landing spot for the Expos.
Hands Down For The Red Sox
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 9
Now, nobody really expected an absence of absurdism in an American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, did they? Neither did I, although I did believe the absurdism might not take quite so long as the first game's fifth inning to arrive.
The last time a Yankee Stadium fan reached out from behind the fence for an incoming long fly ball, it gained Derek Jeter a home run and helped cost the Baltimore Orioles the first game of the 1996 American League Championship Series. Reality advises that this time, it may or may not have gained a home run for Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker, but what it did not do was secure the Red Sox a Game One win.
Walker stood in against an already put-upon Mike Mussina, from whom the Red Sox had already hammered a 2-0 lead, and hammered one toward that region where the front row of the upper deck and the right field foul pole meet. At that confluence sat an 18-year-old fan, later giving his name as Josh, only, reaching with a palm as was his habit at the ballpark. "A ball's coming my way, I reached out," he said, after the Red Sox won, 5-2. The ball deadened off the palm and, so he said, fell straight down without hitting the foul pole.
Right field umpire Angel Hernandez ruled likewise, inspiring Red Sox manager Grady Little to step forth and protest and home plate umpire Tim McClelland in short order to overrule Hernandez. A television replay in fact showed the ball was as likely as not to have grazed the pole. McClelland had also to advise newly protesting Yankee manager Joe Torre, himself stepping forth to counterprotest, that three other umpires saw home run, too. Red Sox fans, of course, saw Walker tie Nomar Garciaparra for the team record in going yard for a single postseason (four).
This is not to say that the Yankees are completely immune to being beaten the old fashioned and non-controversial way. After all, the 2-0 Red Sox lead as the fifth inning began came an inning earlier, through the courtesy of Manny Ramirez, reaching on an infield hit after Mussina off the mound barely deflected the ball, and David Ortiz, after falling behind nothing and two, dialing the same upper deck. Two batters after the Josh and Todd collaboration, Ramirez batted one just over the right field fence to make it 4-0, Red Sox.
Mussina struggled through the sixth, surrendering a leadoff single to Kevin Millar and, after getting Trot Nixon to pop out to Jeter, a single to shallow left center by Doug Mirabelli, the Red Sox catcher of choice whenever knuckleballer Tim Wakefield gets the start. Mussina yielded to former Cincinnati Red pitcher Felix Heredia, who ended the threat by getting Walker to ground out to first.
Wakefield was a near-complete contrast from his skittering outing in the second division series game loss to the Oakland Athletics. He continued a two-hit shutout in the making by breezing through the Yankees in the bottom of the sixth, getting Juan Rivera to fly out to shallow center field, striking Alfonso Soriano swinging (which some of Soriano's critics allege to be doing things the easy way), and getting Jeter to line out to Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller.
Mueller started the Red Sox seventh grounding out to third, and the Yankees broght in Jeff Nelson to relieve Heredia. He got Nomar Garciaparra to ground out in front of the plate, but Ramirez ripped a single to right before Nelson plunked Ortiz. Then, Kevin Millar padded the lead with a single just past a Jeter dive into shallow left, sending home Ramirez, sending Nelson to the dugout, and bringing in Gabe White. After the fourth Yankee pitcher of the night gave up a single to Trot Nixon to load the bases, White got Mirabelli to force Nixon at second and end the threat.
And the Yankees ended the shutout in the bottom of the inning, when Wakefield's mojo finally stopped working long enough to walk Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams. In came Alan Embree to relieve Wakefield, and back into the memory bank slipped Embree's opening game gig in Oakland, when he fed Erubiel Durazo meat enough to drive home the two tying runs in the bottom of the ninth, sending that game to its extraterrestrial extra-innings climax. This time, Embree's diner was Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, ripping a double to right center, sending home Giambi, and setting up Williams to come home on Hideki Matsui's sacrifice fly, before Embree got Aaron Boone to fly out to center and Nick Johnson to fly out a little ways rightward.
Against the Yankees it is wise to take out as much insurance as the budget allows, and the Red Sox made a game enough investment toward that end in the top of the eighth when, after Gabe Kapler playing center field in place of still-stricken Johnny Damon flied out to right, Walker singled and came out for pinch-runner Damian Jackson. Jackson came out almost immediately when White picked him off first base clean, Johnson throwing to Soriano at second to complete the pickoff, leaving Mueller to end the inning with a flyout to right. Mike Timlin spelled Embree and zipped through the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth, pinch hitter Ruben Sierra lining out, Soriano doing the semi-usual swinging strikeout, and Jeter fouling out to first.
Jose Contreras came into the game to strike out the Red Sox in the top of the ninth, though not without a little extra burden, thanks to Ramirez's single and advance on a wild pitch. Unfortunately, that left Scott Williamson, the Red Sox closer by default (struggling, troubled Byung-Hyun Kim is off the roster for the time being with shoulder trouble), to pitch the bottom of the ninth with Giambi, Williams, and Posada lined up to carve their initials into his forehead, if not the fences. Except that Williamson dispatched the trio as neatly as a cardiac surgeon closing up following a triple bypass, and the Red Sox had Game One.
First blood. Against the Evil Empire. All the Red Sox need are three measly wins more to get to the final test before the Promised Land. So simple a child of five could do it. Well, as Groucho Marx said, someone better send for a child of five. Just in case.
As for young Josh, he insisted in due course that the ball was foul. On the one hand, being a self-confessed to-the-grave Yankee fan might make him a shard lower on the credibility scale, in certain places. But as his father (likewise a to-the-hereafter Yankee fan) corroborated after the game, Josh did not exactly feel terrible about getting an assist on Walker's drive. "No," said the father to the scribblers. "Mussina's been pitching horrible."
THAT SHUT 'EM UP
Peter Schilling Jr.
Tuesday , October 7
In the ninth inning of tonight's Cubs-Marlins game, it was announced that the Chicago Cubs have had 66 losses when behind after the eighth inning dating back to September of last year. This was just moments before Sammy Sosa blasted a two run homer to tie the game at eight. It was an unbelievable blast, and I yelled so loud I woke the neighbor's dog. This looks like the Cubs year, methought.
Of course, two innings later, the Marlins won the game, 9-8, on Mike Lowell's eleventh inning homer. Iand the Wrigley crowdwere well silenced.
It's early yet, but I have to say that I have that sinking feeling that the Marlins are plowing along in much the same manner as the Anaheim Angels last year: unwilling to give up, receiving production from a number of sources (including some surprises like former Tiger flop Juan Encarnacion, who homered). This team seems to be able to hit anything, almost at anytime, refusing to be ruffled by a four-run Cubs first, the loudmouths at Wrigley, and things like Sosa's 'magical' homer. So I'm scared. This team doesn't seem to care who it meets. Then again, they have yet to face Messrs. Wood and Prior.
I didn't catch much of the game, being a doting husband on my wife's birthday ( no, she doesn't appreciate baseball). So I listened to the first inning while rushing to grab take out Vietnamese food, and watched the eighth on after she went to bed. But I have to say that it's fun being a fair-weather fan for the Cubsbetween them and the self-pitying Red Sox, this is the bandwagon team. TurnerCo can market the Braves however they want, but when the casual fan thinks "America's team", they think the Cubs. I know tons of Cubs fans, folks who don their blue and red C cap, but who couldn't tell you who was on the roster back in '82. Red Sox fans are literate, like to think that they've had it so rough, though the Sox are better baseball than
well, the Tigers. Cubs fans make few claims to great suffering; the ones I know use it as an excuse to drink. In my mind, if the Sox and Cubs meet in the big show, I don't know what would happen, frankly, if the Sox won. Suffering is who they are, how they define themselves. If the Cubs lost, I get the feeling there'd be bitterness, but it would pass after a spell, just as it has in Cleveland. Should the Sox lose, however (and, of course, I'm cursing both teams just writing this. Then again, I said the Marlins will take it all, cursing them
then again, doesn't that tacitly curse the Yanks
sorry, it's late), I get the feeling that it will be just more ammo for scores of books, poems, one-man plays, dissertations, and the like for years to come.
READERS: DIVISION SERIES UPDATES MAY BE FOUND IN ARCHIVES.
THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
This is the time of year that I have come to think of as The October Country. A brand new season that is at once amazing, maddening, enlightening, and downright bizarre. The time of year where hope rests on a foundation of hard numbers and outrageous dreams. On opening day you can fantasize that the Cubs and the Tigers have a chance for a good year, but here there is a chanceand a very real onethat both Boston and Chicago will meet in the Fall Classic. A place where Adam Kennedy will hit three homers in a game after whacking three all year. Where weak-hitting squads like the '88 Dodgers beat powerhouses like the Athletics. It is a place where the Braves vaunted pitching staff rarely feels at home. A place for men like Dusty Rhodes, Bill Mazeroski, Mark Lemke, and even Denny Hocking shine for a moment. Hopefully, this is the place where the Twins can lose all year to the Yanks and beat them in three. Or four. Or even five. I say that Time begins right now.
For the next month, Mudville will be posting almost daily updates on the playoffs, hopefully from first-hand experience at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in beautiful downtown Minneapolis. Should the Twins fail to march into the World Series, then you get my observations from the front row seats in the Schilling Tower in St. Louis Park.
Last year, I had the misfortune of having to work during the last game of the set against Oakland (having traded shifts to make it to one of the home games). We had the little yellow DeWalt radio on and barely got any work done. None of our managers cared. The customers were as distracted as we were. At Pierzynski's ninth inning home run I gave out a loud yelp, and you could hear cheering throughout the store. At Oakland's three-run response, there was utter silence, except for that radio and the country music they couldn't turn off overhead. Some started cursing Guardado; others mumbled 'patience!', and when it was all over, everyone was stunned and happy.
This year, the stakes are higher. Coming off a pennant race makes for a charged entrance into the postseason. These Twins are better than last year's model. Unfortunately, in my book, we're also playing a much better team. I don't have to tell you that the Yanks have owned the Twins this yearthe New York Press and their minions throughout the land have done a fine job of it themselves. There has been much gloating out in Gotham, would make a Twins victory that much sweeter. And defeat that much more painful.
I'm hoping for a close series either way. Although I love comebacksthe drop-the-first-two and take-the-next-three bit is the best as far as I'm concernedI don't think it would behoove these Twins to lose the first two against the Bombers. However it goes, what I want is scrappy: hit after hit after hit, close games, A. J. in the face of every Yank batter, and especially Roger Clemens. He's one catcher I don't think would shy away from a fight with that ornery Texan. Although I'm a peaceful guy, I want see these teams claw and bite and chew their way to the next round.
I won't bother to predict who's going to win what because, as is so often the case, little things happen that utterly belie statistics (like Kennedy's three homers). In the October Country predictions mean squat. No one predicted the Angels would win anything last year. This time around, the pundits are hopeless romantics, as most have Boston or Chicagoor bothduking it out in the World Series. But Shakespeare doesn't write this script and the pundits have avoided predicting the worst possible scenario: The Yankees versus the Braves. Unfortunately, on paper, these are the two best teams, and the thought of these two sleepwalking through the playoffs upsets my delicate sleeping patterns.
Though my soul belongs to the Tigers, my body lies in the state of Minnesota, so my dreams for the postseason are as follows: I'm hoping to see the Twins fighting Boston in the ALCS, then either the Cubs or the Giants in the Fall Classic. To the faithful outside of the Bronx, I implore you: keep your fingers crossed, your rosary beads kissed, or your lucky peso at hand. We need all the help we can get.
--Peter Schilling Jr.