ALCS GAME SEVEN: RED SOX 10, YANKEES 3 (IT IS... I BELIEVE...THE RED SOX WIN THE PENNANT! THE RED SOX WIN THE PENNANT! THE RED SOX WIN THE PENNANT! )
Fifty-three years ago, Bobby Thomson destroyed fiction with one swing of the bat. In the aftermath of the "Shot Heard 'Round the World", fables, tall-tales, fantasy and sci-fi, the best of the MGM swashbucklers and the great Russian epics were all moot to the brilliance of what had been seen in the sunshine on the Polo Grounds. What good was Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner after "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"? Since that autumn day in 1951 the imagination has slowly regained its strength, tried to stand on its uneven footing, only to topple and wash away beneath the great tidal wave called the Boston Red Sox comeback. Pick up your favorite novel this morning, I dare you. Never has a book seemed so heavy, so dead. For last night, in Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox achieved "the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic", grabbed a ghost by the throat and throttled the ectoplasm out of it. And while it might be premature to ring the bells and declare the beginning of a Red Sox dynasty, the Yankee century is finished. The curse is over. Now it is done.
Curses are curses, products of the imagination, but it took the most improbable events in American sports history to wreck the fable that is the Curse of the Bambino. Really, if I had sat down a week ago and wrote this scenario out it wouldn't even be mediocre fantasy fiction. It would be awful. "Blood on Schilling's sock as he pitches game six? Talk about melodramatic!" Critics would roll their eyes at David Ortiz's two run, twelfth inning blast, off the unstoppable Mariano Rivera's two blown saves, off series goat Johnny Damon's grand slam and two run homer. "Well, maybe I could buy the three game comeback," these critics would suggest, "but against the Yankees? Get real. And what is this scene with Alex Rodriguez knocking the ball from Bronson Arroyo? You're trying 'way too hard to bust this curse, man. Real life doesn't work that way."
No, it sure doesn't. Ghosts wandered Yankee Stadium two nights ago, haunting the aisles, getting in people's way, before vanishing down the concourse. New York's celebrity elite sat confidently in the House That Ruth Built, waiting for the inevitable
that never came. The last Yankee victorythat 19-8 drubbingseemed like a good two seasons ago. The Yankees knew they were going to win because the Sox weren't hitting, because history was on their side, because they were the Yankees, for gosh sakes. Look, Billy Crystal is in the stands, just like every year. Mayors and the Fox flunkies are shivering behind the dugout. Sure, you can take the next two at home, but don't forget the Boudreau shift. Don't forget game seven in '75. Don't forget Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone and Grady Little. But the Red Sox didn't seem to care. They seemed indifferent to anything but the physics of a thrown ball in contact with a round wood bat, with strategy and good pitching and determination. Payroll discrepancy didn't matter. Above all, curses didn't matter. Imagination didn't count right then, and all of that papthe Yankee mystique, history, Babe Ruthwere all products of the mind. Reality strangled invention.
By now you have to know the story, and the characters: Roberts the speedy, Ortiz the mighty, Foulke the determined, and Damon the goat-boy emerging into, well, into the 1970s 3-D Jesus he resembles. You had blood, homers hitting fans in the chest, player interference, trash raining down on the field, cops in riot gear, an old fart in a ghost costume, celebrities, the Green Monster, all the products of a great drama. Only this was a baseball game, not a movie, not a book, not a Cape Cod daydream. Curses destroyed by reality. Hollywood has never imagined such blockbuster events: Losing game three by a football score; two five hour, extra-inning contests; weary, fatigued pitchers who normally lob batting practice tosses to the Bombers suddenly becoming brilliant; Bronson Arroyo looking like Buckner II and dropping the ball when tagging Alex Rodriguez, sending in Derek Jeter in to close the gap to 4-3
and it didn't matter. Calm umpires took the play away. 4-2, Jeter back to first, Rodriguez out. The Sox force game seven. Finally, behind the steady hand of Derek Lowe, behind the homers ofagainDavid Ortiz andfinallyJohnny Damon, the game is over. All the magic of wonderboy Derek Jeter couldn't change reality. The star power of Alex Rodriguez was stifled. Mariano Rivera was finally worn down. And Ruth's monument in center was only thatstone and metal, meaning nothing.
Friends, we have witnessed the greatest series in baseball history, at the very least, in the lifetime of everyone who watched with a pounding pulse. You can have 1975 and Carlton Fisk jumping and howling. You can have your '91 series, and all those one game contests 'twixt the last-to-first Twins and Braves. Take the '54 series and the "catch", keep '86 and poor Bill Buckner, stick Bill Mazeroski in a box, Don Larsen in a bag, and Johnny Podres on a shelf. Nothing we have seen or can imagine stands up to this series. Fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Again.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Thursday, October 20
YES. IT COULD BE DONE
Johnny Pesky hasn't thrown Enos Slaughter out at the plate just yet, but Joe McCarthy finally left Ellis Kinder in at Yankee Stadium and Luis Aparicio finally kept his footing and crossed the plate. Darrell Johnson hasn't left Jim Willoughby in the game just yet, but B.F. Dent's shot has merely bounced off the Green Monster right into Carl Yastrzemski's glove.
The Curse is only half way aboard the hearse but the the heaviest weight of it is flat aboard the ledge. The Boston Red Sox turned the impossible into the improbable and left the New York Yankees to shake their heads and spend a winter of their malcontent pondering just how on earth they were upended by the single most stupefying comeback in the singularly stupefying history of baseball.
They performed that which the conventional wisdom and generations of Red Sox demonology had ordained could never be done. Original Sin, don't you know. Doomed by dint of selling Babe Ruth, the Red Sox are baseball's Sisyphus, perpetually up the mountain, the stone perpetually angled to roll them right back down to the foot, where they would pick up, dust off, start all over again, to the same punitive result. Gods are not to be sold without eternity's consequences.
Says not, apparently, Derek Lowe. Two days rest, a gallant effort pitching Sunday's game without a decision (he left the game with a 3-2 lead; in due course it required Ortiz's walkoff bomb to win it), and he pitched six virtuoso innings of one hit, one run, mostly ground out baseball, the one hit producing the one run, Derek Jeter singling home Miguel Cairo in the bottom of the third, before handing off to Pedro Martinez for Daddy's two more futile enough runs--Bernie Williams doubling home Hideki Matsui, Kenny Lofton singling home Williams--in the bottom of the seventh.
Says not, apparently, Mark Bellhorn. Apparently deciding half his name was good enough to go, and perhaps knowing deep to his soul that even a six-run lead is never truly safe against these Yankees, in their home yard, Bellhorn in the top of the eighth rang one flush off the top of the right field foul pole, and the clang rippled around Yankee Stadium like a demonic wind of change blowing sweet nothings into unwilling Yankee ears.
Says not, apparently, David Ortiz, named appropriately as the American League Championship Series's Most Valuable Player. After Johnny Damon led off the first with a single but got thrown out trying to score on Manny Ramirez's one-out single to short left, Big Papi rifled one into the famous Yankee Stadium short right field porch. Says not, apparently, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, and Orlando Cabrera. They loaded the bases (single, walk, walk) with one out in the top of the second, to chase an apparently ailing Kevin Brown.
And says not, especially, Johnny Damon.
The spiritual leader of the Idiots had probably suffered the deepest pit of futility throughout his nearly series-long slump, and he had still shown the plain courage not to let it show beyond his only too obvious resemblance to a man left at a crossroads on a barren plain with no hint as to which way to travel and a non-existent wind toward which to aim a moistened fingertip for a suggestion.
Now, however, Damon could not have bargained with any spirit, devil or angel, for any more clarity, any sweeter thunder, than was bestowed upon him now with Javier Vasquez spelling Brown. Damon swatted the first pitch he saw into the right field short porch, and faster than you could say "the greatest comeback in baseball history, bar none," the Red Sox had a 6-0 lead and counting before the game had even reached the third inning.
And only Damon on a night like this could make a second-inning grand slam seem like no big deal when, two innings later, with Cabrera aboard and nobody out, he ripped one into the upper deck as if he had plotted the landing coordinates to the last degree.
So thick was that presumption that the memory and the historical recollection ranneth not to the last time the Red Sox won the pennant at the Yankees' expense--one hundred years earlier, when Happy Jack Chesbro's wild pitch allowed Lou Ciger to come home from third with what proved the winning run, in the first game of a doubleheader, before Bill Dineen shut down the Yankees (they were called the Highlanders then) to give the Red Sox (they were called the Pilgrims then) the 1904 pennant. The one which left them stranded when New York Giants manager John McGraw refused to stoop so low as to acknowledge the inferior league in a World Series.
But had it not seemed a prelude to more of the same Sunday night/Monday morning, when the Yankees took a 4-3 lead and a series sweep in progress to the bottom of the ninth in Fenway Park, before Bill Mueller singled home the tying run at The Mariano's expense and David Ortiz dialed the right field bullpen in the bottom of the fourteenth on Paul Quantrill's dime?
Had it not seemed that that was merely a rude interruption to the Yankee inevitable, when the Empire took a 4-2 lead into the eighth Monday night, before Ortiz sent Gordon to the center field seats and The Mariano served up Jason Varitek's sacrifice fly, for the tie that broke only when Ortiz singled home Damon with the winner off Esteban Loaiza in the fourteenth?
Had it not seemed for just a short while before game time that Curt Schilling--whose tattered ankle tendon sheath betrayed him out of the third inning in the first game--was stitching time in a broken bottle, before he took his sewn-up ankle to the Yankee Stadium mound Tuesday night, allowed only the disruption of Williams finding the short right field porch, before the bullpen secured the 4-2 win abetted by two umpirical conferences that ruled the right calls with the Red Sox the beneficiary and Alex Rodriguez, the man the Red Sox let escape their grasp, the debtor?
Had it not seemed just a glorious tease that the Red Sox forced a seventh game at all after the Yankees had slashed and thrashed them for the first three? Was it not just a matter of whom and how before we knew the manner in which the Red Sox would go down to yet another existential season in hell in the final hour? Wasn't last year's seventh game nightmare borne of leaving Pedro Martinez in two batters too long, and did they really think they could get away with maybe bringing him in too soon in this year's seventh game? When Lowe's pitching a one-hitter?
It was enough to make you ache for The Mariano, the class of the Yankees' class, whom Joe Torre brought in to pitch the ninth, with two out, one on, the tenth Red Sox run home on Orlando Cabrera's sacrifice fly off Tom Gordon, and Damon coming up. After two long fouls, one of which was thrown back onto the field, and ball one high up the middle of the plate, Damon bounded one to the third base side of the mound, and The Mariano gave a little leap to spear it and throw him out. The greatest relief pitcher in postseason history, who had transcended grotesque family tragedy to stop the Red Sox's stupefying first-game comeback in its tracks, and had since blown two saves one of which wasn't necessarily his fault, deserved better than to be wheeled in for what amounted to a gesture of futility in a cause too long and too deep lost.
Especially considering that the Boston bullpen had done the heaviest labour toward picking the Red Sox off the floor when the Yankees had the proverbial boots inches above their necks on Sunday night, especially when these pit bull-tenacious marksmen defied their own likely exhaustions and slapped a straitjacket of shutout innings around the Yankee attack, fourteen of them across two games. And now Mike Timlin, who had zipped through the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth, had only Hideki Matsui, Williams, and Jorge Posada standing between the Red Sox and the final plateau.
From the end of the Saturday night strangling until now, Matsui had been graduated from one of the Red Sox's lead tormentors (12 for 19 through the moment he whacked a Sunday triple off Lowe in Boston) to one of their foremost target practice targets. But now he led off the bottom of the ninth with a liner off the right field wall that Nixon played precisely enough to keep him to a single. Williams wrung the count full before forcing Matsui at second, and Posada popped out to shortstop, but Kenny Lofton spelling Ruben Sierra as the designated hitter accepted a four-pitch walk, and Terry Franconawho awoke from the Saturday night strangling and began managing every inning since as if it was the ninth inning of the World Seriesbrought in lefthander Alan Embree to deal with Sierra, pinch hitting for John Olerud.
Olerud had been absent since his own bat knob smacked his left instep while hitting in the sixth inning of the Saturday strangling, and he came in to spell Tony Clark at first base after pinch hitting and striking out in the seventh Wednesday. But now Sierra looked at ball one a little bit low as the clock struck midnight in Yankee Stadium. The Yankee ghosts were nowhere to be seen or heard when he rapped a sharp grounder to second, where Bellhorn snatched it up and threw on to Kevin Millar at first, and out of the dugout poured the Red Sox for a mound party everyone but themselves once presumed always to be a Yankee uprising away.
The Yankees could be forgiven if, almost to a man, they were too numb to bear too long a glance at the Red Sox smothering the mound celebrating a passage made too real for most of us to believe just yet. Nobody has to tell them about such things as declining to run on stout knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, declining to bunt against Schilling's rickety ankle, or A-Rod's having been damn fool enough to try reaching beyond the baseline to swat the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove. They know it.
But a Boston steeped too deep in the extraterrestrial sorrows of autumn in or from New York could be forgiven if they smothered the atmosphere with a scream of affirmation between now and the World Series' beginning. And not even B.F. Dent himself--throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi Berra--could choke that scream before it reached the back of the tongue.
Thursday, October 21
THE EMPIRE LENDS A HAND
ALCS GAME SIX: RED SOX 4, YANKEES 3 (SERIES TIED AT 3)
If Curt Schilling did not come away from Yankee Stadium Tuesday night feeling like a bona-fide Red Sox at last, there may be nothing that can be done to initiate him properly.
Because only a bona-fide Red Sox can haul himself out to the mound, suspect ankle tendon included, pitch maybe more heroically getting the Olde Towne Team to an unfathomable seventh League Championship Series game than he did winning a World Series three years earlier, and watch it all come that close to going up in a puff of spirits having flown before a double puff of umpirical evidence spared the Red Sox yet another entry in the Book of Constant Sorrow.
For one more night, anyway.
When Alex Rodriguez running up the first base line reached out and slapped the glove and ball right off Bronson Arroyo's hand as the Boston reliever tagged him out right before the pad, leaving A-Rod apparently safe and Derek Jeter to romp around from first to score, Red Sox fans of long enough standing understood without any questioning. Only the Red Sox could yield up such a horseman as Schilling and yet watch helplessly as his gallantry was to be buried beneath the twisted reach of crazy sorrows that only the Yankees can inflict.
Schilling had taken the Red Sox through seven exhilarating innings, spoiled only by Bernie Williams's twenty-second lifetime postseason home run on Schilling's 91st pitch of the evening, a bomb into the short right field porch, punctuated oddly enough by the Yankees declining even once to put his troubled ankle on the line with a just-so bunt or three. About the closest they came to exposing Schilling's lone weakness was a trio of scattered infield outs, one of which Schilling covered to take a throw from Kevin Millar and giving himself a little short-term discomfort when he hit the pad hard enough stepping with his suspect leg. On the other two, Millar waved him away to take them to the pad unassisted the better to spare him for the more important work of play.
Why, the Red Sox had even gotten a huge blessing in the top of the fourth, after they kicked off a two-out rally with Millar ripping a double down the line and off the foul pole in left field, taking third on a wild pitch from Yankee starter Jon Lieberpitching otherwise magnificently enough himself this eveningand coming home on Jason Varitek's line single up the middle. Orlando Cabrera made it first and second by blooping one to left that fell in for a hit in front of Yankee left fielder Hideki Matsui. Then Mark Bellhorn drove a 1-2 pitch on a rising line down the left field line and to the corner, Matsui scrambling back but watching it sail over the top of the fence.
Or did it? Left field umpire Jim Joyce called the ball in play. Several replays showed it likely hitting a fan in the chest or stomach on the other side of the fence. The umpires huddled up for a discussion and, moments later, ruled the ball had indeed crossed the fence for a home run, a ruling made arduous in addition because there was no yellow line painted congruent to the foul pole on the top of the fence as you might see in other ballparks. Only after the umpires conferred and adjusted the rulingcorrectlydid Bellhorn, standing on second in the event he'd have been ruled a ground rule double, begin jogging to complete his circuit. And only then did the Red Sox, in an elimination game stupefying enough, for their comeback from three down having defied the conventional wisdom and their own unconventional history and mythology alike, find themselves the proud possessors of an early enough 4-0 lead.
And Yankee Stadium hadn't seen nothing yet.
Schilling might have been in broiling pain in his ankle but even after Williams dialed the short porch he pitched like anything but, even showing flashes now and then of the vintage shotgun strikeout machine. As it happened, following the Williams bomb he got Posada to pop out high and soft to second before blowing Ruben Sierra away on three swinging strikes and heading for the Boston dugout like a man who had ripped a rare Yankee millstone from around his collar.
Lieber had been almost as sharp and just as gallant if you didn't count the fourth inning, though he was rarely as tough under the onslaught as he was in getting Bellhorn in the Red Sox second to ground into a tricksy enough 4-6-3 to end a threat that had gone to the bases loaded (a single from Millar, a bunt from Varitek that fooled Rodriguez playing back of the pad at third, and a shallow left single from Cabrera) and one out. But by the Red Sox eighth, after giving up a one-out single to Manny Ramirez, Lieber had yielded to Felix Heredia, who got David (Mr. Eleventh Hour) Ortiz to fly out to Gary Sheffield in right before handing off to Paul Quantrill. Quantrill surrendered Gabe Kapler's single, pinch hitting for Trot Nixon, before getting Millar to ground out to Jeter.
The Yankees got another one back when Bronson Arroyo, the Saturday night starting piñata turned Monday night relief hero, took over for Schilling and gave up Miguel Cairo's one out double down the right field line and Jeter's RBI single to left. And then, amidst the still swirling contrapuntal winds clinging inside Yankee Stadium, struck the spirits.
This, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, was the sequence:
Arroyo began working on Rodriguez (five hits including two bombs in thirteen tries against Arroyo to date) with a hanging slider taken for ball one. That invited a visit to the mound from Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace, presumably enough to remind his warrior that just the night before he had gotten rid of A-Rod with a few pounding fastballs. Wallace returned to the dugout and Arroyo hit the corner near the knees with a slider for a called strike, as The Mariano began warming in earnest in the Yankee bullpen just in case. Another slider in at the knees for strike two called. Rodriguez backed out of the box, then back in, then took an unexpected fastball, Arroyo dropping his arm angle as he might to throw a certain breaking ball, and the pitch landed a little low on the outside. As the Yankee Stadium noise swelled, A-Rod ticked a pitch off foul. Moments later, a slider came down and Rodriguez tapped it for a roller up the first base side of the infield.
Arroyo scrambled off the mound to field the ball
with no one covering first base. Not Doug Mientkiewicz, who had come in for Millar; not Bellhorn over from second. He met A-Rod up the line in front of the pad and held up his glove with the ball to tag him, but in that split instant it looked to the naked active eye as though Rodriguez knocked the ball away, the ball rolling up the line to be taken up by Mientkiewicz, as Jeter scampered around the far side of the bases and down across the plate while Rodriguez made it to second.
But the umpires' conference ended with Rodriguez being called out and Jeter ruled returned to first. And Yankee Stadium went nuclear, bottles and baseballs flying onto the field, as Yankee manager Joe Torre bounded out for a hot debate with umpiring crew chief Randy Marsh and Bob Sheppard, the legendary and soon retiring Yankee Stadium public address announcer, pleaded with the infuriated crowd in his usual polite but firm manner to knock it the hell off.
The racket continued amplifying after Cabrera scrambled back safe to first on a pickoff throw that was close enough that the Stadium mob's yowl and howl invited baseball security officials to huddle with the attendant gendarmes while poor Bob Sheppard was compelled to a second PA plea and a squadron of police in full riot gear lined the field at the railings of the seats. It would probably surprise no one if he or she could barely remember much else, between Arroyo going back to work and getting Sheffield to pop out behind the plate, and Red Sox closer Keith Foulkewho was actually brought in to close a game for a change in this seriessurviving a pair of ninth inning walks, and ending the game and the still-unfathomable Red Sox resurrection by pounding Clark for a swinging strikeout.
How long did it take those watching in the final minutes to remember that the last time the Yankees lost three straight League Championship Series contests at all, they lost a pennant? (1980, to the Kansas City Royals, the final wrecking blow coming when George Brett hit what proved to be a game-winning bomb into the upper deck off Goose Gossage.)
"We just did something," said Schilling, who may have experienced a little bleeding around that ankle trouble spot during the game, "that has never been done yet. It ain't over yet. It ain't over by any stretch against this team and this organization."
Wednesday, October 20
BASEBALL IS KILLING ME
When will it all end? The Red Sox-Yankees match has been keeping me from sleep, probably keeping me in a slight fever, keeping me from my wife, from exercise, fresh air, Dostoyevsky, and real human conversation. As you all know, it has been most acute since Sunday night: the horror has continued now for two days, 26 innings, and over ten hours. Ten hours of furrowing my brow to the inanities of Tim McCarver, of leaning forward on the couch trying to hear Al Leiter's trailing-off sentences, ten hours of scorekeeping and wondering who in the hell taught me that scribbling hieroglyphs on a piece of paper was a fun thing to do. Ten hours of wide-eyed anticipation, of every muscle tense, throat tight, only to have the whole body release at some mangy fly ball that kills yet another Red Sox rally. I'm not even a Red Sox fan and I know this can't be good for me, physically or mentally. This whole scene is made even worse by feeding us a good two hours (or more) of advertisements in between the game itself. An endless cavalcade of images strongly suggesting how these products will make my life better: how a red or black pickup truck covered in mud will make me more of a man; how I can shave better by pressing a little green button on a vibrating razor; how drinking dishwater from the likes of Budweiser, Miller, or Michelob will eventually land me in bed with some gorgeous dame (or, in the bizarre case of the King of Beers, apparently make me so drunk that I find it amusing that baseball players and announcers are greedy jerks). Sandwiched between all the pap is the friendly, yet pointed, argument that I need to do something with my money other than drink, eat and drive it awayI should invest in this broker or that, insure myself with this saintly company or that. And don't forget to vote for John Kerry or George W. Bush.
For ten hours in two days! Ten hours of wondering why I'm wasting my time when the Yankees are just going to win the damn thing and what do I care anyway I'm a Twins fan. Look at the Brahmin, sitting in their Fenway Park with their painted faces and their Sam Adams beer, yakking into their cell phones to their jealous friends who don't have tickets. They're all bundled against that delicious October New England cold, that air that seems as clean as a freshly plucked Haralson apple, listening to organ music and hating the Yankees with one another. Jerks! Wealthy, arrogant bastards. Then my jealousy starts choking me and I check my watch and it's nearly ten o'clock and I've been sitting on this couch for six hours. Scoring, for God's sake, while my wife is sleeping and the world goes on its merry way. It's killing me, I tell you!
This would be so much easier to endure if the games were less tense, so much more lopsided. If only the Red Sox had their 19-8 victory, or if the Yanks just put them away with ease. Instead I get more of the same: a Red Sox team that cannot, or will not, put the Yankees away. A Yankees club that still acts as if all they need to do is come to the ballpark and history will do the work for them. Neither team will dominate at the plate nor the mound. What is going on?
Here's the Sox pitching for you: if we hadn't known that Pedro Martinez was dominant at one time, you'd think the guy was the height of mediocrity, tossing five walks against his six strikeouts, and falling apart at the magic 100 pitch Rubicon, giving up three runs in the sixth to give the Yanks a 4-2 lead. Martinez continued the Red Sox streak of allowing baserunners every inningit ended at twenty straight innings. Granted, the Yankees stranded eighteen baserunners yesterday, but did the Red Sox forget it was only two games ago that the Bombers pushed nineteen men across the plate? For the Yankees, Mussina seemed his usual almost dominant self, keeping the Sox at two while his shadows of their former selves patiently waited until Pedro was through, before taking the lead.
I ask you: where's the lumber? Where's the Red Sox vaunted offense? Where's the Yankees who hit nearly .700? Didn't Boston dispatch the Angels as if they were my softball team, and now, against a very beatable Yankees squad, why are they standing at the plate with their bats on their shoulders as if Pedro were throwing to them? Much was made last night of Johnny Damon's inability to hit, but there was a lot of that going around: where the Yankees were aggressive, smacking a number of first pitches for hits or outs, the Red Sox seemed content to watch. On hitters counts of 2-0, 2-1, and 3-1, it was routine for them to stand and watch fat pitches come sailing in for strikes. This is strategy? You aren't hitting, so, ah, you might as well hope for a walk? Today's strategists suggest a walk is as good as a hit, but watching strikes go by isn't good plate discipline. It's fear.
Yesterday I remarked that the Red Sox faithful have some sort of god looking out for them, and last night's game seemed to reinforce this. Or, for the more secular-minded, perhaps a sense of decorum took over the competitive spirit of these two clubs. For the game was there to take, by either the Pilgrims or the Highlanders, and both teams, displaying their good manners, kindly stepped aside and asked the other to go ahead of them. After you, sir. Please, be my guest. But I couldn'tyou go ahead
How can you explain the Yankees leaving eighteen baserunners when their 2, 3, 4, & 5 batters are hitting .304, .409, .444, and .321 respectively (and these numbers after a poor night)? You don't, unless you can chalk it up to their being gentlemen who see a 4-1 series triumph as somehow being unmannerly. In seven of the fourteen innings New York had runners in scoring position and couldn't get them home.
Will this change tonight? God, you'd hope so. Both teams are so beat up it should make for a home run derby at some point. Jon Leiber can't be an ace all the postseason, and Curt Schilling's leg can't hold out any longer, despite the fact that Reebok has made a special shoe for him (and thanks to Fox for bludgeoning us with their brand name). Neither pitcher will go the full nine, so we'll have to get another round of the 'impossible' tandem of Gordon-Rivera blowing their save opportunity. We'll get to see Mike Myers and Mike Timlin come out, Fox will show us how they were crushed just a few nights before, and it has to happen again, doesn't it? Gojira-san can't hit .600 for the first three games and just shut down, right? Johnny Damon has to start hitting, doesn't he?
So, for tonight, the Red Sox nation will have to do what I've been doing these last three days: sitting at home and watching the Fox network's version of the noble sport. They'll get to endure shots of celebrities in the stands, from sickly Billy Crystal to the shivering thumbs-up of the cast of "The O.C.", none of whom are baseball fans, but all of whom are taking up good seats that the Red Sox faithful could fill. Right now, the Olde Town team, as Jeff calls them, is running on the fumes of history, hoping to do tonight what no team in Major League baseballor professional basketball for that matterhas ever done before: force a seventh game after dropping the first three. In these weak and giddy moments, Sox fans will be bombarded with advertisements, and they can only take so much before they start buying quaking razors. Despite the ill-effects of these games on their health and mine, I'm hoping the Red Sox win and make history. I'm hoping they go on to the World Series, against one of the two teams everyone seems to have forgotten about. Houston? St. Louis? Milwaukee? My memory's been devoured. To the Yankees and the Red Sox, I entreat you: please wrap these games up quickly. We have a whole World Series left to go, and our sanity has to endure a long, cold winter.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Tuesday, October 19
SECOND VERSESAME AS THE FIRST
ALCS GAME THREE: RED SOX 5, YANKEES 4 (YANKEES LEAD 3-2)
When you find an optimistic Boston Red Sox fan and ask when he or she thinks the Olde Towne Team will reach the Promised Land at last, the answer is said to be, "I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it." Ask whether the Red Sox, in a second consecutive make-history-or-be-history game against their least loved rivals, will tie the same heretofore impenetrable New York Yankee reliever, before the same Red Sox bombardier wins it in an extra inning, and the answer might have been that it was time to choose the fateful bridge.
Then came Monday night. When David Ortiz might just as well have hollered, "Second verse same as the first!" as the eleventh hour approached, Esteban Loaiza's tenth service of the at-bat came down the lane, and he muscled it on the floating fly into shallow left center for the single that sent Johnny Damon home and Fenway Park into a rippling frenzy unseen or heard since
about twenty-two hours earlier.
"I think it will be good to go back home and gain some energy from the home crowd," said Alex Rodriguez after the 5-4 surprise. "Three days here, it feels like we've been here a month."
This was a night on which five Red Sox relief pitchers kept the Yankees to eight hard-earned shutout innings while assorted Red Sox position players got away with murder for lapsing in fundamental baseball. They almost didn't deserve Ortiz whacking an 0-1 pitch over the deepest end of the Monster seats over center field to start the bottom of the eighth off Tom Gordon, who followed by walking Kevin Millar. That prompted Francona to send out Dave Roberts to pinch run. Roberts took off on the pitch Trot Nixon promptly swatted up the middle for a single and first and third.
That forced Joe Torre in turn to throw out his intended scheduling and bring in The Mariano an inning sooner than his declared preference for this game, a first instinct borne out shockingly enough when Jason Varitek sent a long enough fly to center field to send home Roberts with the tying run. Even The Mariano has blown a save or two in his extraterrestrial baseball life, but memory ranneth not to the time previous when he had blown two in successive nights in the postseason at all, never mind with a trip to the World Series at stake.
It was almost enough to make anyone who spent every inning at the game, watching on television, or listening on radio, forget that Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez had even been in the ballpark, never mind battling each other with stoutness until Derek Jeter lanced a tiring Martinez for a bases-clearing double and a 4-2 Yankee lead in the top of the sixth.
Martinez started magnificently enough, launching a harmless top of the first (Alex Rodriguez's walk the only disruption) by sending Jeter down on three straight strikes, and the Red Sox said thanks by prying a pair of runs out of Mussina in the bottom half. Orlando (Nomar Who?) Cabrera ripped a one-out single down the left field line, taking third on Manny Ramirez's line single to right center and coming home when Ortiz lined a low and not too far inside curve ball into right. Millar then worked Mussina for a walk to load the bases. But after Trot Nixon forced Ramirez at the plate on a grounder to first, the best the Red Sox could cash was Varitek wringing a walk to send home Ortiz before Mussina dispatched Bill Mueller on a checked-swing third strike.
The Yankees made a few fundamental mistakes of their own on the night, but they also had threats going in just about every inning, from the moment Bernie Williamsa rather quiet 8-for-22 in the series to that pointhit the first pitch he saw in the top of the second several rows into the right field seats. Ruben Sierra followed with a one-out line single past an up-jumping Mueller at third, before Martinez got Tony Clark to fly out to left center and Miguel Cairo to roll out to Millar unassisted at first.
They put men on the corners against Martinez in the third with two out before Williams swung and missed on a high hard one. They stranded Posada in the fourth after the Yankee catcher led off with a torpedo through the hole into right. They lost a leadoff walk in A-Rod in the fifth, after Gary Sheffield dialed an around-the-horn double play. Then, Martinez delivered maybe the most symbolic pitch of his night, at the expense of Hideki Matsui, maybe the most lethal of all the Yankee artillery commanders in the series to date, when Matsui was caught smothering the inside part of the plate and went right on his bumper on a tight inside fast ball, before he ripped a liner up the first base line that Millar palmed sharply to end the inning.
Finally, the Yankees caught and passed the Red Sox in the sixth, after Williams started with a bloop to shallow left that Ramirez hurried in toward the infield to catch. Posada bounced an infield hit off the plate and high over Martinez's head and Sierra followed with a liner up to left center. Martinez dropped a slider on the outside wall for a called third strike on Clark, before grazing Cairo with a pitch to load the bases for Jeter, who lived up to his usual postseason notices by ripping a liner and clearing the bases more swiftly than they'd been filled. After A-Rod took one on the elbow leaning a little too far over the plate, and Sheffield walked to re-load the bases, Martinez defied his flagging strength and concentration by getting Matsui to tap a soft low liner to right, Nixon coming in and sliding to make the catch right above the grass.
The Red Sox had their own chances to pad their lead until that point. Ramirez led off the bottom of the third with a rip through the hole into left field, and Jeter's surprising bobble on Millar's one-out broken bat hopper left first and second for Nixon foul tipping a third strike and Varitek looking helpless as Mussina dropped his arm and a curve ball on the inside corner for a third strike. Mueller (a long fly to Williams on the center field track) and Mark Bellhorn (a line rip right into Cairo's chest high glove) wasted fourth inning contact before the frustrated Damon swung on a changeup and missed for the third out. Cabrera tried again with a fifth inning leadoff liner up the alley in right center, but Ramirez's looper to center hung up long enough for Williams to haul down, Ortiz foul tipped a third strike, and Millar sent Jeter to the hole to spear his grounder and force Cabrera at second.
Schilling and Derek Lowe actually relocated to the bullpen during the game, leaving some to speculate whether they had ideas about coming in if needed. They weren't, fortunately, given Schillinga new shoe and brace apparently offering new supportwas now the designated sixth game starter in New York. But Mike Timlin was needed, and he started the Red Sox bullpen splendor with a simple enough seventh, Sierra's infield hit the only rude interruption.
But then Bellhorn chased Mussina with a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning. Tanyon Sturtze came in to get Damon popping out to Jeter but walking Cabrera, and in came Gordon to get a double play, when Ramirez sent a broken bat grounder to Rodriguez at third, who threw on to Cairo at second, Cairo avoiding Cabrera's takeout attempt and throwing on to first. Timlin then ran into a little trouble in the top of the eighth, when Cairo bounded a double off the Monster and took third on Jeter's sacrifice bunt, before Sheffield took a two-out walk and Francona brought in his usual closer, Keith Foulke, who fought Matsui to a 2-2 count before the Yankee left fielder and long-range pain in the neck lined one sharply to left that Ramirez speared with a scurrying catch to end that threat.
The Mariano kept the game tied at four when he dispatched Mueller (an unassisted ground out to first) and Bellhorn (a swinging strikeout) to end the eighth and, after Damon's leadoff hit turned to petty theft arrest at second, ridding himself of Cabrera with a grounder to short and Ramirez on a fly out to Williams. In between, Foulke dodged another round of Yankee bullets after getting Williams and Posada on back-to-back fouls out to new first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. Sierra, who was 2-for-10 against Foulke lifetime to that point, worked him for a walk. Then Clark ripped one down the right field line that threatened to let the Yankees tie it when it headed for the tricky foul pole corner fencing, but the ball hit the track and bounced into the seats to keep it a ground rule double and second and third, before Cairo hit the inning's third foul out to Mientkiewicz.
Snakebit? Sure. Every snakebit team brings in the first piñata of the Saturday Night Stranglers to pitch the tenth inning. And anyone who thought Bronson Arroyo would need a generation to recuperate was disabused swiftly enough when he got the Yankees in order for the first time of the night, Jeter popping out to Cabrera ambling into shallow left center, before A-Rod and Sheffield struck out swinging.
Ortiz got his first extra-inning encore shot in the bottom of the tenth off Felix Heredia spelling The Mariano, and he got called on a checked swing strikeout. But Mientkiewicz hit a full-count pitch past Sheffield and bouncing off the track and over the fence for a ground rule double. Paul Quantrill relieved Heredia to work to Gabe Kapler, who had spelled Nixon in right field, and Kapler pushed Mientkiewicz to third with a ground out to shortstop, before Varitek popped one up in back of third that Jeter scrambled out to take in shallow left near the line.
Then sidewhipping lefthander Mike Myers and slightly more conventional southpaw Alan Embree teamed up to keep the Yankees scoreless in a single-hit eleventh, and the Red Sox had at it again. Mueller blooped a leadoff single off Quantrill to start the bottom half, taking third on Bellhorn's single to right after two failed bunt attempts. Then came Damon's ill-fated bunt attempt, before Cabrera hit into a rally-killing double play to end it.
Tim Wakefieldwasn't he in the starting schedule somewhere?worked two more shutout innings for the Sox. But don't think he could accomplish that without a threat from the too-usual trans-dimensional mischief to which the Red Sox are traditional heir. He struck out Sheffield to start the Yankee thirteenth, but Varitek dropping the knuckler let Sheffield take first safely. And two more passed balls by Varitek handed the Yankees second and third. And yet another popped out of Varitek's mitt while Wakefield worked on Sierra. But this time Varitek managed to keep it from running away from home, and Wakefield managed to strike out Sierra on a knuckleball traveling faster than Los Angeles rush hour traffic.
"I hate to say it," said Varitek, who was in an unaccustomed enough working position, Wakefield's customary catcher being Doug Mirabelli, "but when he was on the mound he made it tough on me back there."
Ortiz, of course, may have exhausted all superlatives known and a few thousand yet to be invented. He even looked heroic in the twelfth, when for whatever reason known only to himself, he tried following a leadoff walk by stealing second. And failed. Except that he actually kept his hand on the base with his body sliding slightly past it before Jeter could bring down the tag. As things turned out, that was an inconsequential break for the Yankees. Ortiz had slightly more dramatic consequences in mind for them two innings later.
"This team," said Kapler, "has done something the last two days that will go down in history as an incredible accomplishment."
Careful. From such words is disaster usually wreaked upon Red Sox heads, usually by Yankee bat heads (and balls, and gloves), and especially when the arena is shifted to that cathedral of calamity on 161st and River in the south Bronx. As if demanding to know just who are these fools and what quadrant did they drop in from, getting these bright ideas about taking two straight instead of going quietly into the Yankee night like good little Red Sox, about being one game short of forcing a seventh, about thinking even a moment about
The common sense would be to advise the Red Sox not to push their luck, but they have been pushing that already. And it hasn't pushed back. Yet.
Tuesday, October 19
I wonder if it is fair that there seems to be a god out there that cares for Red Sox fans. Watching last night's game four betwixt the Yanks and the Red Sox, it occurred to me that we might be on the dawn of a Red Sox-Yankees century. These are the number one and number two ranked payrolls in the country, a race between a Mercedes and a BMW, Mont Blanc vs. Waterman, Grey Poupon duking it out with
well, you get the point. Can't you see the Red Sox parlaying their high-priced seats, their devoted fan base, and their growing national status into an empire very similar to New York's? This is not necessarily a good thing. Last night bore witness to this: celebrities in the stands (albeit Stephen King scowling like the Tobin bridge troll), the Brahmins of Boston looking forlorn in their Red Sox merchandise and their furs, the MasterCard ad with any number of citizens discussing giving up their trucks, spouses or children for a Red Sox World Series (which might nearly be trueat the cost of a Fenway season ticket, you might have to hock the hemi, lose the budget-minded spouse, which in turn would result in forfeiture of visitation rights to the bairn). So while last night was one of the best conclusions to a baseball game I've seen, I'm beginning to want the more subtle pleasures of the classic Dodgers-Yankees rivalry. Or perhaps a Twins-Yanks rivalry. The Brahmin don't enjoy domes, you know.
That rant out of the way, my focus turns to the world of sports. The Boston Red Sox must, if they are going to win this series, isolate whatever good luck charm it was that began to show its presence in the ninth inning. For in spite of all the yak this morning about the tense game, the unwillingness of the Red Sox to give up, etc., yesterday's match was pretty one-sided, and that one side of good baseball belonged to the Yankees.
Consider: the Yankees went down one-two-three in the first inning, and then had a baserunner every inning thereafter. Fortunately for the Pilgrims, the Highlanders also seemed to be on the verge of stepping their game up to batting practice intensitythey looked like a team sitting on an insurmountable 3-0 series lead. There were hits, there were men left on base, there was Sheffield with his gaudy near-.700 batting average, going 0-5 with one walk that didn't start out intentional but ended up that way. Only Alex Rodrigueztrying to shore up his already bloated valueand Gojira Matsuiwhose language barrier seemed to keep him from understanding that he was supposed to go easy on a 3-0 series leadappeared capable of offensive fireworks. Outside of Rodriguez's two run blast in the third, the Bombers scored Gojira on what Tim McCarver and Al Leiter repeatedly stated was a "78 foot grounder". That, and a hit by Tony Clark. Tony Clark! Surely the Red Sox are cursed.
And consider this: the Red Sox "struck" in the fifth inning, thanks to two walks and a base hit by Orlando Cabrera. In fact, the four runs that they created during regulation were all the sprouted from the seeds of a base on balls. Otherwise, the Red Sox bats were limp as paper straws in a milkshake. With two on in the first, El Duque gets Varitek to strike out. A man on in the secondBellhorn strikes out. With the bases loaded in their three run third
yes, another strikeout, this time to Jason Varitek. A man on second in the eighth? Ground-out. And in the ninth inning, when they really should have put it away, the hero Ortiz pops out to the second baseman. This is the highly touted Red Sox offense? This is the highly touted Yankees offense? Only Zeus, Zarathustra or Zoroaster could alter this game.
I swear this contest reawakened the heathen deities of the past. For if you don't put the game away, as the Yankees didn't, you leave that opening for the gods. U. S. Steel left 13 men on base in a game that could have given them a whole mess of vacation time before the World Series. The Yanks sent the heart of their order up against Red Sox pitchers who'd had their hats handed to them just yesterday, and they languished on the bases. David Ortiz steps up and pastes one down the right field line to end the game in a swing. Almost five hours of baseball. The series continues.
Now have to watch the Red Sox struggle to come from behind, to do what no other team has ever done, to rebound from being down three games to none. Should they accomplish this feat, you have to believe that they will go on to lose the World Series in miraculous fashion. For Red Sox gods are either indifferent or they're tricksters. Then again, it's a new millennium, so maybe it's time for new deities: will this be the beginning of a Red Sox century, or will the Red Sox cursenow a cottage industry that might account for a good percentage of Massachusetts GNPcontinue?
Peter Schilling Jr.
Monday, October 18
"WE ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR OURSELVES"
ALCS GAME THREE: TOWNIES 6, EMPERORS 4 (YANKEES LEAD 3-1)
The "Hallelujah!" chorus did not sound aloud this time. But surely it rang through the enough Sunday night heads in Fenway Park, from the moment the ball landed on the far side of the right field fence at the far end of the bullpen.
Asking for even one miracle, which could still prove merely to prolong the inevitable agony, was pushing it as it was in the bottom of the ninth. Push away: pinch runner Dave Roberts stealing second; Bill Mueller, showing bunt at the plate, deking the Yankee infield toward opening the middle, spanking a hopping base hit up the middle to send home Roberts for a four-all tie. Off The Mariano, whose appointed purpose this night had been to roll up another one of those two-inning postseason saves for which he is renowned appropriately enough.
Asking for a second miracle in the same night, when the gods are perceived customarily as yielding the first kicking and screaming, could be seen as just begging for disaster. Except that three Red Sox relief pitchersincluding the man whose serving to Gary Sheffield on Saturday night started Stranglers' Row on their way from a six-all tie to a 19-8 holocaustmanaged to keep the Yankees from coming home, before Manny Ramirez against Yankee reliever Paul Quantrill could lead off the bottom of the twelfth with a line single to left.
Maybe it was long enough time for the gods to pay up on the one they owed the Red Sox. Maybe, if you are the optimistic pessimist someone such as Dennis Leary calls himself, as eternal Red Sox fan, it was long enough time for the gods to let things get interesting again, before the preordained trans-dimensional death. Time and nothing else will secure the final meaning of David Ortiz taking one pitch low, one strike on the corner, and another pitch low, before hitting the next pitch out, for what might yet become Fenway's most rhapsodized bottom of the twelfth since Carlton Fisk's body English.
To hell with time for now, might say a Red Sox fan who may yet believe to his soul that this is yet one more obstruction on the appointed path to agony. The hour is to savour, for however long is the blessing to live.
The Red Sox were about to surrender only their second lead of the series, having only the grace of knowing that this lead lasted but a few minutes longer than their first one had on Saturday night. Lowe's evening's work to that point was interrupted only by Alex Rodriguez, following Derek Jeter's infield single with a launch over the Monster seats onto Landsdowne. Lowe was otherwise as masterful as he needed to be, but so was the engagingly revived Orlando Hernandez, making his own first postseason start since shoulder exhaustion sidelined him following a bold stretch run following his reclamation by the Yankees. But now Kevin Millar worked El Duque for a four-pitch walk to start the bottom of the fifth, and Bill Mueller bounced one high enough that Yankee first baseman Tony Clark's throw to force Millar at second could not be reciprocated by Jeter to thwart Mueller. Mark Bellhorn worked another walk, and Mueller helped himself to third as Damon ripped a grounder to short, forcing Bellhorn but moving swiftly enough that Miguel Cairo could not beat him on the relay. Then Orlando Cabrera cued a 2-2 pitch through the hole at second for a single to score Mueller, Manny Ramirez worked the tiring Hernandez for another walk, and Ortiz lined a clean single up the middle to ring home Damon and Cabrera for the 3-2 lead short enough lived.
Hernandez kept it there by pounding Jason Varitek for a swinging strikeout, and the Yankees with Matsui on third in the sixth dealt with Mike Timlin out of the bullpen. Bernie Williams answered first, hitting a high chopper toward shortstop that Cabrera coming in on the grass could not grab with the bare hand, a break for the Yankees when Matsui broke late for third, the errant grab giving him time to score the tying run. Then a walk to Jorge Posada, a grounder up the middle by Ruben Sierra that Bellhorn over from second knocked down only to throw wide enough to allow an infield single, and a grounder to the right side that Bellhorn knocked down unable to make a play at all, leaving Posada to return the Yankees the lead.
Timlin then invited the prospect of another round from Stranglers' Row when Cairo worked him to a full count walk with Jeter coming up. He may have been a mere three for fourteen to that point in the series, with a .214 batting average in the translation, but he was still Derek Jeter with a well-earned reputation for destruction in the clutch. Except that Timlin worked him to a 1-2 count and, when he whacked one on the ground to second, Bellhorn this time clutched it for dear life, making sure he had something to throw his first baseman Kevin Millar for the third out.
Tanyon Sturtze spelled the gallant El Duque and dispatched the Red Sox in order in the bottom of the sixth, Millar's lash past short for a single wasted on a 1-2 roller to short by Mueller launching the swift inning-ending double play. Timlin started the Yankee seventh with a four-pitch walk to Rodriguez before getting Gary Sheffield to pop one up behind the plate and off to the right which Varitek clutched for the out. Then Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to his own gut check and it came out Keith Foulke, his closer, perhaps his only sensibly sane choice given the Red Sox in an elimination game and the need to treat just about each inning as though the ninth with two out.
Foulke needed no such gut check. First, he lured Matsui into a bouncer up the first base line which Millar grabbed coming down from the back of the infield dirt, tagging the hustling Yankee left fielder just short of the pad. Then, Foulke and Williams fought an arduous battle with the count working to 2-2, a foul back off the fists, a high and tight ball three, a bare foul off, and finally an edgy strikeout ending the threat.
Sturtze dispatched the Red Sox in order again in the seventh. Foulke in the Yankee eighth fought the Stranglers stoutly enough after Posada's leadoff walk, getting Sierra to ground out to second, Clark to strike out swinging, and Cairo to pop out high to Cabrera at the back of the infield dirt. And then Ramirez greeted The Mariano in the bottom of the eighth with a leadoff single through the hole at shortstop, for all the good it did. The Mariano pulled Ortiz into a check swing third strike, Varitek into a high chopper to the back of first base where Clark beat him to the pad, and Trot Nixon into a followup chopper to first to end that noise.
Asked to work a third inning that was hardly his customary course, Foulke saw Jeter demonstrate just how uncustomary it was by working a ninth inning leadoff walk on a 3-1 count. But then Rodriguez popped one up to the short right center field grass which Bellhorn hustled back to snatch, Sheffield drove one on a line to semi-deep left field and right to Ramirez's glove, Matsui swung violently enough for strike three, and it was on to the bottom of the ninth, Millar's leadoff walk, Roberts coming in to run for him, and Miracle Number One on the evening in progress, beginning when Roberts invited a pickoff throw or three before pulling his heist to set up the tie.
But The Mariano stopped it at a run, in spite of the Red Sox loading the bases on himball four up and over Ramirez's head filled the padswhen he jammed Ortiz into a pop out to second base. "We're so used to Mo going out there and getting people out, which he did tonight," said Yankee manager Joe Torre after it ended. "It's just that the walk and stolen base was the difference in that ninth inning."
Whereas Saturday night's holocaust was underwritten by bullpen faltering, on this night the Red Sox bullpen found a reserve that perhaps they had not noticed in previous hours. "They made pitches," an admiring enough Jeter said later, "when they had to. We definitely let opportunities get by."
Alan Embree relieve Foulke and lost only Sierra, who had popped a two-out single onto the shallow center field grass that just did escape the outstretch of second base defencive replacement Pokey Reese. Then Embree got Clark to fly out to Damon in straightaway center, before Tom Gordon relieving The Mariano sawed three-up, three-down through the Red Sox tenth.
The Yankees got a little more testy in the top of the eleventh, pushing out Embree after Cairo led off with a single, took second on Jeter's textbook sacrifice bunt, and was joined by Sheffield taking a last-minute intentional walk. Sidewhipping lefthander Mike Myers spelled Embree to work to Matsui, and there was a mute shudder around Fenway, considering that Myers and Matsui during the Saturday night holocaust and Matsui took him over the right center field wall. Matsui wreaked no comparable havoc Sunday night, but he did receive a four-pitch unintentional walk from Myers, prompting the call for Curtis Leskanic.
That shudder became more audible when Leskanic took the rubber, but this time he looked nothing like a man with a target on his nose and everything like a master of all he surveyed, luring Williams into a short fly to shallow center which Damon ran in to grab for the third out. Again the Red Sox tried and failed to pry a thing from Gordon, himself a former Red Sox bullpen bull, Damon working a two-out walk and stealing second handily enough before Cabrera whacked a high bouncer to short to strand the tenth Red Sox runner of the night.
But Leskanic performed a top of the twelfth encore in spite of Posada's leadoff hit. He knocked down Sierra's grounder back to the mound and threw him out at first, he got Clark to pop out to Ramirez in left, and with Fenway making noise enough as he got ahead of Cairo 1-2, he threw the Yankee second baseman a diving away pitch that Cairo missed by inches, turning over the show to Quantrill, Ramirez, and Ortiz.
"This," said Ortiz, exhausted already through the hum and hush of his stupefying finale, perhaps vaguely aware that he had ended a game with a two-run homer for the second time in a single postaeason, "is a team that never gives up."
Perhaps befitting a man who had been revived from the postseason phantom zone, his shaky stretch drive earning him a time out in the bullpen, until Curt Schilling's ankle tendon sheath betrayal demanded reshuffling on the mound, Lowe took a bit more fatalistic view in spite of his own yeoman's work. The sweep may have been eluded, but the odds against the Red Sox finishing what Sunday night left the dreamers to dream they started are only slightly more arduous.
"We always find a way," said Lowe, "to make it hard for ourselves."
The Yankees always find ways to make sure the Red Sox do just that. "We've got business to take care of," said A-Rod when it was all over but the lingering tumult around the Fens. "And it starts tomorrow." Which was today by the time he said so.
Monday, October 18
CONVERSATIONS REAL AND IMAGINED (WATCHING THE GAME AT HOME WITH MY SPOUSE)
"What, is that guy drinking tea?"
"Look, there's a tea bag in that Yankee's cup. The Gatorade cup."
"They drink tea down there?"
"Well, it's pretty cold, I guess."
"You know, fuck scooter. I don't know as much as you do about baseball, but that's just insulting."
"Ouch, he's got the same hair error as that Ramirez."
"Christ, Janice, who the hell is that ugly, pock-marked 'Rebel Billionaire' guy?"
"Do you care, honey? That's why we're on mutebecause we don't care!"
"That ump calls strikes like the screams in those old horror comics of the '50s: EEEEAAAAIIIGH!"
"I didn't see those."
"Well, that's how I imagined they screamed. Maybe a bit more blood curdling."
After watching the Red Sox fail to score in the eighth: "This is going on forever. I'm going to bed."
THE BOSTON STRANGLERS
ALCS GAME THREE: U.S. STEEL 19, RED SOX 8 (YANKSH LEAD 3-0)
As the Boston Red Sox batted in the bottom of the sixth, having a seven-run mountain to try to scale, a gigaselling author and unapologetic Red Sox fan hesitated not in compressing his devotion to terms simple and contrapuntal.
"I believe in suspense," said Stephen King, from his Fenway Park seat, Red Sox cap and jacket securing him against the elemental crosswinds. "I also believe in happy endings." That should serve him right, but in fairness it may be said that the trans-dimensional act and circumstance through which one labours toward the happy endings in King's fiction may yet prove far less curdling than that through which one labours toward the happy endings fleeting and fictional in Red Sox baseball.
King's first belief betrays an impeccable Red Sox fan as his second betrays an impeccable optimism the Red Sox seem congenitally unsuited to satisfy, yet again, against the New York Yankees, who graduated a seven-run mountain to an eleven-run lunar leap not one full inning after King had affirmed himself to a Fox television audience.
Even in possession of their first League Championship Series in-game lead, even on a night when the Yankees' pitching was mostly anything short of the virtuosity shown in New York by Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber, these Red Sox played this third game of the set as though they knew nothing more, from almost the outset, than that whatever they did would never be sufficient.
If they batted aggressively the Yankees' batting made theirs resemble timorous waving. If they ran aggressively, they would turn into the tanglefeet and the Yankees would turn into the gang of pranksters running from the gendarmes after heisting one from the candy store around the block. If they pitched with any kind of aggressiveness, the Yankees deflected it into the Red Sox's own worst adversary.
If they slapped Yankee starting pitcher Kevin Brown around for four sharp runs in the bottom of the second (Trot Nixon hitting a two run homer into the lower right field seats; Johnny Damon breaking his 0-for-series slump with an RBI infield single; Derek Jeter unable to hold a hard hopper from Manny Ramirez, letting Johnny Damon score the tiebreaker), avenging a first-inning 3-0 Yankee advantage, to take that first in-game lead at 4-3, the Yankees slapped back and chased their own starter Bronson Arroyo, pitching with insufficient repertoire to score his heart, for a 6-4 reclaimed Yankee lead. (Alex Rodriguez: a homer onto Landsdowne; Bernie Williams, an RBI single; Hideki Matsuiauthor of only too much damage on the evening, including a two-run bomb over the right field fence in the first, an RBI single in the seventh, and a two-run bomb into the center field seats in the ninthscoring on a balk by Red Sox reliever Ramiro Mendoza.) If they re-tied the game at six with a solid two-run double (Orlando Cabrera), it turns out that it should have been good for three, except that the second run (Kevin Millar) had to re-tag third base, thus slowing the prospective third run (Mueller) into a slide that took him slightly past the plate but not past Yankee catcher Jorge Posada's tag.
And then Curtis Leskanic relieved Mendoza to begin the top of the fourth, after Mendoza began his inning's work by plunking Yankee second baseman Miguel Cairo. First he escaped Jeter, brushing him back on the hands with a strike one count before the Yankee bellwether shot a liner opposite way to right field, Trot Nixon hustling into a dive to spear it before it hit the ground. But he could not escape Alex Rodriguez wringing a walk out of him before Gary Sheffield stepped in, received a letter-high hanging slider, and hung it into the seats atop the Green Monster to make it 9-6.
Leskanic then surrendered a liner down the left field line by Matsui that short-hopped the Monster near the line for a double, before yielding to the intended fourth game Red Sox starter, Tim Wakefield, he of the knuckleball and stout fortitude. Not to mention he whose fortitudinous stoutness had ended in one Yankee Stadium lightning bolt in last year's seventh game off Aaron Boone's bottom of the eleventh bat. He got Williams to pop one up to Millar foul off first and then walked Posada intentionall to get to Ruben Sierra. Except that Sierra got to Wakefield swiftly enough, hitting one to right center past the onrushing Nixon, the ball bounding off the wall, Matsui and Posada coming down the line and across the plate, the Yankees sitting on an 11-6 lead.
The Red Sox in the bottom of the fourth came to within one shattered bat line drive rip of keeping it reasonably honest, working Javier Vasquez, who had relieved Brown after two innings, to two men on and one man out, Ramirez especially working Vasquez an epic enough turn of foul-offs before finally wringing out the walk on the thirteenth pitch of the sequence, before David Ortizmissing an opposite field home run by about seven feet left of the Monster poledefied a right-side Yankee shift against him and lined one into right field for a single. Then, Jason Varitek worked himself into a 2-0 advantage before shattering his bat as he fired a line drive that had extra bases stamped on the hide. And John Olerud at first stamped "void" with a fast snap of his mitt before tagging out Ortiz scrambling back to the pad for the inning-and-threat-ending double play.
And then unloaded Stranglers' Row in earnest. Rodriguez ripping a double on a high line to the right center field gap to send Jeter home, and Sheffield bouncing one off the Monster's scoreboard to drive in A-Rod in the top of the fifth, making it ten of twelve Yankee hits to that point for extra bases. Matsui singling home Rodriguez (on after forcing out Cairo at second, after Cairo overran the bag following Bellhorn dropping the soft pop); Sheffield (a long single, after Ramirez played a perfect Monster carom) coming home on Williams's double off the right center field wall; Posada doubling off the Monster's left center field side to send home Sheffield, all in the top of the seventh.
All of which was enough to make Varitek's two-run bottom of the seventh belt off Vasquez into the right field bleachers behind the bullpens resemble the last grunting, rasping gasp before the garrot chokes the full of life from the assigned victim. When Williams in the bottom of the ninth pulled down Mueller's two-out fly in center field, it was as if he had taken pity at last upon the Red Sox and put them out of their misery with a swift shell to the head rather than make them complete the garrot's slow but lacerating asphyxiation.
For those who cannot sleep without knowing the grisly details of a strangler's spree, know simply that the Yankees' twenty-two hits broke a League Championship Series record established by the Red Sox against the Yankees in 1999; and, that the Yankees' nineteen runs eclipsed their previous postseason best, that being eighteen in a 1936 World Series game against the New York Giants. For those who will not sleep without any semblance that a shard of Red Sox dignity remained at the final asphyxiation, know simply that the Yankees have the mere second highest run total for a postseason beating, the highest being the Red Sox's own 23-7 division series massacre against the Cleveland Indians in 1999.
And if that compares somehow to suggesting that a presidential candidate who loses a forty-nine state landslide can find dignity in having won his lone winning state by the highest volume and margin in electoral history, well, this is a season in which the quadrennial presidential debates, those dubious exercises in rhetoric more methane and mulch than marrow and meat, try rudely to disrupt such truly substantial debates as that in which the Yankees now hold a lead never previously overthrown in any postseason series.
"We came off a great series in Anaheim
We thought we'd be up 3-0 right now. They're doing exactly what we thought we would be doing this series."' Thus spoke Damon, the leader of the Idiots, whose ragtag fun was so bluntly deflated after the Strangling was finished at long enough last. "I think we're definitely upset, definitely stunned
It's not fun. The good thing about it is the runs don't count tomorrow. We really need to play our very best baseball."
Damon could not possibly have been more stunned than the Fenway Park witnesses and the television audience who had just learned, in the most harsh way, that the Red Sox are only too capable of being brought to the brink of yet another winter of their malcontent by ways and means unrelated to the trans-dimensional act or circumstance.
Sunday, October 17
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE ADDLED
Note: your editor, Peter Schilling Jr., has been battling sleeplessness, slight fever, working at Home Depot and wasting his time watching garbage like "Fahrenheit 9/11" when he should have been basking in pleasure of a Howard Hawks film instead. We apologize for the delay in posting and the rambling manner of this article.
Being in a near-death like state (not really) I've decided to rely on the old "phoning it in" method of commentary, borrowing heavily from a Mudville article I wrote in July of 2002, called "The Hate That Hate Produced". I don't like reprinting articles, especially when two clicks will get you to the original. But I'll fill you in on the gist of the argument: that the New York Yankees are difficult to hate as a team. Yes, Minnesotans are still gulping the bile over their close call in the last series, and I've heard numerous fans bellyaching about the $125 million-plus disparity in their payroll, as if that really means everything. It may mean something, but it doesn't mean everything. Most teams have larger payrolls than the Twins, and yet we can beat them. The Yankees have a formula that works, and it isn't just money, it's great baseball.
If you really pay attention to the New York Yankees, and don't just scowl and roll your eyes each time Tim McCarver drools over Derek Jeter, you'll see some outstanding baseball. Consider: in game one, Al Leiter pointed out in his trademark mumble (more on that later) that Gojira Matsui knocked a sinker that had dropped a good two feet out of the strike zone for a bloop double. Great hitting sometimes beats great pitching. When they fall behind, they fight back. When Boston closed the massive 8 run gap in that game, the Yanks didn't appear flustered, but merely racked up two more runs to end the thing. The Bombers are playing like a disciplined, focused team. This is good baseball.
Steinbrenner's Yanks have been in the postseason now for ten seasons and they're probably not getting the accolades the Braves do thanks only to their massive payroll. But do we want the Braves in the postseason? Those guys seem lackluster and defeated any time they drop a run behind, and rarely make it to the NLCS anymore. The Yanks are almost always trouble, even when they lose in such glorious fashion as they did to the Angels in '02. I keep hearing how brilliant Bobby Cox managed the turnover in pitching, but virtually nothing about Joe Torre's juggling of one of the most mediocre starting staffs in the majors. Relying on Busted-Hand Brown, Mr. Almost Mussina, and Dead Arm El Duque isn't anyone's idea of a playoff dream. The biggest payroll in the majors couldn't land great starting pitchingand yet the Yanks are primed to make it to the World Series.
Payroll guarantees nothing. It does typically mean many great players make beelines for the House That Ruth Built, but in Joe Torre and the "Yankee Way", Steinbrenner has made a cohesive unit quite unlike any team in baseball history. And I'm talking about the team as a whole over the last decade. We're lucky to see such baseball
The Red Sox are also a curious case to me. I love how baseball markets its underdogsthe Sox have a smaller payroll than the Yanks, but not small by any means. I don't thinks it's a mistake that MasterCard advertises those "poor" Red Sox fans offering up half (or more) of their wealth to see the team play in the World Series. Folks, Red Sox fans are pampered. They love their team, but let's face it: it's fun to be a Sox fan. They play in a park that is one of the most storied in the land (and also the most expensive to sit in). They have storied finishes. And they'll be around for a long, long time, and probably remain competitive for a spell. If the Sox miss the World Series, I won't shed any tearsmy sympathies go out to the Expos rooters, who never tasted a World Series, who had their best chance stolen from them in '94, and now do not have a team. There's worse fates than the "curs'd" Sox.
Clearer-headed observations: We hear about Ichiro, but Matsui is such a draw to the Japanese that Tokyo's leading newspaper, the Daily Yomiuri (who also owns the Tokyo Giants, the 'Yankees of Japan') advertises in the outfield. Matsui is becoming the new Jeter: a postseason player of the highest caliber, but one who will no doubt avoid the fruits of Tim McCarver's praise. I'm hoping he makes some big plays and gets the usual post-game interview. Will his English have improved enough to answer questions on his own, or will he rely on another sheepish translator to give two-word answers to his five-minute responses?
Statheads should not get too comfy in bed with Al Leiter. Leiter is one of the worst broadcasters I've ever heard. Is his information good? Yeah, but the guy can't be heardthis is the worst voice projection since Dennis Miller fouled up Monday Night Football (and I hate MNF). Being a decent announcer isn't just about giving us decent info, it's also about sounding decent. About being able to be heard. About finishing your sentences and not just trailing off. And it's about paying attention to the action and calling it right. Praising Al Leiter just because he knows pitching is like thinking Doug Mientkiewicz is a great first baseman because of his defense. There's so much more
I'm not the type of guy who gets opportunities to drive around the country checking out America's baseball stadiums (though I wish I was). However, this year I had the privilege to see four different stadiums in three different citiesthe Metrodome, of course, Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City, and Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in Los Angeles (and, yes, I consider Anaheim in L.A.). And I'm troubled by the homogeneity of the fan base in America. The music is the same, from the Ramones "Hey, ho, let's go" to Queen's "We Will Rock You". They do the wave. They chant "Let's Go Yankees!", "Let's Go Dodgers", "Let's Go Cardinals". Has spontaneity gone the way of the cotton flannel uniform?
Peter Schilling Jr.
Friday, October 15
SMOKY JON'S CAFÉ
ALCS GAME TWO: EMPIRE 3, TOWNIES 1 (YANQS LEADS 2-0)
Lieber and Olerud unwrapped their unexpected act at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night. And if they didn't have the Boston Red Sox rocking they left them reeling. Just a little bit. Just enough to send the American League Championship Series to a weekend in Fenway Park that carries just a little more desperation than the Red Sox wanted to carry.
Which was pretty amazing for a former 20-game winner with the Cubs who spent his first Yankee season on the disabled list, opened his second on the disabled list for a spring training injury unrelated to his first, and came out of it to go 14-8 but with a 4.33 earned run average with opponents hitting .301 against him.
Not to mention a veteran first baseman for whose struggles a collection of collapsing Seattle Mariners no longer had room at the end of July, but who moved Joe Torre to observe that good players, never mind .297 lifetime hitters who recently won a league batting championship, just don't lose their skills faster than you can hit a difference-making two run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. Especially when they're available, when they come with a price tag the Yankees might consider tip money, all things considered, and when Jason Giambi can't swing from the Phantom Zone, where he spent most of the season thanks to an intestinal parasite and a tumor that did nothing malignant except drain his strength too far for comfort.
So here came Lieber and that .301 BAA against the most incendiary offence in the American League. And here came Olerud and that .367 on base percentage, that .280 batting average, and those low-in-the-order 26 runs batted in from 3 August to season's end, against a pitcher who looked as though he had turned season-ending shakiness into postseason shine. And between the two of them, with no little help from The Mariano with four outs left to secure it, they won the game 3-1 and left the Red Sox to figure out how to become the first team in thirteen consecutive postseason rounds to overcome a two games to none deficit.
On a night when he needed more than ever to commit patricide, Pedro Martinez wasn't exactly his classic self and may never be again. But he spent the first five innings presenting a clinic in how a long-enough-time nasty power pitcher can learn to live with what he has, not with what he thinks he has anymore. The problem was, Lieber presented a concurrent clinic in how a sinker-slider-breaker pitcher can look like Pedro Martinez Classic without the nasty fast ball, and he left the game with a three-hit shutout through eight and the Red Sox in the position they figured not to be.
Martinez burped up a first inning runwalking Derek Jeter, who stole second before Alex Rodriguez took one for the team (sorry, Yankee fans, you thought Lieber would get away with zipping Manny Ramirez high and tight in the top of the inning?) and Gary Sheffield singled Jeter homebut for the next four innings that was the lone Yankee accounting while Martinez pitched with will and workmanship enough out of several miniature jams, most impressively his first-and-second, two-out, called third strike dropping right off the table on a surprised A-Rod, who might have a lawsuit on Eighth Amendment grounds for a pitch like that.
That was Martinez's best pitch on a night when he laboured just to come out for the bottom of the seventh. Lieber looked and worked with a lot more metastasizing skill and surety the further on in the game he went. Actually, he looked even better throwing 45 pitches through five innings, while Martinez threw one more than that in the first two innings alone. Lieber's own best pitch might have been the obscene slider he lured Ramirez into chasing for a first inning-ending swinging strikeout, but if you doubted the night belonged half to him you should have had that doubt destroyed when Johnny Damon fought him to a fifteen pitch draw before Lieber got him to line one out to Bernie Williams in center field.
He wasn't even in the game when his and the Red Sox's lone run crossed the plate. Along came Joe to lift him to a thundercrack ovation after Trot Nixon singled to start the top of the eighth. Tom Gordon came in to surrender Jason Varitek's double and Orlando Cabrera's RBI groundout to Jeter at shortstop. The Mariano came in and dropped a called strike three on Damon to drop that threat, before stopping any riot in cell block ninth, performing his usual mischief in spite of Ramirez's last-gasp double.
"I'll take responsibility for this ... 0-for-8 with five strikeouts,'' Damon said after the game, lamenting his two-game futility in the series thus far, knowing what might have ignited if he could have ripped a hit off Lieber following that sixth-inning mini-epic. "I'm the catalyst of this team. I'm the guy on this team that gets us going, gets on base and creates some havoc, but I haven't been able to do that."
That eighth inning run might have made for an interesting battle if it had tied the game, but Olerud had taken care of that little prospect two innings earlier. With Martinez beginning to look like a pitcher who had thrown over a hundred down the lane, Jorge Posada led off with a walk but Martinex got ahead of Olerud 1-2. Then he got the next pitch too far over the plate, and Olerud got it far enough into the right field seats, for all the distance the Yankees would need the rest of the night.
The Red Sox have no sorrow at all about putting some distance between themselves and Smoky Jon's (or Smoky John's) Café for what they hope will be three days. Considering the prospective loss of Curt Schilling, whose torn tendon sheath turned him into a Yankee knockdown clown in the first game and may turn him into the missing man (for a potential fifth game at least and the potential rest of the postseason at most), that may have been Wednesday night's only absence of sorrow.
Thursday, October 14
ALCS GAME ONE: EVIL EMPIRE 10, OLDE TOWNE TEAM 7 (EMPIRE LEADS 1-0)
Maybe that'll learn Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez to keep their big traps shut.
You remember Pedro taking a little nuking from the New York Yankees a couple of weeks back and lamenting that the Yankees were his daddy, they always beat him. He meant it as a kind of moment behind a slice of humble pie a la mode with ice cream, even a kind of compliment in the breach. Three guesses what the Yankee Stadium chantmeisters let rain upon the Boston Red Sox, when it looked as though the Yankees had their coffin hoisted above the grave. And, when it looked as though Mike Mussina had a perfect game just eight outs from being notarized, which was pretty striking for a 12-9, 4.59 ERA season that made him the staff ace by default.
And wasn't that Curt Schilling, taken slightly out of context, caught marveling that there was nothing in baseball quite like getting 55,000 New Yorkers to shut up? Please note that, in context, Schilling at first concurred with a fellow marksman's observation that starting pitchers know few satisfactions greater than silencing a big audience on the road, from whence sprang Schilling's very vocal optimism approaching Game One of the Showdown of Showdowns.
When Schillingwho owned rather thick past performance papers against the postseason Yankeessteps onto the mound following a marveling like his, with a suspect ankle and a too-fast trip to the whirlpool tank, after three innings and a 6-0 deficit to open an American League Championship Series, only the rest of the cemetery population sits unaware that the Red Sox were in deep yet again, their signature pitcher resembling the Mad Hatter pouring the tea.
Schilling looked serviceable enough when he started the Yankees by getting Derek Jeter to send one to deep enough right center field that Johnny Damon ambled over from center and Trot Nixon came out and back from standard right, Nixon taking the basket catch near the track. He looked just as serviceable getting Alex Rodriguez to lift a soft fly to Nixon in right center. But he looked in need of a little air in the tires when Gary Sheffield slashed one down the left field line bouncing into the corner for a standup double, and he looked like he'd blown a ball joint when Hideki Matsui sliced one past Manny Ramirez coming in from left which Damon cut off on the track, sending home Sheffield and bringing up Bernie Williams to drive home Matsui with a liner up the middle.
Jorge Posada ended that with a grounder to second base, and Schilling actually got rid of the Yankees in order in the bottom of the second, but with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third Matsui plunged a hot needle right into the first inning wound by rifling one off the right field fence, sending home Jeter (a single on a hanger), Rodriguez (an infield hit, when Kevin Millar was pulled off the pad at first on the throw), and Sheffield (a walk), before coming home on Posada's one-out sacrifice fly. Schilling walked and stranded John Olerud when he got Miguel Cairo to fly out deep to center, but that 6-0 hole looked too deep for comfort.
Especially with Mussina throwing a particularly pungent array of no-side-uncovered breaking balls and fast balls; imagine Juan Marichal without the concurrent array of windups and kicks. By the sixth inning, he had allowed no Red Sox to reach base and had punched out the first five men in the Red Sox order in succession when they took their second passes around the rotation. And with two more runs to support himKenny Lofton wrapped a leadoff homer around the right field foul pole in the New York sixth off Tim Wakefield; Matsui (what a surprise) singled home Sheffield for his record-tying fifth RBI of the nightMussina looked even more at home when he got Damon, the usually pestiferous leader of the Idiots, on a third strikeout of the evening to lead off the seventh.
And it looked as though the only way to hit Mussina this night was with an airplane cargo door, and even that might have been pushing ituntil Mark Bellhorn following Damon finally found the button on that parabolic curve ball and swatted it for a single. With two outs Millar rapped a double into the left center field nowhere land, sending home Bellhorn and David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon sent Millar home with a single and Mussina off the mound to a thunderous standing ovation. Tanyon Sturtze came into the game and this son of a New England police officer must have felt like calling for a cop himself when Jason Varitek made his first hit in Yankee Stadium all year speak volumes when it landed in the back of the old right field bleachers.
Now the Red Sox were back in business and threatening to stay there, when in the top of the eighth Ortiz measured Tom Gordon and drove one as far back in left center as he could get it, Matsui running back for an arm-extended leap, getting only a piece of his glove on the ball, which ricocheted to the wall, Bill Mueller and Ramirez scoring, an 8-0 blowout turning into an 8-7 grinder. Until
He had said he would fly back to New York in time for the game, after two soul-shredding days in his native Panama, comforting his wife and family after a ghastly accident killed his wife's cousin and the cousin's son. (The son was electrocuted accidentally while helping clean the Riveras' swimming pool; his father was electrocuted trying to save him.) He arrived around the third inning and, an inning or two later, got perhaps the loudest standing ovation of the night (among which participants was Damon, applauding respectfully from his center field position) when he was seen making way to the bullpen.
Now came The Mariano. Down upon that singular, deceptively handsome head, came another wash of acclaim as he strode calmly to his conference room. Stranded on third was Ortiz when Millar popped out to contain the spill. Out to deep left went Williams's bottom of the eighth double off Mike Timlin, sending home Rodriguez and Sheffield. And down went the Red Sox in the ninth, The Mariano saving a bristly 10-7 Yankee win, leaving answered forever the question of whether he could bring his cutters to bear so soon removed from the slash of grotesque death upon his sanctuary.
Whether the prayers of family and friends helped him more than his mere presence among them helped the Yankees was impossible to know, and good luck gleaning the distinction from the becalmed man himself. "I was coming here to pitch," he said after the game. "I would have been upset if I didn't pitch. My teammates needed me there." You will note also that never, whatever that mellow but deep heart might think in fact, has he been quoted as saying there was no thrill equal to shutting up x thousand in the road ballpark.
And Pedro Martinez might care to lean a little more upon The Mariano's kind of will, and a little less upon his own penchant for improvisational flamboyance even in defeat. Unless, of course, he prefers to spend Wednesday night hearing not the stony silence of Yankee Stadium upon a Red Sox win but a nighttime's worth of yowling about his paternity.
Wednesday, October 13
THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
I've never been able to understand the old adage that baseball consists of men playing a child's game. Baseball is not a child's game. Baseball is a game in which children try to learn the complexities of adult life, in which they try to emulate the adults who are performing feats that kids wish desperately they could do. It is a maze of rules and disciplines, of equipment that must be mastered, played on a field with borders, with directions telling each player where to run, where to throw, where to hit a ball with a stick. Children's games are virtually devoid of rules, allowing the imagination to run free, for spontaneity not only to rule, but to be virtually unchecked. When fathers play catch with sonsas the old saw singsfathers aren't reaching back into childhood as much as leading, in small steps, their child toward adulthood. Baseball is about controlling yourself, about competition, and it serves as a means by which childrenwho are constantly frustrated about their lack of control in lifecan try and reach for that elusive and mysterious land of adulthood.
This is never more evident than in the October Country. The postseason is a time when baseball is concentrated into its most exciting self. We get to see the best teams face off, the best pitchers against the best hitters coached by the best managers. But it is also a time when the shmucks of the sport rise up and lead tehir teams. Sometimes, it is a place where the heroes of the game fall apart. This is one of the things I've always loved about the postseason. When I played baseball on the sandlot as a kid (and yes, I did have a sandlot), I was always pretending to be the guy who couldn't hit in the regular season but tore the cover off the ball in the chill of October. It helped that my reality was similar. Being a kid who could barely hit out of the infield, it thrilled me to see guys like the Royals' Dane Iorg hit knock in the winning runs in Game Six of the '85 series versus the Cardinals (a team, by the way, that he .529 for in the '82 classic). It was his only hit in two at-bats. What a guy! I ask you: who among us hasn't projected themselves into the World Series, as kids or adults, of smacking the game winning home run? Of pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees? We watch and our children watch and there's fantasy and reality playing out in front of our eyes. That's what this season is all about.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm not still pretending. There's never been a better pitcher for the Detroit Tigers than yours trulyheck, I'm the last guy to win 30 games in my mind. My fantasies are severely tempered, of course, by the grim reality that there's no 36 year old who has never played organized ball who broke into the major leagues. Or had so little upper body strength. Or lack of physical grace. When I was a kid I really believed that I could one day make the Tigers proud. Maybe this is why we think of baseball as a child's gamethe dream, adults know, is only a dream. Kids can still hope that they might really play in a World Series.
Once again, Mudville Magazine is going to be posting daily updates on the postseason, almost every day. You'll get first hand views from section 212, row 5, right above the baggy. I'll be sitting in the right field stands, hoping to snag a Morneau homer, hoping that Johan Santana does to the Bombers what Koufax did thirty years earlier, hoping against hope that the Twins are for real and not just another Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 90s, or Texas Rangers of the late 90s (three division titles, no pennant). Should the Twins fail to advance, my dispatches (as well as West Coast correspondant Jeff Kallman's) will come to you from the Mudville Tower in St. Louis Park.