30 October 2004

(Triumphant) 2004 Red Sox Playoff Recap...

I'm back. I'm still wrapping my head around what my beloved Red Sox have just done, so instead I'm going to stave off the gushing, awe-inspired tribute to the 2004 Red Sox for later, until I can get everything straight. For now, for my own posterity and for the sheer joy of re-living it all, my game-by-game recap.

To the victor go the spoils...

(98-64) vs. (92-70)

Game One

WP- Curt Schilling (1-0)
LP- Jarrod Washburn (0-1)
HR- M Ramirez (1), K Millar (1), T Glaus (1), D Erstad (1)

It seems like months ago, though it was nearly three weeks. Game One of the American League Division Series started at 4PM Eastern Time from Anaheim, CA as I sat in midtown Manhattan doing data entry and splish-splashing stomach acid in a fevered bit of nerves. I knew they were better. I knew they'd feast on Anaheim starting pitching. I knew they could win, and win easily.

But would they? Or would we see the postseason offense of the 2003 Sox, a prolific hitting club that went collectively quiet for much of last year's postseason. Would the pitching be there, or would Schilling's game slip away late, Pedro get matched evenly, and Arroyo prove unseasoned for the postseason?

The Woman, entering her first postseason as a full-armored fan, readied at the wait with text message updates from her office. She had the internet at her desk, I had Solitaire. Maddening.

The Sox struck first in the top of the first off starter Jarrod Washburn, and thereafter, an inferior (and beat up) Angels team never really stood a chance. After retiring the first two batters, Washburn allowed a double to Manny Ramirez, and in a bit of foreshadowing for the Red Sox postseason offense (especially the World Series), David Ortiz singled him home with two outs. 1-0, Red Sox said my cell phone. I could breathe deep.

By the time I had left work, despite many an update from the Woman, the Sox had yet to expand on their lead. I got on the elevator at 5PM, and arrived at my apartment, after nearly running from Lexington and 80th all the way to York Ave., at approximately 545PM. I opened the door, threw down my iPod and turned on the TV.

8-0 Sox.

After checking the internet for game logs, I could see the Red Sox scored 7 in the 4th on a 2-run HR by Kevin Millar, an RBI groundout from Johnny Damon, and a titanic 3-run HR from Manny Ramirez off reliever Scott Shields. I felt really comfortable. It felt good. We were going to be up 1-0 in Anaheim.

Schilling looked great from the get go, mowing down Anaheim hitters through the first 6 (save for a Mantle-ian blast from Troy Glaus in the 4th), looking fairly comfortable. In the 6th though, he looked like he was tiring. Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise... I couldn't help but notice what Brantley, Gwynn and Berman did not- Schilling's ankle was bugging him, again. He was favoring it off the mound, he wasn't driving on his pitches, and he was awkward from the windup. He gave up 2 in the 7th before leaving-- including a botched fielding of a groundball off the bat of Garrett Anderson. The throwing error by Schilling was accompanied by a pained checking of his ankle and a quick change of course. It was troubling- but not anything I freaked out over. After all, his ankle had been balky all year. He'll sac up, I thought.

BOS 1, ANA 0

Game Two

WP- Pedro Martinez (1-0)
LP- Francisco Rodriguez (0-1)
SV- Keith Foulke (1)
HR- J Varitek (1)

Such a bizarre, starts-and-stops game. In contrast to Game One, the second game of the ALDS started at 10PM eastern, meaning it was a long night for BMS- much less for early-to-bed the Woman. It was WELL worth it, of course.

The night started with Colon getting squeezed a bit, and the Sox taking full advantage. Long counts brought him over the plate with both Damon and Bellhorn, both of whom singled in their at bats. After striking out Manny for the first out of the inning, Colon walked David Ortiz to load the bases with one out. This team could feel another big outburst looming- especially against a guy that had struggled all year long.

Trot Nixon flies out to shallow right. Millar grounds out. No runs scored. I took heart into the bottom of the first thinking that Colon looked beatable (which was one of two ancillary Colon-modes at that point- dominant Colon or beatable Bartolo), and that we were swinging the bats well so far.

So then Petey took the hill to start yet another postseason for the Red Sox. To put it totally honestly, I get scared when Pedro pitches. I always have. Even back in his hey-day, in 2000, I worried. I wanted nothing to sully the spotless reputation of the Right Arm of God. In time, the fear has evolved- I want my favorite player of all time to succeed every time out, and in the shadow of the never-relenting brilliance of his prime, it is especially difficult to stomach a great outing. What may be a blip on a Derek Lowe's radar is an irrational summation of the end of days- or at least, to many, the end of Pedro. But I always believe. Believe in the man. That's what Tek says.

Pedro pitched great. Save for a shakey 5th (which we'll get to), he was inspiring. Not the Pedro of Old, but the New Pedro- effective, dominant for stretches, and someone who helps you win ballgames.

In the top of the 2nd, the Boston Red Sox had their first bit of adversity to overcome. With the bases loaded, Colon on the ropes and losing contact with any semblance of control, Manny worked a two-out bases-loaded walk to score the game's first run. Damon was on 3rd, Bellhorn on 2nd and Manny on first- two outs for David Ortiz against a guy that was going to have to reach the strike sone in the coming at bat somehow. I smelled blood.

Then Bengi Molina happened. The best defensive catcher in baseball made a brilliant snap-throw to try and catch Mark Bellhorn napping- Bellhorn was so surprised to see it coming, he slipped going back to the bag. He would have been safe. He was out. Inning over.

Pedro gave up a run on a walk and two singles before settling down and keeping the Angels at bay until the 5th. Unfortunately Colon, who's pitch count had been soaring, did the same. It was 1-1 in the bottom of the 5th.

Simply put, the Angels match up beautifully on Pedro. They don't strike out, and while not terrifically patient, they all have remarkable bat control- Guerrero, Erstad, Eckstein and, to some extent, Anderson especially (though I still don't think he's much more than a slightly above average hitter, a below average fielder, and a poor baserunner- in his defense though, he was really hurt in this series). They put the ball in play, and more than anything else (besides excessive patience) this puts pressure on Pedro.

This bottom of the 5th was Pete's worst inning of the night. The only outs he got were on a botched bunt off the bat of Figgins popped to third and on an inning ending SCREAMING line drive that had the good fortune of
a) being hit right at Kevin Millar
b) being hit so hard it was a cinch double play.

So, in essence, Pedro got no outs on his own merit. Added to that he loaded the bases and surrendered a devastating 2-run single off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero. 3-1 Anaheim.

But, in yet another harbinger of the Sox fortunes, in the top of the 6th, Kevin Millar kept a 2-out inning alive and Varitek broke through what appeared to be an ever-improving Bartolo Colon. A HUGE HR to get the lost runs back, pick up Pedro and knock Colon out of the game. 3-3 tie after 5 1/2 innings.

Outside of possibly Eric Gagne and Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodrgiuez was likely the most dominant pitcher in either league of the 2004 playoffs. His presence was the only one I truly feared shutting down Sox hitters in this series-- and here he was in a tie game and not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Going against the script though, Bill Mueller lead off with a single that may have been the second biggest hit of the game (save for Varitek's HR). Dave Roberts ran for him, and while he looked to run, Damon quickly erased him on a fielder's choice. In response, Damon got a great jump on a guy slow from the stretch and stole second. He and Bellhorn (aboard from a walk, huge against Rodriguez) moved up a base with one out after Frankie uncorked an uncatch-able slider (and to be fair, an unhittable one to boot). All we needed for the lead was contact from Manny. He cooperated- sac fly, Sox up 4-3.

Pedro ended up battling and setting down the Angels, finishing his night in an epic battle with Chone Figgins that Pedro won on a beautiful swinging strike out (high fastball away) after 14 pitches. Pedro pointed to the sky after a striking show of emotion from him, shouting in joy and pumping his fists. He was done, and so were the Angels- though we eventually didn't end up needing it, Tony Orlando Cabrera's 2-out bases- clearing double in the 8th was the nail in the coffin. After Erstad lead off the 8th with a single, Timlin struck out Guerrero, Myers struck out Anderson (making him look foolish) and Foulke struck out a frustrated Troy Glaus.

A huge, uplifting win in Anaheim sending us back home needing just one win to clinch. The Woman didn't make it to the end- so I woke her and she smiled.

BOS 2, ANA 0

Game Three

WP- Derek Lowe (1-0)
LP- Francisco Rodriguez (0-2)
HR- T Glaus (2), V Guerrero (1; GS), D Ortiz (1)

I don't like missing playoff games ever, period, for anything. I hate it. It makes me feel like I'm telling some baseball deity I don't care enough to make time... like I'm not earning the good graces of my team's success. Though there was no avoiding it, I was back at text message-mode, this time thanks to the Broseph, because I had a wedding rehearsal to attend.

I started getting over it pretty quick. I was able to watch the first inning in the hotel room in Cleveland, OH. No score, but Arroyo was pounding the strike zone, and Kelvim Escobar was someone our hitters had worked well when he was in Toronto, especially Manny. No score in the 1st.

So as I sit in the church, I keep getting updates from the Broseph. 2-0, Sox. 2-1, Sox. 3-1, Sox. 4-1, Sox. 5-1, Sox. 4 innings done. 6-1 Sox, 6 innings done. The rehearsal ended, and we all headed to an Italian restaurant in Cleveland. I decided to give the Broseph a break. At this point, it was 6-1 in the 7th inning of a sweep-clinch game at home. I wasn't worried.

Then my phone buzzed- "6-6, Vlad GS." I almost hummed the thing across the dining room. My first reaction was to call him- who was the pitcher? What'd he throw? Are we fucked? Who's left in the bullpen? I thought better and just moped into my dinner. The Woman was bummed to hear.

Later that night, while sitting at dinner in full view of the bar television, the bartender finally turned to the Sox game- top of the ninth, bases loaded, 2 outs. Garrett Anderson up, the frightening Troy Glaus on deck. I sunk deeper into a sickened mood.

Then, it started. Foulke struck out Anderson and Foulke consecutively, and with command. Derek Lowe, relegated to the bullpen for the postseason, came on in the 10th. Jeff DaVanon promptly scalded a ball to deep centerfield that Johnny Damon just barely ran down. This seemed not to rattle Derek (yet another harbinger), and he worked around a walk to set the Angels down hitless in the 10th.

Meanwhile, with our pitching stepping up and keeping us in the game, our offense was being muzzled by Francisco Rodriguez. 2 IP, 2K going into the 10th. Not a whiff of a run.

In the 10th, Johnny Damon lead off with a HUGE hit. I nearly choke on my chicken parmigiana. Mark Bellhorn then lays down a textbook bunt, and on a great play from (I believe) Bengi Molina, Damon is cut down at second. Mission failed, one out, man on first. Pokey runs for Bellhorn. At this point, there's a runner on first, one out, and Manny is up. It does occur to me at the time that Rodriguez may be tiring after being extended past his normal stint. Then? Strikes Manny Ramirez out looking on three pitches, absolutely defining the smart approach to pitching the best right handed hitter in baseball. Beautiful at bat from Rodriguez, inning looking dim. Ortiz coming up against a righty, though, and he hits them wel-

Wait. Here comes Scioscia. I lean over, interrupt the Woman who is carrying on a conversation with a dinner guest. "Thanks, Scioscia," I say, not caring if she knows what I'm talking about at the moment or not (she doesn't), just wanting to register my joy somewhere. The Angels have no LH reliever in their pen. Mike Scioscia was removing the dominating Rodriguez in favor of Game One starter/ BP pitcher Jarrod Washburn. If not this inning, this helped the rest of the game.

First pitch- hanging, sweaty, fat slider right over the heart of the plate. Papi. Yard. Game- SERIES! I couldn't contain myself- but I did. I bottled the excitement and watched my eyes roll in my head. I called the Broseph. I told the Woman, who made all the noise I tried to avoid making. The Boston Red Sox were going to the ALCS. Again.

BOS 3, ANA 0

(98-64) vs. (101-61)

Game One

NYY 10
WP- Mike Mussina (1-1)
LP- Curt Schilling (1-1)
SV- Mariano Rivera (1)
HR- J Varitek (2), K Lofton (1)

I said to my brother- after we get three games on these bastards, I'm coming home. I'm not watching it with anyone else, like last year in LA.

This was as depressing a loss as I'd ever experienced as a Red Sox fan. In the days leading up to the game- both of them- I ran matchups in my head, on the computer. I broke the players down, looked at splits, tried to read up on home/ road records. I was keeping my nervous brain occupied, but nothing could convince me that the Yankees could claim to be better than us this series. None of this matters, of course, in a short series, but I took solace in it. We were absolutely the better, more well-rounded club.

So what happens? Mussina takes a perfect game into the 7th. Curt Schilling can't even put weight on his driving ankle. He allows 6 runs over 3 innings. We look flat, defeated. We look like the July Red Sox. A comeback late in the game (coming to within one run after being down 8-0) is nullified by a bullpen cough up, ultimately putting the game out of reach. Moreover, there was a nice tidy "story"- Mariano Rivera heroically returns from funeral to shut the door on the Sox.

I sat, dejected. This game nearly represented at least two losses to me- Game One and whatever games Schilling was slated to pitch. Moreover, our offense, rolling after the Anaheim series, had been shut down by what was supposed to be the Yankee weakness- starting pitching.

You could tell from the first inning that Schilling didn't have it. He wasn't hitting his spots, wasn't missing bats, his splitter was flat, and batters were hitting the ball hard, safe and for outs alike. He may have slithered out of the first only giving up the one run, but you had a feeling things were snowballing fast for him and his injury. Even through the late comeback, though I was pumped, it was coupled with worry.

Still, there were some positives. Tek's HUGE HR in the 5 run 7th off Tanyon Sturtze that was his first hit at Yankee Stadium all fucking year. David Ortiz absolutely crushed a triple off Tom Gordon in what was a very telling at bat- Gordon was tired and fooling no one. His fastball wasn't blowing us away, and he couldn't throw the curve for strikes. He was destined for trouble from the word "go."

Still completely depressing, but I still believed.

BOS 0, NYY 1

Game Two

WP- John Lieber (1-0)
LP- Pedro Martinez (1-1)
SV- Mariano Rivera (2)
HR- J Olerud (1)

Pedro didn't pitch bad, but he didn't dominate. He made one bad pitch all night, in my opinion, a fastball up and in to John Olerud, and he deposited the pitch into the right field seats. Again, these first two losses were depressing-- just a complete theft of momentum, and grinding halt from the locomotion they were in the Anaheim series. I thought that with Pedro going in Game 2 we had a better chance, and with a good game we'd split in NY and go home with a chance to grab a lead.

But we didn't. We allowed Lieber to dominate us again, meanwhile news on Schilling got worse as first pitch grew nearer. By gametime, it was looking like Schilling was done for the postseason. After the game, it looked like the Sox may be as well.

But, I still believe, albeit frustratedly and without my hardcore excitement. Playoff series don't have great percentages to comfort the team down 0-2, and my heart was almost ready to bail. I couldn't take another 2003.

Unlike Game One, there were no overwhelming positives, save for Pedro's performance right up to the 2-run HR to Olerud. No flash and anger- just really quiet sad. A tough game to watch my favorite guy lose, and it didn't help my team none either.

BOS 0, NYY 2

Game Three

NYY 19
WP- Javier Vazquez (1-0)
LP- Ramiro Mendoza (0-1)
HR- H Matsui 2 (3), G Sheffield (2), A Rodriguez (2), T Nixon (1), J Varitek (3)

Tim Wakefield relieved Curtis Leskanic in the top of the 4th with the score NYY 9, BOS 6. Our pitchers could not get Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield or Hideki Matsui out. Wakefield fared no better- he went 3 1/3 innings giving up 5 ER and fooling no one. We lost one of the most deflating and devastating games of my baseball-fan life.

Who knew that would arguably be one of the biggest and most important moves of our entire season?

It seems funny to put a positive spin on this game. I remember Brown coming out and looking awful- Arroyo was struggling, but I felt like with any luck he'd settle down, and we could really get to Brown- a pitcher who, as much as I'd have loved to see him fail miserably, was clearly hurt. His back wasn't right. That's what you get when you trade for an old, injury plagued pitcher. Oh well.

But back to the game- I remember feeling optimistic when Trot hit that big 2-run HR to put us back in a game it appeared we were letting slip away. Back in the corner of my mind was the notion- teams don't make it back from 3-0. Either we win this game, or it's effectively over. We win, and well... hey, we were 5 outs from winning last year, and we came into Game Four down 2-1 too. Anything's possible.

In reality, I had no right to be optimistic. Arroyo, when on, throws strikes early and uses his sweeping slider for outs on righties. He goes high and away with fastballs on lefties mixing low and away changeups for groundouts and the same sweeping breaking ball for jam jobs and pop ups.

He wasn't near the strikezone, his fastball was drifting over the plate, and his bread and butter- that breaking ball- was flat as a pancake. See Rodriguez's 3rd inning HR for an example. Arroyo, simply put, was doing what every 4th starter-type does every few times out: he was stinking it up against a phenomenal lineup. We never stood a chance.

And this was even with Javy Vazquez in, who gave up a 6-3 lead upon entering. Thing is, he rebounded, kept the Sox down long enough for the Yankees to mow down our relief corps and score an embarassing 19 runs. In other words, there was literally nothing to feel good about. We were told there was a great chance we had no reason to feel good about another Schilling appearance for momentum. There was no history to draw upon in baseball for teams down 0-3. There certainly was no reason to feel comfortable with the Red Sox ability to get any Yankee hitter out, and now Matsui was making Mantle look like Rizzuto. Rough stuff.

And then there was Wakefield. In that 4th inning, Tim Wakefield- the potential Game Four starter- gave up his start in the ALCS in order to save Boston's bullpen. To Wakefield, this series was salvageable. To Wakefield, if we could save the dominant late-inning arms from being chewed up in a blowout, we had a chance late in games for the next four games, and he was the perfect guy to preserve that. To Wakefield, there was no reason to doubt Derek Lowe, who would take his spot from his place of exile in the bullpen. Tim Wakefield, unbeknownst to us, triggered what would be the greatest postseason run in professional sports history. I wish someone had told me that at the time- but then again, honestly- I'm sort of glad they didn't.

As is par for the course in the BMS headquarters during a bad Bosox game, I kicked, I yelled, I threw, I broke. Eventually, I even allowed myself to get up and use the bathroom. I got up with the score something in the neighborhood of 11-6. After spending 2 minutes in front of the toilet, I returned to a 13-6 score. In the 5th. Someone was trying to tell me something- I felt like an idiot for still watching. I left it on in the background, but I tried to salvage the night by doing other things. I was growing seriously tired of the dynamic. Hope, hope, expectation, momentum- and then peeling myself off the floor at the hands of the New York Yankees. Then being told it was because my teams hadn't "played the game right," or didn't have "the intangibles the Yankees have," or that they weren't as "classy" as all those Yankee teams. I was sick of it.

BOS 0, NYY 3

Game Four

WP- Curtis Leskanic (1-0)
LP- Paul Quantrill (0-1)
HR- A Rodriguez (3), D Ortiz (2)

Dave Fuckin' Roberts. Wow.

But first- I had a weird feeling going into games four and five. I had no right or reason to feel this, and it wasn't the usual contrived confidence I have in my team (contrived as in I have no connection to the players themselves, and thus the confidence I have is borne of informed expectation and is... contrived). I just knew we wouldn't be swept. Derek Lowe, a guy who had literally pitched his way out of the starting rotation in September, was going for us. Orlando Hernandez, the 67 year old Cuban righthander for the Yankees didn't exactly worry me- but he had been good enough for the Yankee offense since being inserted into their rotation late in the season.

I just had this feeling, this dumb, blind faith understanding that there was no way this team would lose games four and five. I don't say this to suggest it had anything to do with their winning- it would have been just as strong a feeling had they lost. It was just some peace going into the late innings with our team down by a run, staring at being swept at home. I've never felt like that ever as a baseball/ Red Sox fan. Here it was. I knew they'd win. Even when they were 3 outs from the World Series with Mariano Rivera on the mound. I had a feeling.

Anyway, regardless of that- Derek Lowe came up huge. He wasn't as great as he'd be later in the playoffs- 4 ER over 5 1/3- but he kept us in a game that we needed to stay close in. He never gave in to the guys that had been murdering us all series- in fact, as I recall, the pitch he threw Alex Rodriguez (who hit the 2 run HR) was a direct result of his not wanting to give him a backup curve- something he may have been looking for, a pitch ARod had hit off Lowe all year. Instead he threw a changeup that was simply bad- it doesn't make it a good spot for him, but it was interesting to note Lowe finally responding to the book on him with the Yankee hitters. I could be recalling a different at bat, but it's worth noting simply because Lowe was clearly pitching to his strengths and not concerning himself with whether they were getting great swings off his pitches. In essence, it appeared he was allowing the Yankee hitters to slowly cool off.

A huge at bat for David Ortiz in the 5th (who else?) came (again) with 2 outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd. Ortiz singled off Hernandez to drive in both runs and give the Sox the lead, a lead they'd quickly cough back up in the 6th between both Lowe and Timlin. Nothing much happened from the top of the 6th to the bottom of the ninth- both bullpens worked masterfully averting small chances and holding down each lineups big hitters. The Yankees certainly had momentum, their best pitcher on the mound, and a sweep in Boston within their grasp. I was oddly confident. I take no credit for this faith, because it's likely it wasn't faith. It was more likely stupidity and some sort of gluttony in punishment. Or so it would have seemed...

Everyone now is talking about Dave Roberts in this game. He was huge. To me, the bigger play in the bottom of the ninth against Mariano Rivera was Kevin Millar. Make no mistake- Kevin Millar is one of the very few hitters I have ever Mariano Rivera treat with certain care. Not Manny Ramirez, not David Ortiz, not Carlos Delgado, not Vladimir Guerrero. Kevin Millar. I have no explanation for this outside of what appears to be very good (relatively) numbers Millar holds on Rivera. It still stands to mention that on any given day, Rivera should be counted on to get a hitter like Millar out. Millar's power is suited to Mo's pitching- cutters riding out away from Millar allow him to pull that fastball. Millar is a hitter that hits fastballs, fastballs, fastballs, and generally cannot handle them on his hands. So that's where Rivera tried to put them. All four of them, including the fourth one, up around his eyes and inside for a base on balls.

Absolutely fucking epic at bat. Huge. One of the biggest in franchise history, when the rest of the series is parsed backwards. Brilliant.

We know the rest. Millar is promptly run for, and Dave Roberts continues his base-stealing brilliance, getting into scoring position with no outs, setting up Bill Mueller's at bat, a fact that gets lost in the shuffle as well. Bill Mueller came up on the first pitch showing bunt. Now, there are a fews things that could have been going on here.
a) Mueller misses a sign.
b) Mueller really did want to get Roberts to 3rd with one out.
c) Mueller was bluffing.

I still think it was (c), maybe because it makes the at bat that much more textbook, but in the end it doesn't matter. With the Yankees certain that was our intention, Rivera promptly grooved a pitch to Mueller, willing to take an out any way he could. It's funny that Mueller hasn't gotten the credit in that at bat that Roberts subsequently has for his gigantic SB, but let there be no mistake- like a handful of other plays, it saved the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Mueller singled hard up the middle, and as Rivera tried to collapse on the ball in a last ditch attempt to stop it, it shot on through, and rolled into CF. Roberts scores easily, game tied.

At this point, I felt good. I know the Woman professes a distinct hate for extra innings, and I know where she's coming from- there's a sense of danger and urgency there. A win is the highest of highs- but a loss is quick and it's as bad as it gets. In the playoffs though, the home team has a huge advantage in extra innings. I was feeling it. I really was.

The rest is (rightly) Boston lore. When Quantrill came in, I fucking knew it was over- I just didn't know how long until it was over. Quantrill, (like Gordon) run out there all season to death by Joe Torre (arguably his worst season as Yankee manager) even with an injured knee, was simply not going to stop the heart of our order. Our late season run at the division, prohibiting the Yankees from resting regulars, was starting to bear fruit.

The Sox bullpen held the line- thanks Wake- and in the 12th, it was easy as pie. Quantrill never got an out.

--M Ramirez singles to left.
--D Ortiz homers to right.

And it was a bomb. "Dirty Water," and we'll see you in a few hours. Fucking brilliant game. We were off the mat, we were playing to win again. At that point, I just wanted to see this team that I loved play as many games as possible. Winning the series wasn't even something I thought about yet.

BOS 1, NYY 3

Game Five

WP- Tim Wakefield (1-0)
LP- Esteban Loaiza (0-1)
HR- B Williams (2), D Ortiz (3)

"They're a walking disaster. They act like they're tough, how they care so much about winning, but it's all a front. They're just a bunch of characters." -Gary Sheffield

The Woman really does hate extra innings, and this one was a doozy. Pedro was pitching remarkably well over his first 5 innings- one bad pitch to Bernie that flew out, and 5 innings of dominant work. The Sox were out to an early 2-1 lead, and Pete was slowing down a team that handles him better than any other in baseball.

In the 6th though, things started to get hairy. Jorge Posada innocently chopped a good changeup over Pedro's head and into no man's land in front of Mark Bellhorn at second. Man on first. Ruben Sierra hit Pedro's second really bad pitch of the night- a cutter that stayed over the heart of the plate- for a single up the middle. Two on, two out on Tony Clark's subsequent strikeout looking. Then came number nine hitter Miguel Cairo. Pedro got ahead 1-2 and looked like he was in firm control of the at bat. His next pitch looked like it was supposed to be a backup curveball. Didn't back up. Cairo got his on the shoulder. Bases loaded, two out.

Derek Jeter was having a pretty bad series to that point. He ended game five (going 1-for-7) hitting .244. He finished the Series with 3 errors (weird, count how many times THAT was reported). Though Pedro'd pitched him very well to that point, FOX announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver both opined that, for some reason, Derek Jeter was bound to break out sometime. It might sound bitter of me to suggest they were wrong even as they were technically right, but I will- Jeter got lucky in that at bat. Pedro got ahead, getting his second strike on a questionable call on the outside corner. He tried to throw it again, more or less did, and Jeter was forced to expand his strike zone, flailing at the pitch. It cleared Millar's head, into right, scored three runs. Of course. 4-2 Yankees.

At that point we had a friend in our apartment using our computer. Pedro had looked good up until that point, but as soon as I had to be on my best behavior- he implodes. I couldn't rail and rant and say "fuck." I just sat and stewed. I wanted that at bat so bad for Pedro. Martinez then followed with hitting ARod, walking Sheffield, and looking in at white-hot Hideki Matsui with the season more or less on the line. Mike Myers, the Red Sox LOOGY, was warming. Francona stuck with Pedro- it was his only really questionable move in the ALCS, and I've since heard he constitutionally hates taking Pedro out of the middle of the inning. Why this is I'm not sure, but on a cutter on the hitter's hands, Pedro made him look good (sort of). Matsui shot a hard liner down towards right field, falling fast. Sheffield and Rodriguez were running hard, ready to deliver final nails into the Sox coffin-- Nixon charging, charging, charging, the ball hanging almost imperceptibly at the last moment- and Trot Nixon jumps, stabs at the ball and hits the grass. Three outs. I gasp for breath.

We entered the 8th inning lagging. In the 7th we were unable to capitalize on a lead off 2B from Bellhorn and a one out walk to Tony Orlando Cabrera- Tom Gordon came in and got Manny to ground into an inning ending double play. My faith was starting to chip away a bit- I knew they still had a shot, but the 2B from Jeter and the Manny at bat against a clearly tired Gordon were huge let downs. The Yankees were close.

Tom Gordon was clearly really tired. His normally electric fastball was still hitting 95 (most announcers still don't realize that fatigue nearly NEVER seems to show in velocity, but instead in command and movement. In questioning a manager's removal of a pitcher with "but he was still hitting 94!" is misleading- it was likely the guy was still raring back, but missing spots and flattening out all his pitches. Any MLB hitter can hit 94, he just can't consistently hit a moving 94. Big difference), but was becoming increasingly hittable, and his curveball was losing more and more bite while rarely finding the strike zone. Gordon was abandoning it almost entirely.

Which is why David Ortiz began the rescue mission yet again in the bottom of the 8th, leading the inning off with a HR to the opposite field off Gordon on a fastball low and away, smacking the Sports Authority sign right above the Green Monster seats. 4-3, Yankees lead. A big swing though- the inning started to have a feeling of inevitability. The Sox weren't going to lose. They'd find a way for that one run to tie. I just knew it.

Millar walked. Roberts runs for him. Nixon singles off Gordon, Roberts to third, no out. Kapler runs for Trot. Of course it's easy to say now, and it might seem obvious to many, but this is when I knew. I knew we'd get that run from third from either Tek or Mueller, and I knew in extras, we were the ones to beat. The pressure was squarely on the Yankees in this inning, a striking development considering their 3-1 series lead. Rivera comes in.

I'm still not 100% sure when this team stopped being scared of Mariano Rivera. I don't mean scared in the same way, say, John Kruk was scared of Randy Johnson. I mean intimidated, ready to lose. Whenever that advantage wore off for Mo against the Sox, it didn't matter. When you consider it, for a guy to face a team as often as Rivera faces the Sox, it is certainly inevitable that they will get a great look and great at bats eventually. Not even Rivera is unbeatable.

Jason Varitek, on the first pitch, grabbed a high cutter and shot it into center, easily scoring Roberts on the sac fly. 4-4 tie, and Boston, just six outs from elimination- were now carrying all the steam. I couldn't even fathom them losing.

In the 9th, with Foulke in, things got interesting. Keith quickly got Bernie Williams and Posada both on changeups. Not wanting to give in, Foulke walked Sierra on a great at bat from Ruben- normally VERY susceptible to the low and away breaking ball/ changeup when hitting lefty, Sierra laid off every one Foulke offered, and there he stood, two outs, man on first. Tony Clark fell behind quickly and seemed destined to do what he'd been doing consistently since he took over for the injured John Olerud- strike out on a high-and-away fastball. This time, though, he took an inside fastball meant to setup a subsequent changeup down the right field line. It hooked hard and fell ahead of Gabe Kapler in right up against the wall. In one of the most improbable baseball bounces I've ever seen, the ball shorthopped the wall and spun into the stands. If that ball does what it normally does- jut back out at Kapler- Sierra scores easily and the Yankees take a one run lead into the ninth. Instead, Foulke got another pop out on a changeup with Clark on second and Sierra rotting on third.

The Sox then made life harder on themselves for a few innings- Johnny Damon was called out (he was 100% safe) stealing in the 9th after leading off the inning with a single. In the 11th, with two on and no out, Damon couldn't bunt the runners over and Cabrera grounded into a devastating double play as the first to face Esteban Loaiza. Meanwhile, Bronson Arroyo relieved Keith Foulke in the 10th and got Jeter on a pop up, then followed by striking out both ARod and Sheffield- arguably one of the most important relief innings of the ALCS. Tim Wakefield came on in the 12th to pitch 3 shutout innings (nearly killing Varitek in the process- four passed balls!) and ultimately earn the win.

The Yankee 13th is a prime example of many, many things going right for the Red Sox (Sheffield gets on with no outs, ISN'T pinch run for against Wakefield, then is left on third)- but there are tons more. Here is a great thread at redsoxnation.net detailing such fortunes- The Tony Clark's Double Thread; Things That Coulda Gone Wrong But Didn't

The 14th started out rather inauspiciously. Loaiza was still in, and Damon worked a walk around Bellhorn/ Cabrera strikeouts. Joe Buck tried to attribute the success of Loaiza in the outing to working with Mariano Rivera on the cutter. Loaiza throws a cutter, Rivera throws the best one in the history of baseball. Of course, what this fails to consider is what Rivera was doing while Loaiza racked up a +7 ERA as Yankee in the regular season. McCarver predictably loved the analysis. Leiter was tellingly mute.

Next, Manny Ramirez worked a walk. Suddenly, with two outs, we had a runner in scoring position and the hottest hitter on God's green earth at the plate against a righty.

Count it. "Dirty Water." Broken bat single on a cutter off his hands, Damon scores easy- and here we come, NYC. I gave the ceremonial "pound it" fistpump to the Woman. It was... ALIVE!

And word was, Schilling had made enough progress to pitch Game 6. Things were coming together...

BOS 2, NYY 3

Game Six

WP- Curt Schilling (2-1)
LP- John Lieber (1-1)
SV- Keith Foulke (2)
HR- M Bellhorn (1), B Williams (3)

In the hours leading up to Game Six from the late ending Game Five in Boston, many pundits proclaimed Mark Bellhorn unable to adequately perform his job any longer. He was striking out at an alarming rate- even for him- and was hitting below the Mendoza line for the ALCS- in fact, he was even hitting below the RAMIRO Mendoza line- .083. People wanted Pokey and his glove, and to sit Bellhorn. I can confidently brag and say that I never stopped believing Bellhorn would eventually break through. One of my (somewhat inexplicably) very favorite members of the '04 Sox, Bellhorn was easily the biggest bargain in baseball for the season. Outhitting 2B like Alfonso Soriano, turning the double play better than any 2B in the AL and doing it all for 500K. Not bad.

What Curt Schilling did in Game Six of the ALCS will go down in Boston sports lore forever. Schilling had suffered a torn sheath in his tendon, causing it to scrape over his ankle bone every time he pushed off in the mound. Besides being excruciatingly painful, it renders any pitcher completely useless.

In response, Red Sox team doctors elected to suture Curt's ankle skin to bone marrow tissue, basically holding the tendon in place and insuring it would not move. Coupled with anaesthetics, Schilling was able to gut out a 7 inning 1 ER performance that had to impress the most cynical and disbelieving baseball fan. Blood oozed from the sutures (as they always do when jostled-- this, of course, does not stop Laura Vecsey and Michael Kay from floating rumors that it was faked), and he drove off his ankle anyway. Schilling retired the Yankees in order in the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th, and only ever looked bad on a pitch that Bernie Williams absolutely crushed into the upper decks in right. Schill retired the next two batters quickly and limped off the field. My Pa would have loved the run this team ultimately completed- and I still say this game would have made him smile a mile wide. Performance is performance, but in a town like Boston, that's the stuff of legend. Like it was scripted...

Meanwhile, we were able to do all our damage in the 4th inning. After two quick outs (I've never in my life seen a team score more 2 out runs), Millar doubled to left and took third on Lieber's wild pitch. This was our best chance on Lieber yet in two starts. Varitek, if I remember correctly, fell behind Lieber in the count, and was then able to serve a sinker firmly into center, scoring the game's first run. Sox lead, 1-0. With Varitek on first, Cabrera extended the inning by shooting a single by ARod in front of Matsui. And then up came Bellhorn.

All series, Bellhorn was getting beat on thrird strikes on breaking balls on his back foot. Work the breaking pitch inside, low, he'll swing right over it. Soon, though, he adjusted. He was standing up straighter and farther back in the box- obviously an attempt to at least be able to foul that pitch off. He was recognizing he'd have trouble laying off the pitch, but wanted a chance to be able to fight it off. Instead, Lieber threw a fastball running away over the outside part of the plate early in the count, and Bellhorn jumped on it. He drove the ball hard and far, and while it was initially ruled a ground rule 2B, the umpires rightly gathered and got the call right. 4-0 Sox.

Schilling was dominating. The sheer weight of what he was accomplishing seemed to be carrying him. He didn't have his best fastball, but his split was biting hard and he was his usual strike zone-pounding self. Getting ahead, spotting fastball, out pitch is the split. In control.

In the 8th inning, Terry Francona did something I was enthralled about: instead of going to the well again on one of his higher tiered setup relief men- all of whom were being spread remarkably thin- he went to Bronson Arroyo with a switchy, righty, righty, righty, righty, righty coming up. Arroyo has been both great on righties and the road all year.

Tony Clark started by striking out. I loved the idea of Arroyo here, but he did worried me. He was on back-to-back days and while his breaking ball looked sharp, it's tough to suddenly change that course after an entire season of starting. Next came Cairo. Arroyo gave up a long double to Cairo and subsequently surrendered the second Yankee run on a base hit from Jeter just out of Cabrera's reach. Man on first, one out. ARod up. Sheffield to follow. Crowd's back in it.

What happened next has gotten a lot of play recently. It's a play that has been pointed to as the end of the Yankee season, a play that symptomized an inevitable fall.

Alex Rodriguez hit a chopper back to the pitcher Arroyo who fielded the ball cleanly. Arroyo started to first and upon realizing that Mientkiewicz had commited too far to fielding the ball to cover, simply went for the smart play and went to tag Rodriguez. Rodriguez dramatically drew back his left hand and slapped the ball hard out of Arroyo's glove, sending the ball flying. The umpire oddly called ARod safe before he ever touched first (further proof he didn't see the slap). The ball rolled far away, and as Mientkiewicz ran to get it, Jeter scored while ARod pumped his fist. 4-3, runner on second, one out.

I was literally screaming at the television. The Woman had drowsed off slightly, and was woken up, regrettably. I've never, in all my life, been so upset at a non-call by the umpire. It was all there for everyone to see- ARod intentionally drew back his hand and intended to knock the ball out of his glove, in direct violation of the rules. On the small chance the original call hadn't been turned back, I nearly took hostages. I was surprising myself at how angry I got.

And then the umpires did it again. They gathered, conferred, and simply got the call right. ARod out. Jeter back to second.

I think a lot of what's been made of the incident draws from a few factors. First and foremost was ARod's reaction to being called out, a disingenuous plea of disbelief, acting as though he didn't even know what they were accusing him of. Every now and then a guy will toss an elbow, try and get an advantage. You get caught, you take it. Rodriguez's response was largely endemic of his personality, a fevered attempt at preserving his all-American golden boy image, even in spite of moments that fall short of said heights. Witness his blaming the Sox-Yankees brawl from July 24th on Jason Varitek when it was, without question, completely his doing.

Secondly, it was a noticeable changing of the guard. For those that care about such things, a play like that never comes from a Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada. In the hand wringing after the Collapse, there it was, writ large, a tangible moment representing the split between the 90's Yankee Dynasty and the current Crop of Mercenaries. Talent-wise, they'd say, this team is great. But mouths like Sheffield's and play's like ARod's were, to many, telling steps in the direction of what was ultimately a complete embarassment by a supposedly "World Class" team. The hairy bunch of guys that consistently overstepped the imaginary "class" rules set up by Michael Kay were making the Yankees look like a bloated, overpaid bunch of arrogant pricks. It was a startling turnaround.

Finally, as a play in a game, it was a huge blow. If ARod simply runs the play out, he has a great chance of knocking the ball loose, and doing it without looking like he was trying to do something wrong. The play killed a potential rally dead on the spot, and if there's anything as devastating to a team as taking a run off the board, I'd love to hear it.

Arroyo now had Jeter at second with TWO outs instead of 4-3 with ARod on second and one out. Gary Sheffield up, and on the first pitch after the brouhaha, the pitch shot right up the chute off Sheffield's bat. Tek makes the catch, and Bronson's outta the inning.

The Woman and I were on the edges of our seats for the ninth. With a win here, the Boston Red Sox would have been the first team in MLB history to force a 7th game after being down 3-0. Game Seven, anything can happen- including us winning the series. Keith Foulke came in to seal the deal for Schilling and Arroyo, and had to face Matsui, Williams and Posada- if anyone got aboard, Sierra.

What I remember best about that game was Keith Foulke having next to nothing. He was approaching 100 pitches in the last 50 hours, and his fastball clearly wasn't seperating much from his changeup. In the at bat to Matsui, Foulke was away, away, away with fastballs. He didn't dare sneak inside and risk seeing the ball float over the short porch in right. Matsui walked.

Bernie Williams looked completely overmatched and struck out on an absolutely beautiful changeup low and away. One out. Posada was quick work, popping up to third for the second out. I could smell it. The Woman and I sat nervously, quietly. Battling back after a leadoff walk for two outs against great hitters was crucial to the inning. Sierra was up. Foulke worked the same to Sierra- away, away, away. Sierra had made great adjustments all series, laying off the low and away changeup that gave him fits early on. Foulke was cautious, gave in, and walked him.

And so there's Tony Clark. Two outs, two run lead, two men on, lefty up. Short porch in right. The Broseph kept telling himself... it's Tony Clark. It's Tony Clark. I kept saying the same way, before every pitch- come on, Keith. Come on, Keith. Clark battled hard, and worked the count full. He kept spoiling some good fastballs- he started coming inside, and Clark was fighting them off, slow bat and all. A long at bat often favors the hitter, and I was getting more and more nervous. Tony Clark is exactly the type of guy that comes out of nowhere to beat you late in a game. Foulke was bearing down. Fastball, high and away. Clark half-heartedly swung at it, knowing halfway it was a perfect pitch and it was over. We were going to Game Seven.

I screamed- it was mostly dark in our apartment, and I spiked my hat to the floor and hugged the Woman. Where's my cellphone? I dial the Broseph.

"I'll see you tomorrow, motherfucker. I'm coming home!"

Couldn't believe it. We were not dead yet.

BOS 3, NYY 3

Game Seven

BOS 10
WP- Derek Lowe (2-0)
LP- Kevin Brown (1-1)
HR- J Damon GS, 2 (2), M Bellhorn (2), D Ortiz (4)

I remember a lot about what I was thinking that day, but not a lot about the day itself. It's occurred to me that being in the place of the worried fan, the consistently neurotic and ever-questioning Sox fan, I was devoid of any and all objectivity. No longer could I see the almost omnipotent momentum the Red Sox carried, nor had I noticed the fact that Matsui, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Posada and in many respects Jeter were picking the exact wrong time to fold up for the year. As hot as they'd been Games 1-3, they were just as rotten down the stretch of the series. I may have vaguely noticed, but I was so firmly sucked back into the arch of this team, I had a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. All I knew was that my heart was on the chopping block again, and a loss would be devastating.

You heard tons of things. Mike Francesa (making the consistent mistake of straying from his football coverage to make an ass of himself talking baseball) said the Yankees couldn't lose this game- at home, and on Mickey Mantle's birthday. A quote stuck out- "they're just sucking the Sox fans in one more time for what may be their ultimate disappointment." Michael Kay was finding a way to disaparage Curt Schilling's legendary, awe-inspiring performance from the night before. Mike thought the bloody sock was fake. He also thought if he was game enough to pitch, he should shut up about the injury. This begs the question- did anyone else hear that rumor about Gary Sheffield being injured in the shoulder area this year? I could be wrong because I only heard about it every Yankee broadcast from Michael Kay, but I seem to remember something about that...

The Woman and I were heading to Fairfield, CT to watch the game with the Broseph and the Moms. Last season's Game Seven was a heartbreak- still one of the three worst moments of my life- and to add to the heartache, I watched the game in LA without my brother- literally the only baseball fan I have met that "gets it." I'm not saying there aren't millions more out there, I just don't get to meet them. Watching baseball games, especially ones that mean something, require that comfort. I feel comfortable watching games with him and my girlfriend- that's it. No bars, no one else comes close. If either of them are there, I feel good. BOTH were gonna be there this year, and my mom too. No wondering the streets of Los Angeles late at night wondering what I was going to do with myself.

I walked into my house, the Broseph was laying out on the couch. "How you doing?" He was doing as well as I was- "I can't even take it I'm so nervous." The Woman sat on a chair, I sat on the other, the Broseph on the couch closest to the TV, the Moms sharing the same couch. I wore my inherited Florida State paint-shorts, kept my '75 Sox hat on the arm of the chair and wiped my clammy hands on it every so often. The Broseph picked and toyed with a little foam pumpkin/ jackolantern. If he put it down, something bad happened. He stopped putting it down.

The pitching matchup was, to me, largely irrelevant. Both staffs were spread thin with Boston's bullpen being (with the exception of Foulke) slightly more well rested (thanks, Wake). I felt like if Lowe could give us 5+ giving up 3 ER or less, we had a great shot. I didn't expect much more on 2 days rest (!!), but it did occur to me that tired sinkerballers are successful sinkerballers, historically. Kevin Brown didn't worry me- what worried me was the prospect of getting Torre to pull Brown quickly and have someone else step in and hold us down. Starting Brown was an enormous mistake on Torre's part, one of a few he'd make in Game Seven.

The first inning was an interesting one. Johnny Damon, who had been struggling mightily all year, lead off the game. Damon had carried us through stretches of the season and was unquestionably the best leadoff hitter in baseball all season (better year than Ichiro). I had a gut feeling he'd break out at some point, but he was really feeling it through Game Six.

First at bat, he worked Brown 2-2 and slapped a ball between Rodriguez and Jeter for a basehit. Textbook Johnny Damon- taking a pitch outside when behind in the count and slapping it for a hit. It was the first at bat- literally- all series that he even looked comfortable in. With one out and Damon on second after a steal, Manny hit a hard single through the left side of the infield- right at Damon, who had to stop to let the ball go through. This alone should have guaranteed Damon stayed at 3rd, but Sveum sent Damon anyway- though it appeared Damon got in under the tag, Matsui made a brilliant play gunning the ball to Jeter, and Damon was called out.

That didn't feel good. There was something about being cut down at home early in the game that doesn't bode well for a team, especially in Game Seven. It was a flatout mistake to send him in that spot, and it cost us a run and an out. The only thing I was positive about was that Brown was looking awful- leaving the ball up, no stank on the fastball. He was begging to get hammered. Just asking fo-

David Ortiz- first pitch, right field porch. 2-0.

It's not hard to put what David Ortiz did in the 2004 ALCS in historical context- in so many words, he put a dead team on his back and brought them back from an 0-3 series deficit. Sure, others helped along the way- Foulke, Schilling, Damon, Lowe- but no one was there, every game, hitting game turning/ winning HRs, two RBI, crucial walks. It was no surprise to me he was having a huge series- in a series that would feature exclusively RH pitching from the Yankees (with the exception of the underused Felix Heredia), Ortiz was the best hitter on either without question for that very reason. Against righties in '04, Ortiz was approximately Albert Pujols.

So there it was, a potential inning saved by David Ortiz. The pitch was awful- right over the heart of the plate, flat as a board (and NOT "down-and-in," McCarver). Brown was toast.

Derek Lowe responded strong in the bottom of the first, retiring the side and striking out Gary Sheffield looking on a full count. In a game of huge outs, even as early as the first inning, that was a "huge out."

And then came the 2nd inning, an inning that has to go down as one of the more charmed in Boston Red Sox history. Joe Torre made a huge pitching gaffe, a player woefully kept down all series finally bounced back, and to everyone besides the Broseph and I, the game was all but won.

Trot Nixon worked a 3-1 count on Brown- something he'd been doing all series. His patience got him great counts, but Trot was off all series- he'd get a good pitch to hit in a hitter's count and get behind it. This was no different- groundout to Jeter (a pitch he should have pulled). Next, Kevin Millar singled to center in a bad omen for Brown- his pitches were fooling no one, so much so that a dead pull hitter like Millar could stay on his sinker well enough to shoot it back through the box. Man on, one out. Bill Mueller then walked on 5 pitches. Two on, one out. Orlando Cabrera is next, and after falling behind 1-2 swinging at a pitch in on his hands he should have avoided, Tony manages to get the count full. Spoiling two (maybe three, I don't remember) decent pitches from Brown, Cabrera finally sees one he likes- high and inside for ball four. Bases loaded, one out. Damon up.

At this point, if you're Joe Torre, you have a few choices.
a) Bring in Javier Vazquez, whom you have warming up.
b) Bring in pitcher "X," whom you SHOULD have had warming up (not a Gordon type, but probably someone like Sturtze)
c) Bring in Heredia for the lefty Damon.
d) Leave Brown in.

Realistically you can eliminate "c." You can't blame Torre for wanting Heredia available against Ortiz late. It's understandable to discard "d" as well, but we have to return to that one later, too- ultimately, anyone watching could tell not only didn't he have it, but that Boston knew what was coming.

So that leaves "a" and "b." To me, it really is a no-brainer. Conventional wisdom states that guys who've pitched an entire year as a starter and enter a game in the middle of an inning are bound for failure. Vazquez didn't have a lot of time to warm, isn't used to the situation, and had struggled mightily all year- specifically surrendering HRs. If it had to be a starter, why not Hernandez?

Specifically though, this was a situation tailored made for Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze has the ability to enter into the middle of an inning, finish it, and chew up some more on the other side. Now, would he have definitely succeeded? Absolutely not. At his core, Sturtze is a well below average major league pitcher. His limited success in mop-up relief roles down the stretch of the season earned him, curiously, a major role in Torre's bullpen. Fine- whatever. This was a big spot in the game. Why not Sturtze, who was now accustomed to warming quickly as well.

The other question begged is, "if you have to go to a right handed ineefective starter to relieve your right handed ineffective starter- why bother?" In essence, Vazquez was a lateral move- and someone slightly more likely to surrender the HR. Brown is more likely to give up the hard hit single or walk- far less damaging. At the end of the day, Vazquez for Brown makes no sense because they were ostensibly the same guy at that point. Brown had thrown ~45 pitches to that point, so he obviously wasn't tired. Long story short- huge mistake by Torre. Francona continued to manage Joe's pants off.

So what happened next? Vazquez took his warmup pitches after being called on, settled in, took a sign from Posada, grooved a fastball down the Great White Way, and Damon hit a grand slam to give us a 6-0 lead in the second inning of Game Seven. This move was good fortune for the Sox on par with Scioscia removing Frankie Rodriguez in the ALDS- it played right into our hands.

Of course, the HR didn't happen that quickly for us. Damon's swing was quick and sharp- but the ball seemed to hang in the air forever. It wouldn't come down. Even when Sheffield clearly gave up on it, I still waited. I really almost couldn't believe it. And then there it was, 5 rows back. And there was me and the Broseph, screaming bloody murder. I couldn't have been happier it was his favorite player hitting it. The Brospeh loves JD.

At the time I said it was the most important HR in franchise history, and even with Fisk in Game Six, I still ultimately believe that. Of course, after it happened, we may have been more scared than before it was hit- a huge lead like that with a ton of baseball to play. "I wish that happened in the 7th," muttered the Broseph. We were cautiously optimistic.

Lowe was, meanwhile, cruising. He hit Cairo with one out in the 3rd, and after Miguel stole second, Jeter got the first Yankee hit to drive him in. 6-1, Sox. Lowe then got two big groundouts from ARod and Sheffield, both of whom were mailing it in at this point.

In the 4th, Cabrera worked a 7 pitch walk after falling behind 0-2, and stood on second as Johnny Damon crushed the second pitch he'd seen all night from Vazquez into the upper deck. I looked at my bro who was punching the couch in joy. Perfect- his guy was winning the game for us. I started to feel the weight of this victory starting to creep.

I remember a whole lot of things from that night, images and such- but the thing I'll remember most clearly was Johnny Damon running the bases stonefaced. It was this utterly genuine moment- he knew nothing was settled, nothing was done, and that we needed to keep pressing to win. Maybe I was reading far too much into it, but this spoke to the eventual victory as much as anything else I'd seen.

Derek Lowe was cruising, and doing it all on 2 fucking days rest. As much as I cursed him all year, as hard as he struggled through start after start after implosion after implosion- he was making it look easy this night. Through 6 IP, Lowe retired the Yankees in order in the 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th. In that 6th, with the Red Sox holding on to a 7 run lead that could evaporate in a blink of the eye with a quick Yankee rally, Lowe faced Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. This was it- the biggest inning of the game to that point and one of the last gasps for the Yankees and their season.
--Derek Jeter grounds out shortstop
--Alex Rodriguez grounds out to shortstop
--Gary Sheffield strikes out swinging.

Lowe completed this Herculean task on 10 pitches- 2 to Jeter before he was out in front of a good outside change, 4 to ARod after jumping ahead 1-2 on two swinging strikes- one sinker, one fastball. Sheffield's at bat was the coup de grace- a swinging "K" making Gary look foolish on two straight pitches, and making Sheffield look even more foolish in putting the final stamp on a legendary Game Seven victory for Lowe- the team that "didn't care about winning." As Gammons said after the game- "I think they just renamed Mass and Comm Aves Schilling and Lowe Streets."

So now the Pedro part of the game. I'll admit it- I wasn't thrilled at the idea for a couple reasons- first, the simple reason that it'd get the crowd back in it. This means nothing if Pedro comes in breathing fire, but it's not a great idea to begin with. This crowd was DEAD- a marked point considering how often Fenway fans are deriding as being "too quiet" and Yankee fans are lauded for "cheering their team to victory." Whatever. Like most Sox/ Yanks hype, it's garbage.

Another problem- even for a starting pitcher, Pedro takes a long time to warm up. Add to that the fact that Pedro's trouble- like many great pitchers- most often comes in his first few batters. His command isn't there, and he hasn't loosened his arm up for velocity.

This time was no different. As Pedro struggled to find himself, Matsui and Williams hit 2B and Loften scorched a single up the middle. Two runs in, 8-3 Sox. Somewhere during the Olerud at bat though, Pedro actually started looking great. His fastball started jumping, and his occasional curve looked sharp. Pete knew it was for one inning- so he was, to quote myself, "breathing fire." 95 on the FOX gun, he struck out Olerud and got Cairo behind on a 1-2 fastball to fly to Nixon in right. Rally over.

And that was it, really. Mark Bellhorn got one of the two runs back in the next half-inning off an exhausted Tom Gordon (and if you're one of the Yankee fans opining for Gordon's ouster because of his playoff struggles and Michael "Throw 'Em Under the Bus" Kay's "Gordon threw up in the bullpen" anecdote, you're not only breathtakingly shortsighted, you're just a bad fan. Sorry.) by hitting a HR off the fair pole in right. A beautiful, cacophonous rattle ensued. 9-3 Sox. In the ninth, Trot Nixon and Doug Mientkiewicz both worked singles of Gordon (still out there) and Nixon advanced to third on Bill Mueller's fly out to center. Great baserunning by Nixon, poor play by Bernie (who's likely seen the last of his days in CF). Tony Cabrera sac'd in another insurance run and the Sox had a 7 run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Matsui, Williams and Posada due up.

Timlin entered to work to the first three batters. After falling behind Matsui, Timlin issued a single to deep right- not wanting to run into any outs, Matsui stuck to first. No outs. I don't remember what this meant to me specifically, but I do remember feeling fairly calm. With a 7 run lead, I was waiting, tensely. I figured to myself that I wouldn't worry until there were at least 2 men on base. Williams then fielder's choiced Matsui at 2B, and Posada popped to Cabrera. Two outs. My mind was numb, it was reeling. After walking Lofton, Francona went to Embree to force Torre into hitting for Olerud. Sierra came on against the left hander (who, it bears mentioning, was pitching his best baseball of the whole year in the playoffs last few appearances) and never really had a chance. Embree stuck a fastball in on his hands that Sierra took for ball one, then put a slider on the outside corner on the next pitch.

Geared for the fastball, Sierra was out in front of it and topped the ball to second. Pokey Reese in for defense at 2B. Slowly scoops it up, easy over to Mientkiewicz. 3 outs. ALCS over.

I just screamed, lept up into the Broseph's arms and gave him a huge hug. I couldn't believe it. It was, in every single way, the greatest postseason comeback in pro sports history, and one of a handful of the greatest accomplishments by any postseason team, ever. I've gushed ad nauseam about the game elsewhere in the blog, so I'll keep it simple: we were in shock. All night we were struggling to wrap our heads around what our team had just done, the cultural explosion that had just occured. Our team was going to the World Series, and this was soon after being left for dead. The best part? Whoops! NO GHOSTS!

ALCS MVP: DAVID ORTIZ .387/ .457/ .742/ 1.199 3HR 11RBI

World Series recap coming soon...

______________________________ |


San Diego is having a Hot Rod Halloween on Sunday, October 30. If you love pic show truck then you will want to be there! All kinds of pic show truck will be in attendance. For more information go to pic show truck
See Ya There!!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/23/2005 6:34 AM  

great topic, keep up the great posts, MMA

By Blogger Erik Mann, at 8/05/2006 1:44 PM  

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