Thursday, October 21, 2004


So there you have it. The 2004 New York Yankees will forever be the first major league baseball team to lose a best of seven series after having had a 3-0 lead. So be it. As rough as it was to come within three outs of a series sweep only to lose that game and the next three, the Yankees have had tougher postseason loses than this. At least in this case they had a second (and third, and fourth) chance to redeem themselves. That they couldn't do so simply makes the defeat easier to accept than if they had lost on, say, a bloop hit in the ninth inning of Game 7. By that same measure, the 10-3 blowout in Game 7 gave us all a couple of hours to cope with the fact that they were going to lose to the Red Sox, even if I was holding out hope of a rally right down to the last out.

I must say I'm a bit dazed, but I think part of that is that all of the sleep I've missed and all of the stress I've been under as a fan over the past week has finally caught up to me in one big wave now that I've been hit with the cold hard reality of a series loss.

In the coming days I hope to get a chance to detail what went wrong and how the Yankees can try to fix the weaknesses that were exposed for next season. For now, I'll just give you my usual game recap (painful as it may be). Meanwhile, there's another series going on over in the National League, the last two games of which have ended with walk-off home runs, one in extra innings. Game 7 of that series is tonight and as much as I've overdosed on baseball of late, I plan on watching.

Now, there is something I want to get off my chest before I get to the recap. While it's true that since they last won a World Championship in 1918 the Red Sox have never come out on top of the Yankees in a head-to-head, season-deciding confrontation, there have only been four such confrontations in that 86 year span (1949, 1978, 1999 and 2003). Meanwhile the Red Sox have finished ahead of the Yankees eighteen times between 1920 and 2003, winning four American League pennants while the Yankees were home licking their wounds. I'm not about to pretend that the Yankees haven't dominated the Sox, but I would argue that they haven't done so any more than they've dominated the rest of the American League. Simply by virtue of the amount of winning they've done in their history, the Yankees have defeated the Royals, Rangers and A's three times each in the postseason, only the Royals ever returning the favor. Having lost one pennant race, one one-game playoff, and a pair of ALCS to the Yankees doesn't make the Red Sox a particularly special case, especially considering the fact that they've been in the league with the Yankees for 101 years.

Now you may accuse me of downplaying the rivalry, and I'm not doing that at all. Losing to the Red Sox is worse and beating them is better than doing the same against any other team, but Red Sox fans may want to ask themselves why this rivalry exists. The way I see it, it was a natural rivalry that grew out of the proximity and opposing characters of the two cities. I also think the sale of Babe Ruth, putting aside all of the curse baggage for a second, was crucial to exploding a natural regional rivalry into a full-on blood feud. But the fact remains that the Yankees dominated the Red Sox after that transaction because the Yankees have dominated everybody since acquiring Ruth. The Red Sox just happened to get in the way four times.

When the Yankees were bad, the tables turned. In the first 46 seasons after the Ruth sale, a period in which the Yankees won 29 pennants, the Red Sox finished ahead of the Yankees just twice (1946, when they fell victim to Johnny Pesky's hesitation throw on Enos Slaughter's mad dash for home with the score tied in the bottom of the eighth inning of seventh game of the World Series against the Cardinals, and 1948, when they lost a one-game playoff to the Cleveland Indians). But from 1966 to 1975, when the Yankees were often a second division team, the Red Sox finished above the Yankees in the standings eight out of ten times, winning two pennants (1967, when they lost the seventh game of the World Series to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals, and 1975, when they lost the seventh game of the World Series to the Reds on Joe Morgan's ninth inning RBI single). The Sox then finished ahead of the Yankees in 1979 and 1982 and in five of the six seasons from 1986-1991, when the Yankees were again terrible, again winning a pennant in 1986 (you know the drill). Most recently, the Sox won the AL East in 1995 (only to be swept by the Indians in the ALDS), forcing the Yankees to settle for the wild card.

So this year the Red Sox will be in the World Series while the Yankees sit home and watch. It's happened before, not once, but four times. Does it suck? Yes. Is it unprecedented? Not really. One must also remember that before 1995 it was impossible for the Yankees and Red Sox to face each other in a playoff series (1949 and 1978 being confrontations that ended in the regular season). That means the history we're dealing with in terms of the sort of match up that just took place is just ten years old. In that span, the Yankees have beaten the Sox twice on their way to five pennants and the Sox have now beaten the Yankees once on their way to one. From 1920 to 1994, the Yankees won 33 pennants to the Red Sox four. That's a ratio of 8.25:1. Considering the increased probibility of a good team being eliminated with the extra round(s) of playoffs, the 5:1 ratio since then hardly suggests a dramatic change in fortunes. With that in mind, I honestly don't believe that the Red Sox's victory last night has upset the order of things.

Getting back to the manner in which this year's defeat occurred, the Yankees have suffered catastrophic postseason loses before. So many, in fact, that ESPN's Page 2 came up with a Top 10 list of them. That list is here and includes 2001 when they were two outs away from a World Championship with Mariano Rivera on the mound, 1960 when they were four outs away from a World Championship, 1981 when the took a 2-0 lead in the World Series then lost the next four, 1995 when they took a 2-0 lead in the best of five ALDS only to lose the next three falling three outs short in extra innings in Game 5, 1997 when they were up 2-1 in a best of five ALDS and five outs away from winning the series in Game 4 (again with Rivera on the mound), and 1926 when, in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series with the Yankees down by a run and down to their last out, Babe Ruth walked only to be thrown out stealing second to end the series.

Does this year's ALCS belong on that list? It sure as hell does, but it's nothing so terribly catastrophic or unprecedented. The Yankees have lost 13 World Series, more than the second most successful baseball franchises have won. They've also lost three ALDS and now two ALCS. In fact, the Yankees have now lost a postseason series four seasons in a row. Now that is unprecedented in their history, but is also in part the result of their qualifying for more postseasons due to the expanded playoff format.

Beyond that, the Red Sox 86 years of misery has not come exclusively at the hands of the Yankees. Sure the Yankees beat them out for the pennant on the final day of the 1949 season, beat them in a one game playoff after a tremendous comeback in the standings in 1978 and defeated them in the 1999 and 2003 ALCS. But the Yankees had to watch from home as the Sox lost to the Cardinals in 1946 and 1967, the Indians in 1948 and 1995, the Reds in 1975, the Mets in 1986, and the A's in 1988 and 1990, just as I hope they will be home watching as either Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell's Astros or descendents of Slaughter and Gibson in St. Louis stop them short of the World Championship once again.

Game recap in my next post.

**UPDATE** In my original post I made an error in my pennant ratios from 1920-1994, using the number of Yankee championships rather than AL pennants. It is now corrected.

posted by Cliff at 2:14 AM

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Tonight it ends. 

Be it the Red Sox's comeback, the Yankees' season, or the curse, one thing that will for sure not endure beyond tonight is this torturous American League Championship Series. For that I am eternally grateful.


For the better part of the 2004 season, Curt Schilling struggled with tendinitis in his right ankle. Then, pitching against the last batter he would face in the regular season (the Yankees' Miguel Cairo, who flyed out to end the seventh inning in what would become Schilling's twenty-first victory of the year), Schilling tore the sheath surrounding the tendons in that ankle. Schilling's next start came in Game 1 of the ALDS in Anaheim eight days later. He pitched well, but not up to his own standards (6 2/3 IP, 9 H, 3R/2ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR), earning the first win in what would turn out to be a Red Sox sweep of the Angels. In the seventh inning of that game, Schilling fielded a ground ball off the bat of Garrett Anderson and threw it into right field, turning his ankle in the process. He would face just one more batter in that game, surrendering an RBI double to Troy Glaus.

The ankle became a serious problem for Schilling in his next start in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees. With the sheath ruptured, the tendons in Schilling's ankle repeatedly slid out of place, creating a popping sensation as they slid over the pitcher's ankle bone. Despite being fitted with a brace before the game, Schilling decided to pitch without it, opting instead to have the ankle numbed. A power pitcher in the Tom Seaver/Nolan Ryan/Roger Clemens mode, Schilling's command depends largely on the strength of his legs, particularly his right leg, off which he pushes when throwing home. With his ankle weak and the tendons sliding out of place on each pitch, Schilling was ineffective against the powerful Yankee line-up and was chased after three innings having given up six runs on six hits and two walks while having struck out just one.

The Yankees went on to win that game and the next two, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the series with a crushing 19-8 victory in Game 3, seemingly eliminating the possibility of Schilling making a second start. The Red Sox then won Game 4 in twelve innings after capitalizing on a lead-off walk from Mariano Rivera to Kevin Millar in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees leading by one, three outs away from the World Series. Despite an extra day of rest provided by a Game 3 rainout, Terry Francona announced that Schilling, who had been trying out various shoes and braces while throwing on the side over the weekend, was still not ready to take his regular turn in Game 5. Pedro Martinez took the ball instead, once again coughing up a Red Sox lead to the Yankees as he hit 100 pitches. But, once again, the Red Sox came back, this time in fourteen innings after trailing by two in the eighth. That sent the series back to New York and opened the door for Schilling to return to the mound.

What wasn't widely reported prior to last night's crucial Game 6 start by Schilling was that, on Monday, the Red Sox doctors actually sutured Schilling's ankle to keep his tendons in place. As Schilling describes it:
I couldn't wear the high-tops, they were putting too much pressure on the stitches around the sutured area. To avoid having (the tendon) popping in and out, they sutured the skin down to something in between the two tendons to keep the tendon out. And it worked.

Boy howdy, did it work. Despite a noticeable patch of blood soaked into his sock near the sutures, Schilling was able to throw mid-90s heat and hold the now struggling, desperate and pressing Yankee offense to three hits through six innings. Those three hits came in the course of four batters over two innings--a Miguel Cairo ground rule double with two out in the third and singles by Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield (a slow roller up the third base line that stayed fair and hit the bag) to lead off the fourth--a period during which Schilling's velocity appeared to wane, only to return to the mid-90s soon after.

Schilling's mound opponent was Jon Lieber, who had stymied the Red Sox in consecutive starts against them, including Game 2 of this ALCS. Lieber followed a similar pattern of effectiveness. He pitched around a hit batsman in the first, three consecutive singles in the second, and a single in the third. He then yielded four runs in the fourth, only to settle down and retire eleven straight Red Sox to reach the eighth inning.

Those four runs surrendered by Lieber were heartbreakers. After retiring David Ortiz and Trot Nixon, who were a combined 0 for 7 on the night and 0 for 6 against Lieber, Kevin Millar laced a double to left on the first pitch he saw. Lieber then got ahead of Jason Varitek 0-2 only to uncork a wild pitch that sent Millar to third base and instigate a ten-pitch battle that ended with Varitek looping an RBI single to center. Orlando Cabrera then singled on the very next pitch to put runners on first and second and bring up Mark Bellhorn. Lieber again got ahead in the count 1-2 before Bellhorn fouled off his fourth pitch and cracked a deep fly to left field. The ball just cleared the left field wall, smacked a fan in the chest and bounced back onto the field.

Because of the unexpected bounce and its low trajectory, Bellhorn's hit was initially called a double, plating Varitek and Cabrera to run the score to 3-0. Upon prompting from Terry Francona, the umpires conferred and correctly changed the call to home run, allowing Bellhorn to score. In a post-game press conference, first base umpire Randy Marsh said that every umpire except for the one who made the initial call thought the ball was a home run. They were right. 4-0 Red Sox.

The Yankees got one back with one out in the seventh when Bernie Williams hit a 3-1 pitch from Schilling into the upper deck in right, his second solo homer in as many games. According to Alex Belth, who was watching at home:
Schilling missed on a 1-0 fastball low. Was pissed he didn't get the call. Went even lower for ball 3. After a gimmie strike, went back down there again and that was the ball Bernie golfed out for the dinger.
That was the last hit the Yankees would get off Schilling who wound up going seven, allowing just one run on four hits striking out four and walking none, throwing 68 percent of 99 pitches for strikes.

Much to my surprise, Terry Francona brought in expected Game 7 starter Bronson Arroyo to start the eighth, eliminating Cornroyo (who also pitched in relief in Monday's game, though only for 17 pitches) from consideration for the start today. After the requisite Tony Clark strikeout, Miguel Cairo hooked his second double of the night down the line in right. Derek Jeter, just as he was in Game 5, then became the only Yankee to get a base hit with a runner in scoring position by singling on Arroyo's first pitch to put the Yankees within two.

Representing the tying run, Alex Rodriguez then worked the count to 2-2 before hitting a pathetic dribbler up the first base line. Arroyo came off the mound to field the ball and tag Rodriguez when Alex, out of pure desperation, hauled back and slapped the ball out of Arroyo's glove. As Marsh later admitted in that post-game press conference, he was blocked from the play by first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (who, as the linked photos show, was standing in the baseline between Rodriguez and first despite not having the ball) and thus allowed Jeter to score as Rodriguez moved to second on the drop.

Once again Francona complained. Once again the umpires conferred. And once again they got the call right, calling Rodriguez out for interference and sending Jeter all the way back to first base. Two outs.

This, of course, sent the Yankee Stadium crowd into a tizzy. Well, perhaps "tizzy" isn't the best word. Rather, it provided an opportunity for the lowlifes in the crowd (by which I mean the people in the crowd who are lowlifes, not the crowd comprised of lowlifes) to reveal themselves by throwing everything they could get their hands on (mostly plastic beer bottles, a huge surprise there) onto the field.

A similar incident occurred in Fenway Park in the 1999 ALDS after a couple of botched calls by the umpires in Game 4. That incident was a black eye for the Red Sox and their fans in the middle of a pathetic 4-1 series loss. It also allowed the Yankees and their fans to take the high road, proclaiming that such shameful behavior would never occur in Yankee Stadium (which of course was an outright lie, but the evidence at the time was favorable). The display put on by those lowlifes last night erased all of that. Standing in the right field bleachers, I was less frightened about any ensuing violence (having already sidestepped one near brawl between opposing fans that was quickly halted by the excellent security on hand), than I was disgusted. There was a brief period there in which I even found it difficult to root for the home nine, figuring a pathetic loss was what the no-class hoodlums around me deserved. To make matters worse (and this is not to say that there is ever an excuse for that kind of behavior), the umpires got the call right (which they didn't in Boston in '99).

From that point forward the obese woman to my left (who, along with several other similar-sized fans in our row, had been slowly pushing Mr. Jaffe and myself off edge of our bleacher all game) insisted loudly that the game was fixed, even coming close to blows with her husband who was trying to talk her down. Meanwhile the fans all around us answered every umpiring call for the next two innings with sarcastic requests for them to hold a conference to make sure they got it right. Infuriating. On top of all of this, someone decided it would be a good idea to have police in riot gear squat down along the foul lines during the top of the ninth. This only worked to feed the paranoia and increase the edginess of the crowd. Were this not a playoff game, I very well might have just left, and I never leave before the last out. Thankfully the police left the field for the bottom of the ninth.

As for the play it self, a Bronx Banter reader identifying his or herself as "Bush-Rod" was kind enough to post the pertinent rule in the comments to Alex's Game 6 open thread:
Section 6.1 (Offensive Interference):

While contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act such as grabbing, tackling, intentionally slapping at the baseball, punching, kicking, flagrantly using his arms or forearms, etc. to commit an intentional act of interference unrelated to running the bases.

As the umpires informed Rodriguez, because Arroyo (and Mientkiewicz for that matter) was in the basepath obstructing his route to first, he could have legally bowled him over. Had the ball come loose as a result, it would have done so legally. Instead, Rodriguez blatantly slapped at the ball. I suppose he had nothing to lose in that situation, so on some level it was worth a try. But, although it occurred in the heat of an extremely high pressure game, it struck me as bush league from the moment it happened. [For those wondering, Rodriguez was the quarterback on his high school football team. The tight end on that team? Doug Mientkiewicz, who was about three feet away as this play transpired.]

Jeter, meanwhile, was returned to first because the rule explicitly stipulates that in such an instance all runners are to return to their original base. Not that it mattered. Gary Sheffield popped out to end the inning.

With his all-hands team of Mientkiewicz, Reese and Kapler in the field, Terry Francona brought in Keith Foulke, who had thrown 72 pitches over the past two days, to save the game in the ninth. Out of nowhere, Hideki Matsui (0 for 3 on the night) put a solid at-bat on Foulke, getting ahead 2-1 before drawing a full-count walk to bring the tying run to the plate. Foulke then struck out Bernie Williams on four pitches and got Jorge Posada, who quickly fell behind 0-2, to pop out near the stands behind third. That put the game in the hands of Ruben Sierra, who had struck out in all three of his at-bats on the evening and, in my opinion, should have been benched in favor of Kenny Lofton for this game. Ruben, much to the surprise of the crowd, took pitches. Ball one. Strike one. Ball two. Ball three. Strike two. He then fouled off a close pitch and took ball four. Tying run on base. That brought Tony Clark, who had struck out twice in three at-bats, to the plate representing the series-winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Now, I'm sure that Tony Clark isn't very high on the list of Yankee batters that most Yankee fans would like to see up in this situation, but he did get a near-game-winning ground rule double in the top of the ninth on Monday. What's more, he does have the ability to end a game on one swing and, for all the concerns about his bat speed, was facing an exhausted pitcher best known for his change-up. On a side-note, I'd had Clark pegged for a key hit in this series since it began. His 2002 season with the Red Sox was so dreadful (he hit just one home run at Fenway in 121 at-bats at a stage of his career in which his offensive value was almost entirely comprised of home runs), that it would only be fitting for him to come back in a Yankee uniform to put a steak through the hearts of Red Sox fans. That's how this sort of thing works, don'tcha know.

Clark, much like Sierra, took pitches. Ball one. Ball two. Strike one. Foul ball, strike two. Ball three.

Here it is. This is the backyard scenario: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, two on, down by two, winning run at the plate, full count, Yankees against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.

Foulke deals.

Clark swings.

The pitch is low and away and out of his reach.

Strike three.

Game over.


Red Sox Heroes
Curt Schilling damnit.
Mark Bellhorn his three-run homer, his only hit mind you, was the difference

Yankees' Heroes
Miguel Cairo 2 for 3 with two doubles, scored one of the two Yankee runs and started a double play to escape a bases loaded jam in the second.
Derek Jeter has the only two Yankee hits with a man in scoring position in the last two games. Also turned two double plays to keep the game scoreless. 1 for 4.
Felix Heredia hell, he's been called in to retire David Ortiz in two straight games and he got the job done both times. Besides, despite the homer, I just can't list Bernie because of that strikeout in the ninth.

Red Sox Goats
Bronson Arroyo couldn't hold the Yanks scoreless in his one inning of work.
David Ortiz okay, not really, but he went 0 for 4 and this is cathartic for me.

Yankees' Goats
Alex Rodriguez frustrated by his own inability to perform in a clutch situation he decided to try something bush and almost incited a riot (is that a sensationalist interpretation of the events? Hell yeah). 1 for 4.
Gary Sheffield his only hit was that dribbler up the line and as the tying run in the eighth, with the young Arroyo likely unnerved by what had just gone down, he was unable to hit the ball fair, let alone keep the inning going.
Tony Clark 0 for 4 with three strikeouts including the final out of the game.
I can't bring myself to list Jon Lieber here. Yes he lost the game by giving up too many runs, but he also gave the Yankees 7 1/3 innings, resting the pen and keeping them within reach.


Last year the Yankees faced the Twins in the ALDS. Game 1, which I attended, saw the Twins behind Johan Santana defeat Mike Mussina and the Yankees. The Yanks then won the next four games and moved on to face the Red Sox, who had won the final three games of their ALDS against a Californian team with an "A" on their hat. After four games the ALCS returned to New York with the Yankees leading 3-2. The Yankees then lost Game 6, which I attended.

This year the Yankees faced the Twins in the ALDS. Game 1, which I attended, saw the Twins behind Johan Santana defeat Mike Mussina and the Yankees. The Yanks then won the next four games and moved on to face the Red Sox, who had won the final three games of their ALDS against a Californian team with an "A" on their hat. After four games the ALCS returned to New York with the Yankees leading 3-2. The Yankees then lost Game 6, which I attended.

Last year the Yankees won Game 7 and advanced to the World Series.

This year . . .

posted by Cliff at 1:30 PM

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I can't take this much longer. It's not the Yankees' inability to put the Red Sox away (not just in the series, but in consecutive games in which they led entering the bottom of the eighth). It's the marathon games, the overtaxed bullpens, the runners left on base in extra innings, and David Ortiz. Enough with David Ortiz. I can't bring myself to dislike the guy the way I do say, Trot Nixon or Kevin Millar, but enough already! I need my life back. I need some sanity. I need sleep!

For those who missed last night's game, just imagine Game 4 but longer and more drawn out with Ortiz hitting a broken bat bloop to shallow center rather than a homer. That's about it. Sox use Dave Roberts as a pinch runner to tie it at 4-4, extra innings, David Ortiz. Been there, done that. Next!

For the gluttons . . .


Pedro Martinez pitched around a one-out walk to Alex Rodriguez in the top of the first, but things started ugly for Mike Mussina in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Orlando Cabrera, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz hit consecutive line-drive singles, Ortiz's scoring Cabrera and putting runners at first and second. Struggling with his control early on, Mussina then issued a full-count walk to Kevin Millar to load the bases. He then got Trot Nixon to ground to Tony Clark at first, who fired home to force Ramirez out at the plate. That brought up switch-hitting Jason Varitek, who has struggled so mightily against Mussina over the course of his career (4 for 44 with 22 Ks!) that in an elimination game for his team he decided to experiment with batting righty against the right-handed Yankee ace. Mussina fell behind Varitek 1-0 then 3-1, then got called strike two before walking the Red Sox catcher to force in a second run. He then issued ball one to Bill Mueller before striking him out on four more pitches to end the inning.

I had to listen to this inning through the static on my walkman radio while on the train on the way home from work, and was only able to do that because my boss kindly sent me home early to catch the game. Sitting there with my radio pressed up against the train window trying to get the best possible reception (or just any) I announced to myself that if Moose was able to get out of the first with out much damage he'd settle down and the Yankees would get four runs off of Pedro--specifically four--to take the lead into the late innings. This was not the result of any great clairvoyance on my part. I've seen this game before. This is how it always happens.

Bernie Williams yanked Pedro's first pitch of the second inning over the right field wall. 2-1 Sox, three runs to go.

Mike Mussina worked a perfect bottom of the inning, needing just nine pitches. And thus began a terrific pitcher's duel:

Gary Sheffield reached third in the third on a two-out walk and a Matsui single, but Martinez struck out Bernie Williams on four pitches to end the threat.

Mussina struck out Ortiz, Nixon and Varitek in the bottom of the third on a combined ten pitches, thus stranding Manny Ramirez who had reached second on a lead-off single and a Derek Jeter error.

Jorge Posada and Ruben Sierra lead off the fourth with a single and a walk, Alex Rodriguez lead of the fifth with a walk. All were left stranded, none even advanced a single base.

In the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, Mike Mussina allowed only a lead-off single in the fifth, thus allowing just one runner to second (on an error no less) and none to third in the five innings following his awful first.

Then came the Yankee sixth. Pedro Martinez entered the inning having thrown 82 pitches. Bernie Williams flew out to left on three. Jorge Posada swung at the first pitch he saw, reaching on an infield single to second. Ruben Sierra singled on the second pitch he saw, moving Posada to second. Tony Clark then took ball one, fell behind 1-2, worked the count back full, and fouled off a sixth pitch before striking out on a seventh. Pedro Martinez's 97th pitch of the game hit Miguel Cairo, loading the bases. His 98th was a ball to start off Derek Jeter with the bases loaded and two outs. His 99th was a swinging strike by Jeter. Jeter then slapped pitch number 100 down the right field line where it kicked off the wall in front of the Pesky Pole, ricochetting out into right field past a charging Trot Nixon. Posada and Sierra scored easily and Miguel Cairo came all the way around from first to arrive at home plate at the exact same time as the throw from Nixon. Varitek receieved the throw in front of the plate and turned to his left to tag Cairo, who executed a near perfect slide, diving face-first to the far outside of the plate and reaching around with his left hand to tag home, escaping Varitek's tag by fractions of an inch. Jeter moved to third on the throw. 4-2 Yankees. Whaditellya? (or me, at least)

Pedro, ever the upstanding sportsman, then drilled Alex Rodriguez in the elbow with pitch 102. He then walked Gary Sheffield on pitch 107 to load the bases, only to get Hideki Matsui to line out to right on his 111th and final pitch of the night.

For his part, Mussina gave up a lead-off double to Mark Bellhorn in the seventh on his 105th and final pitch. Smelling the victory that slipped between his fingers on Sunday night, Joe Torre made with the quick hook and brought in Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze got Johnny Damon to pop out only to lose a battle with Orlando Cabrera that started out with a pair of strikes and ended with ball four on Sturtze's ninth pitch. With Ramirez and Ortiz due up with one out and men on first and second, Torre then went to Tom Gordon who, pitching in his third consecutive game, got Ramirez to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Miguel Cairo returned the favor, leading off the eighth against Mike Timlin with a first-pitch double after which Derek Jeter bunted him over to third to give Rodriguez and Sheffield a chance to get the insurance run home from third with one out. Rodriguez, despite getting ahead 2-1, struck out on five pitches. Timlin then walked Sheffield forcing Francona to bring in Keith Foulke, who got Hideki Matsui to fly out to left to end the inning with Cairo still at third.

Having failed to add to their lead, the Yankees saw it vanish in the eighth as Tom Gordon gave up a second-pitch home run to David Ortiz that bounced off the Volvo sign above the green monster. Gordon then walked Kevin Millar despite starting him off with a pair of swinging strikes, and surrendered a 3-1 single to Trot Nixon. With Dave Roberts in to run for Millar (a large part of the reason Gordon fell behind to Nixon) and Gabe Kapler in to run for Nixon, Torre was forced to summon Rivera for two full innings. Mo retired the side in order, but the first out was a Varitek fly ball to center field that scored Roberts without a throw. Tie game, 4-4, again.

With Mietkiewicz in at first for Millar/Roberts and Foulke still on the mound, the Yankees came one unlucky bounce away from regaining the lead in the ninth. Ruben Sierra drew a five-pitch walk with two outs and Tony Clark followed by pulling a double to deep right that bounced right in front of the short wall in far right before bouncing into the stands. Had the ball stayed in play, Sierra would have scored easily. Instead, he was forced to hold at third as Miguel Cairo became the third Yankee batter of the inning to pop out to Mientkiewicz at first.

With Mo still on, Johnny Damon reached on an infield single in the bottom of the ninth only to get gunned out stealing second by Jorge Posada.

Game 3 starter Bronson Arroyo, who had walked out to the bullpen with potential Game 7 starter Tim Wakefield and scheduled Game 6 starter Curt Schilling after the Sox tied the game, then retired Jeter, Rodriguez and Sheffield in order, striking out the final two.

With David Ortiz leading off the tenth, Joe Torre brough in Felix Heredia, who miraculously threw pitches in the general area of the strike zone and struck out Big Papi on five pitches. He, of course, then fell behind Mientkiewicz 3-0 before giving up a ground rule double on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. Regardless, Minky was to be Heredia's last batter and Torre brought in Sunday night's pitching goat Paul Quantrill to replace him against the normal-handed. Quantrill allowed Mientkiewicz to reach third on a ground out before getting Varitek to pop out to Jeter to end the inning.

Despite his walking him on four pitches on Sunday night and giving up a two-run home run to him the night before, Terry Francona brought in Mike Myers to pitch to Hideki Matsui to start the eleventh. In a battle ideally suited to the Halloween season, Michael Myers struck out Godzilla on four pitches. Alan Embree then stranded a one-out Bernie Williams single.

Quantrill started the bottom of the eleventh by allowing consecutive singles by Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn (who twice failed to bunt Mueller over only to single on Quantrill's third pitch). With no outs and men on first and second, Johnny Damon squared to bunt and popped out to Posada. Posada and Quantrill converged on Damon's low pop up and as Quantrill moved to get out of Posada's way at the last moment, he tweaked his right knee, which he had injured in Japan back in March requiring him to wear a knee brace throughout most of the season. That ended Quantrill's night and brought on Esteban Loaiza, the last man in the Yankee pen and the only fresh arm (other than Heredia, I suppose). An inning earlier I had informed my viewing party that Loaiza would wind up pitching in this game until he or Tim Wakefield lost it. Indeed, Loaiza got Cabrera to ground into a double play and Tim Wakefield came out to start the twelfth.

Following a three-pitch strike out of Tony Clark, Miguel Cairo hit a single to left which Manny Ramirez half-assed, only to have the ball tick off his glove and roll to the wall, allowing Cairo to reach second. Unfortunately, neither Derek Jeter nor Alex Rodriguez could make Ramirez pay for his mistake.

Loaiza got Manny Ramirez to pop out in the bottom of the inning before walking David Ortiz. He then ran the count to 2-1 on Mientkiewicz when Ortiz took off for second on the fourth pitch of the at-bat. Ortiz, who last stole a base in 2002 and has a total of four in 733 career regular season games, would have been out by a mile had Posada's throw not sailed way high, forcing Jeter to leap into the air to keep it from going into center. Ortiz is so slow, however, that Jeter still had time to bring the ball down and tag Ortiz on his hulking upper back as he slid into the bag. There's a chance that Ortiz was safe on the play (I never saw a replay that convinced me of the actual result), but he was called out. Loaiza then struck out Mientkiewicz.

Tim Wakieflied started out the thirteenth inning by striking out Gary Sheffield, but Jason Varitek, who usually rides pine while Doug Mirabelli catches the knuckleballer but was still in the game for his bat (which went 0 for 4, by the way), couldn't handle the third strike, which kicked all the way to the backstop allowing Sheffield to reach first. Matsui replaced Sheffield at first via a fielder's choice, then, after a Wiliams fly out, moved to second on a second passed ball by Varitek. With first base open and a 2-1 count on Posada, the Sox intentionally walked Posada to bring up Ruben Sierra, much like they did in Game 3 with Wakefield on the mound. In that game, Sierra creamed a two-run triple. In this one he watched as Matsui moved to third on Varitek's third passed ball of the inning only to strike out two pitches later.

Loaiza worked a perfect bottom of the thirteenth on nine pitches. Wakefield returned serve with a ten-pitch fourteenth.

Loaiza struck out Bellhorn to start the bottom of the fourteenth. He then walked Johnny Damon on four pitches before striking out Cabrera for the second out, bringing Manny Ramirez to the plate. Ball one. Foul, strike one. Ball two right on the inside corner. Strike two called, exact same location. Foul. Ball three, full count. Ball four. Runners on first and second and David Ortiz steps in.

Swinganamiss, strike one.
Ball one.
Foul ball, strike two.
Ball two.

Ortiz fouls off six pitches, many of them to deep right, one of them looking very much like another game-winning home run, yet Loaiza doesn't give in. The tenth pitch jams Ortiz, but he fights it off for a bloop single into shallow center. Johnny Damon scores easily and without a throw from a disbelieving Bernie Williams. Ortiz does it again, Red Sox win 5-4.


Any fan of either team who has sat through every inning of this miserable series!

Red Sox Heroes
David Ortiz 3 for 6 with two runs scored, 3 RBI and a walk. Homered in the ninth to start the comeback and drove in the winning run in the fourteenth to finish it. David Ortiz is the Red Sox at this point. No one else scares me, not Manny, not Pedro, not Schilling, not Nixon, not Varitek, not Millar, not Foulke (well, maybe Roberts in a one-run or tie game). It's the David Ortiz show. This team is on his back and they will go only as far as he can take them.
The Red Sox Bullpen Timlin, Foulke, Arroyo, Myers, Embree and Wakefield combined for this line: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K, 110 pitches. By contrast, "ace" Pedro Martinez posted 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 6 K, 111 pitches.

Yankees' Heroes
Esteban Loaiza hell, I know he lost the game, and I know I've been hard on starters who pitched well and lost, refusing to give a "hero" designation to any one who gave up a tying or winning run, but screw it. Loaiza last pitched a week and a half ago, two scoreless frames against the Twins, mind you. He then came in cold last night, escaped a one-out first and second jam before hurling two scoreless frames, and getting within one strike of a third while having to face the heart of the Sox order twice. So he lost. Blame the offense and Tom Gordon.
Mike Mussina escaped a rough first and then aced it, outpitching Prince Pedro: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K, 70 percent of 105 pitches for strikes. He's now turned in three fantastic starts in this postseason.

There were no offensive heroes for the Yankees in this game. Every member of the offense failed when the team needed them most. The only big hits were Bernie's second inning homer and Jeter's 3-RBI double, Bernie got just one more hit on the night. Jeter took the collar in his other six trips.

Red Sox Goats
Pedro Martinez He's now a five inning pitcher who has failed in four out of five career ALCS starts.
Jason Varitek looked goofy batting righty against Mussina. I applaud him for trying something radical, but he still went 0 for 4 and almost lost the game on a trio of passed balls in the thirteenth. His game-tying sac fly not withstanding.

Yankee Goats
Tom Gordon sure he got Manny to ground into a DP to rescue Sturtze from the larger trouble he'd created out of Bellhorn's lead-off double off Mussina, but he then started the next inning by allowing a homer to close the lead to one, then walked the tying run on base and allowed the potential go-ahead run on via a single, all without recording a single out. His failure cost the Yankees this game.
The Yankee bats with runners on base only Derek Jeter got a hit with a runner on base last night. The Yankees stranded:

One in the first.
One in the second.
Two in the third.
Two in the fourth.
Erased a lead-off walk with a DP in the fifth.
Three in the sixth.
One in the seventh.
Two in the eighth.
Two in the ninth.
One in the eleventh.
One in the twelfth.
One in the thirteenth.

No one's hands are clean. All are guilty.


When I bought tickets to Game 6 of the ALCS I hoped against hope that the Yankees would be coming home up 3-2 rather than down 2-3. I just didn't think I could stand watching a game in which the Red Sox had a chance to eliminate the Yankees and move on to the World Series. I guess I got my wish. I wish I had't wished for what I wished for.

I'll be in the bleachers tomorrow with fellow blogger Jay Jaffe hoping against hope that the Yankees will finally be able to put this series away. Jon Lieber will face off against the ghost of Curt Schilling. You know enough about this already. I will only add this:

There is a strong possibility that tomorrow night's game will be rained out, further extending this agonizing series that, if it doesn't result in an event that foretells armageddon, may very well result in armageddon itself.

That said, the rain out could actually save this series from itself. The only two men the Red Sox could possibly have had to start Game 7 with as much as three day's rest pitched last night (though Bronson Arroyo threw only 17 pitches and now must be assumed to be their Game 7 starter, should this get that far). Meanwhile, here's a look at the pitches thrown by the two bullpens over the past three games:

Red Sox:

Foulke: 50 (Sun), 22 (Mon) = 72
Timlin: 37 (Sun), 20 (Mon) = 57
Embree: 14 (Sat), 30 (Sun), 9 (Mon) = 53
Myers: 42 (Sat), 4 (Sun), 4 (Mon) = 50
Leskanic: 15 (Sat), 13 (Sun) = 28
Mendoza: 20 (Sat)
Wakefield: 64 (Sat), 38 (Mon) = 102
Arroyo: 60 (Sat), 17 (Mon) = 77


Rivera: 40 (Sun), 22 (Mon) = 62
Gordon: 17 (Sat), 25 (Sun), 19 (Mon) = 61
Sturtze: 25 (Sun), 13 (Mon) = 38
Quantrill: 27 (Sat), 8 (Sun), 13 (Mon) = 48
Heredia: 14 (Mon)
Loaiza: 59 (Mon)
Vazquez: 96 (Sat)

Hey, I hear they're having a normal series over in the NL, maybe I'll go watch that for a while . . .

posted by Cliff at 1:03 AM

Monday, October 18, 2004

It Still Lives 

The Yankees got within three outs of sweeping the Red Sox and moving on to the World Series last night, but once again the Sox got to Mariano Rivera, tying the game in the ninth and winning it in the twelfth on a mammoth two-run David Ortiz home run off Paul Quantrill. While there is no legitimate reason that the Yankees should have swept the Red Sox in this series, it was still a brutal loss, made even more so by a string of missed opportunities by the Yankees.


Despite not having pitched in sixteen days, Orlando Hernandez held the Red Sox to one hit through the first four innings, allowing just a pair of walks in the first and a single to Bill Mueller in the second.

Meanwhile, he was staked to a 2-0 lead when Alex Rodriguez followed a two-out Derek Jeter single in the third with a first pitch homer over the Volvo sign behind the monster seats. Rodriguez's homer gave the Yankees what felt like an inevitable lead in a game most fans of both teams assumed they'd win. It also provided a bit of levity as, much like his homer onto Lansdown street in Game 3, the ball was tossed back into the park by a fan on the street. This time, however, Johnny Damon retrieved the ball and heaved it back out of the park only to watch as it was again returned by an unknown soul on Lansdown and pocketed by second base umpire Joe West).

The Yankees missed their first opportunity in the second inning when Hideki Matsui lead off with a double and was moved over to third by a Bernie Williams groundout. Joe Torre had Matsui breaking for home on contact and when Jorge Posada grounded to shortstop Matsui was thrown out at home by several feet. While it's entirely possibly, even likely, that Ruben Sierra would have struck out anyway, stranding Matsui at third, running into an out at home is still hard to swallow. That said, this was a minor offense. Things would get worse for the Yankees.

Indeed, things got ugly for El Duque in the fifth. He walked Kevin Millar on four pitches. The then fell behind Bill Mueller 2-0 before getting him to groundout, moving Millar to second. He then walked Mark Bellhorn on five pitches. At this point I'm screaming for Torre to get the bullpen going, but much like the second inning of Game 3, Joe's taking a wait and see approach. Hernandez then goes full on Johnny Damon before getting him to ground into a fielders choice that put runners at the corners. He then gets ahead of Orlando Cabrera 0-2 only to have him even the count and line a single to right to plate Mueller. That brought up Manny Ramirez with men on first and second and two outs.

This was the crucial moment in this game. Joe Torre not only didn't have anyone warm in the pen, but the men he was warming up were Felix Heredia (ostensibly for on-deck hitter David Ortiz) and Tanyon Sturtze. I'm not sure I would have felt terribly confident with Sturtze in this situation, but with a lead in a game that would have put his team in the World Series, I do not think it would have been out of line for Torre to use Tom Gordon in this spot. I'm sure the thought never even crossed his mind.

With two undesirable options not yet warm in the pen, Torre let Hernandez pitch to Ramirez, whom he walked on five pitches to load the bases. Not pleased with the idea of bringing in Heredia with the bases full given his tendency to throw pitches out of the strike zone, at batters, or out of the catcher's reach he then let Hernandez, who at this point had walked three of six batters in this inning and five in the game, pitch to Ortiz. Ortiz fouled off El Duque's first pitch then singled up the middle to drive in two more runs and push Ramirez to third, giving the Red Sox their second lead of the series. Joe Torre then left Hernandez in to face Jason Varitek, whom he fell behind 3-0 before miraculously striking out on six pitches. Utterly exasperating.

Much like in Game 3, the Yankees quickly erased the Red Sox lead. After a Gary Sheffield groundout, Hideki Matsui got things going in the third with a triple over Johnny Damon's head in center. With Mike Timlin taking over for Derek Lowe, Torre once again sent Matsui on contact, but this time Bernie Williams' squibber to the left side evaded Orlando Cabrera's grip for an infield single. Tie game. Timlin then fell behind Posada 2-0 before uncorking a wild pitch that sent Williams to second and hurling a fourth straight ball to put runners on first and second with one out.

And here is where the Yankees made perhaps their most costly mistake of the night. Timlin's first pitch to Ruben Sierra was a called strike. The second was a ball that rolled away from Varitek, but didn't make it off the dirt around home plate. Nonetheless, Bernie took off for third as fast as his 700-year-old legs would carry him. Varitek pounced on the ball and fired to Mueller, who draped his right leg across the bag, blocking Bernie's lead foot as he tagged him on the other. Two outs. Sierra then reached on an infield single up the middle to move Posada, who advanced to second on the throw to nail Bernie, to third. Tony Clark followed by grounding a ball to the right side that Mark Bellhorn was unable to handle behind first. That scored Posada, giving the Yankees a one run lead that would prove not to be enough.

To make matters worse, Timlin then walked Miguel Cairo to load the bases, only to induce Derek Jeter into the only grounder that Mark Bellhorn (who was taunted by the hometown fans with chants of "Pokey") was able to handle for the final out.

Tanyon Sturtze then came on to face the minimum over two innings thanks to a double play in the sixth, while the Yankees allowed lead-off walks in the seventh, eighth and ninth to languish on first base against Timlin and Keith Foulke. Mariano Rivera came on in the eighth, stranding a lead-off single by Manny Ramirez and then issued a lead-off walk of his own in the ninth on five pitches to Kevin Millar. Crap.

See, the Red Sox weren't about to take Manny Ramirez's bat out of the line-up in the eighth inning of a game in which they trailed by one run, but with Millar on first and no outs in the ninth it was a no-brainer for Francona to pinch run with the Fastest Man In Baseball, Dave Roberts. Roberts was successful on 93 percent of his stolen base attempts this season, swiping 38 in 41 tries. On Rivera's first pitch to Bill Mueller (following a series of throws to first), Roberts stole second with ease. Mueller then showed bunt on strike one and singled to center, tying the game at four.

Fortunately, Mo was able to survive a Mientkiewicz sac bunt, a Tony Clark bobble and a bases-loading walk to Manny Ramirez by striking out Orlando Cabrera on three pitches and getting David Ortiz to pop out to end the inning. Not only that, but Joe Torre still had not used Tom Gordon. There was still reason to be confident.

With Alan Embree and his, to borrow a phrase from a friend, "molesterstache" on the mound, Mientkiewicz at first and the requested Pokey Reese at second, the Yankees managed only a two-out Ruben Sierra single in the tenth before Gordon worked a perfect bottom of the inning.

Miguel Cairo led off the eleventh with a single and was bunted to second by Derek Jeter (for those who opposed the Jeter bunt, mind you that Jeter's not been hitting much in this series and is followed in the order by Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui who have been). This was the Yankees best chance, with Gordon having thrown just eight pitches and the heart of their order up with a man in scoring position and just one out. Alex Rodriguez took strike one and then lined a shot in the hole that Orlando Cabrera caught just before it hit the dirt, a game-saving play. Embree then intentionally walked Sheffield and Francona brought in Mike Myers to pitch to Hideki Matsui. Myers walked Matsui on four pitches to load the bases and Francona, who used every one but Timlin and Foulke in Game 3 and had already used both of those men in this game, made yet another pitching change, bringing in Curt Leskanic to pitch to Bernie Williams. Bernie took a called strike and then hit a low fly to dead center. Rally over.

With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Johnny Damon worked a full-count walk and stole second, but Orlando Cabrera, he of the game-saving catch, grounded out to end the inning.

In the twelfth, the Yankees again got a man on second with one out courtesy of a Posada lead-off single and a Sierra groundout. Tony Clark then swung at the first pitch he saw, flying out to left and Miguel Cairo, who started the previous inning's rally, struck out on four pitches.

With Tom Gordon having needed 18 pitches to get through the eleventh after having pitched the night before, Joe Torre asked Paul Quantrill to retire the heart of the Red Sox order in the bottom of the twelfth. It went about as well as expected. A Manny Ramirez single was followed by Quantrill falling behind David Ortiz 1-0 then 2-1. Quantrill's fourth pitch to Ortiz was launched into orbit over right field. 6-4, see ya'll for Game 5.


Red Sox Heroes
David Ortiz a walk-off homer will do that for ya, but that's not all. Ortiz drove in four of the six Red Sox runs while going 2 for 5 with a walk on the night.
Dave Roberts a tremendous weapon on the bases, scored the tying run
Manny Ramirez 2 for 3 with three walks, scored the winning run.
Bill Mueller 2 for 5 with a run scored, drove in the tying run.
Keith Foulke 2 2/3 no-hit innings, stranding a pair of lead-off walks (three if you count Timlin's in the seventh), striking out three
Curtis Leskanic got out of a bases loaded jam in extra innings, then stranded a lead-off single in the twelfth for the win.

Yankees' Heroes
Hideki Matsui 2 for 5 with a double and a triple, the latter coming immediately after the Red Sox took a one-run lead, allowing him to score the tying run
Alex Rodriguez that Cabrera caught his liner in the eleventh wasn't his fault. That he put the Yankees up early with a two-run homer, silencing the Fenway crowd and making a Yankee win look inevitable, was.
Jorge Posada quietly finding himself at the plate, Jorge went 2 for 4 with a pair of walks, scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth.
Tanyon Sturtze did what Rivera couldn't, protected a one-run lead for two innings, allowing just one hit
Tom Gordon allowed just one walk in two innings, giving the Yankees two more chances to rally

Red Sox Goats
Mark Bellhorn hitless again, Bellhorn also failed to make a pair of plays in the field that, despite being ruled hits, led to the Yankees retaking the lead in the sixth.
Jason Varitek 0 for 5 with 3Ks
Trot Nixon 0 for 5
Mike Myers was brought in to get Matsui out in a crucial situation in the eleventh and walked him on four pitches.
Mike Timlin gave up three infield singles and three walks, which is a lot of hard luck, but the fact remains that five of the eight batters he faced reached base and the Yankees retook the lead on his watch. If not for Bernie getting thrown out at third things might have been even worse.

Yankees' Goats
Paul Quantrill single, homer, no outs, game over.
Mariano Rivera he worked out of trouble before the Sox were able to win the game on his watch, but he coughed up a lead for the second time this postseason. This time it was his man that scored the tying run. A lead off walk on five pitches. Ouch.
Bernie Williams getting thrown out at third in the sixth might have been the difference in this game
Gary Sheffield 0 for 5 with a walk.
Tony Clark Tony actually had a pretty good game, he was 2 for 6 with an RBI and some nice plays at first. His one error (a dribbler up the line that hit the heal of his glove leading to a bobble preventing him from feeding Rivera at first for the out) didn't cost the Yankees despite coming in a crucial spot in the bottom of the ninth, but it did occur. Mainly he's here for first-pitch swinging with the go-ahead run on second and one out in the twelfth. Grrrrr.


Just three hours from now the Yanks and Sox are going back at it. It will be interesting to see how each team recovers from the quick turnaround and dramatic ending to this morning's Game 4.

The important thing to remember is that, despite the misery of last night's loss, the Yankees still hold a 3-1 advantage in this series. Even better, they have their two best pitchers taking the mound on an extra day's rest in Games 5 and (if necessary) 6.

Of course the Red Sox will counter with their best. Pedro Martinez faces off against Mussina today, which should be a gem of a game that I will unfortunately miss at least 90 minutes of due to it's 5pm start time and my commute home from work. If the Sox are able to pull it out, they'll go with Curt Schilling in the potential Game 6 against Jon Lieber. Schilling threw again yesterday and, in the words of GM Theo Epstein, "looked good, considering the circumstances." How much should be read into the second part of that I hope we never find out.

Those are two excellent match-ups, but if the Sox manage to push this series to seven, something that's only been done by a major league team down 0-3 once in 25 tries, the pitching situation will be dire for both teams. Both bullpens are already exhausted. There are no off days left in the series. And the starters who will have had the most rest come Game 7 are Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Bronson Arroyo and maybe Tim Wakefield, all of whom gave up a bunch of runs in Game 3 and will be on a maximum of three day's rest. I obviously hope a Game 7 never happens, but that hope is fueled as much by not wanting to see this series end in an ugly replay of Game 3 (regardless of who wins it) as by not wanting to see the Yankees lose.

posted by Cliff at 10:02 AM

Sunday, October 17, 2004


From my last post:

Tonight is a huge game for the Red Sox. If the Yankees can put them down the Yanks will have four chances to win just one, forcing the Red Sox to sweep the rest of the way to pull out the series. If the Sox win, they'll be in position to tie things up with a win tomorrow. Tonight's not a must-win for the Yankees, but a win would be absolutely huge, especially after two off days and a switch to the Red Sox home park.

Huge like 19-8? Or huge like the longest nine-inning postseason game in baseball history?

We got a lotta work to do, so let's get with the


Bronson Arroyo's first pitch to Derek Jeter is a strike, a nifty slider that comes inside at the letters and drops into the strike zone. That pitch turns out to be the highlight of Arroyo's night.

His next three pitches are balls and Jeter draws a walk on seven pitches. Arroyo then falls behind Alex Rodriguez 2-0 before recovering to run the count full only to surrender a double to left that scores Jeter, the third time in as many games that the Yankees have scored in the first inning and the second time that they've done so before making an out.

With a run in and Rodriguez on second, Gary Sheffield comes up swinging for the fences. After falling into an 0-2 hole by fouling off two pitches, Sheff flies out to Johnny Damon in deep center, moving Rodriguez to third. Arroyo then goes 1-2 on Hideki Matsui only to watch as Matsui crushes his fourth pitch into the Boston bullpen to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

A subsequent Bernie Williams single is erased by a Jorge Posada double-play ball and as the Yankees take the field they can hear the crumpling of hot dog wrappers amid the deathly silence of Fenway Park.

Kevin Brown starts Johnny Damon with a ball. This is a more telling omen than Arroyo's pretty first-pitch strike. Although Damon grounds out to short and Brown strikes out Mark Bellhorn on four pitches, there's something not quite right about Brown's pitches.

Eager for the Yankees to take control of the game with a 1-2-3 inning following their three-run top of the first, I declare Manny Ramirez a crucial batter for Brown to retire. Ramirez becomes the third straight batter that Brown starts with a ball. Brown eventually falls behind Manny 3-1 and Ramirez tatoos one down the third base line that Alex Rodriguez stabs, but can't get to first in time to beat Manny, who is safe by a step. Next up is David Ortiz who also gets ball one, then 3-1, then singles to right through the hole. Here we go . . .

But wait, Ramirez rounds second as Sheffield barehands the ball and fires on one hop to third . . . OUT! Unwritten baseball rule #3: never make the first or last out of an inning at third base. The Yanks catch a huge break, especially considering the fact that, while the throw beat him, Ramirez actually got his foot on the bag before Rodriguez tagged his thigh.

In the bottom of the second, Arroyo gives up a lead-off double to Ruben Sierra, then retires new daddy (no really) John Olerud and Miguel Cairo on three pitches before falling behind Derek Jeter 3-0. Jeter takes the manditory first strike, fouls off strike two, then drives a pitch to right that falls to Trot Nixon for the third out.

Kevin Brown, who escaped the first inning thanks to a gift from Manny Ramirez and third-base umpire Joe West, starts Jason Varitek out with three balls. I've already seen enough. Brown doesn't have anything tonight. He's throwing almost all fastballs, he has no idea where they're going, and they don't have any snap to them. He's throwing crappy batting practice. I start yelling at Joe Torre to warm up Javier Vazquez. He does not immediately comply.

Varitek completes his walk on five pitches. Brown then goes 2-2 on Trot Nixon before throwing him an unconvincing slider not terribly down and nor particularly in that Nixon creams over Sheffield's head for a two-run home run.

No action in the bullpen.

Kevin Millar flies out to deeeep center (yes, somehow Bernie got all the way out there) then Bill Mueller hits a double into the right field corner that looked like it was going to sail over the wall (not unlike Millar's fly out). Three straight batters have crushed the ball near, to, or over the outfield wall. If I'm Torre, I bring in Vazquez right here. No move, no one warming.

Brown falls behind Orlando Cabrera 3-0 before getting him to ground out to third. Johnny Damon then slaps Brown's first offering just beyond Olerud's reach at first. The ball actually tips off Olerud's glove and past Miguel Cairo who is charging in the other direction. Mueller rounds third and scores. Cairo foolishly throws home allowng a heads-up Damon to move to second. Tie game. Stirring in the pen.

Mark Bellhorn walks on seven pitches. I think that's Javy out there.

Many Ramirez smokes a ball directly at Derek Jeter that he gloves, but that dribbles out behind him. It's ruled an error (I agree). Jeter scrambles to recover the ball, flipping to Cairo too late to force Bellhorn. Damon scores and the Red Sox have their first lead of the ALCS. Torre then lets Brown pitch to David Ortiz, who miraculously grounds out to Cairo to end the inning. 4-3 Sox. I tell Becky that if Brown starts the third Stottlemyre should be drawn and quartered. I'm a bit stressed out about this game.

Top of the third, Arroyo falls behind Rodriguez 2-1, then hangs a slider up in the zone that Alex crushes over the Monster and onto Lansdown Street (where it is eventually retreieved by an angry Sawks fan and hurled back into the park). Tie game. That was huge (at the time). Arroyo then walks Sheffield on five pitches. Matsui works the count full and doubles to right to push Sheff to third. Clearly Arroyo doesn't have anything either. To Terry Francona's credit, he acts quickly, yanking Cornroyo here and now. To Torre's credit a shot of the pens reveals that Vazquez is still getting loose.

Ramiro Mendoza, the man who was so bad last year (6.75 ERA) that Boston fans accused him of being a secret Yankee agent, takes the mound. Bernie singles up the middle to score Sheffield and restore the Yankee lead, Matsui moves to third. Mendoza then gets ahead of Posada 1-2. Prior to signaling for the next pitch, Jason Varitek looks into the Red Sox dugout. He then puts down the sign for a fastball outside. Mendoza sets and checks the runners with his peripheral vision. Varitek then makes an abrupt move to set up for the pitch, half standing on the outside part of the plate. Mendoza quickly steps off the rubber and throws . . . home! A balk! Both runners advance, 6-4 Yankees.

It seems to me that Mendoza was for some reason concerned about the lead-footed Matsui and the 9,000-year-old Williams on the bases and attempted some sort of ill-conceived pitch-out. Regardless of what misfired in his mind, he gets Posada to pop out to first, strikes out Sierra, and gets Olerud to ground out, suggesting that Matsui would not have scored without the balk (the falicy of a predetermined outcome notwithstanding).

Much to the relief of Mel Stottlemyre and his family, Javy Vazquez comes out to pitch the ninth. This means that neither starter recorded an out in the third inning. A sign of things to come.

Making the second relief appearance of his major league career and first since his rookie year of 1998, Vazquez comes out a bit "jumpy" (as his manager would later describe it). Jason Varitek leads off with a single and Kevin Millar follows a Trot Nixon strikeout with a double to left that pushes the properly cautious Varitek to third. With one out and runners on second and third, Vazquez pitches carefully to lefty-hitting Bill Mueller, walking him on five pitches to set up a force at all bases and bring his former teammate Orlando Cabrera to the plate. Vazquez gets ahead quickly 0-2 but can't put his former mate away, running the count full on seven pitches. Cabrera then creams a ball into the alley in right. Varitek scores easily, but Kevin Millar at second held up to tag as Mueller advanced toward second. As a result, Mueller is close on Millar's heals as they approach third, and coach Dale Svuem's ever-present windmill inadvertently sends both runners home. Meanwhile, Bernie Williams cuts the ball off and tosses to Miguel Cairo, who then fires home too late to catch Millar, but in plenty of time to nail Mueller. Damon hits a shot down the line that Olerud backhands behind first to record the final out. Game tied 6-6 after three full.

Both starters are gone. The lead has been established, overtaken, or tied four times already. Both teams are averaging two runs per frame. I can't take nine innings of this.

Ramiro Mendoza's first pitch of the fourth inning plunks Miguel Cairo and Terry Francona quickly calls on Curt Leskanic to take over El Brujo's duties. Derek Jeter lines a shot to right that Trot Nixon catches with a feet-first slide. Alex Rodriguez then recoveres from a 0-2 hole to walk on seven pitches. Next up, Gary Sheffield. I say outloud to the television, "C'mon Gary. We need a big hit here. This is what we're paying you for."

Ball one. The pitch . . . three-run home run into the monster seats.

That's what it means to be money, and Gary Sheffield is money.

Matsui follows with his second double of the game. Francona, realizing the importance of this game, then brings in scheduled Game 4 starter and last year's would-have-been ALCS MVP Tim Wakefield. Stymied by the knuckleball, Bernie pops out to first. Francona then orders Wakefield to intentionally walk Posada (10 for 36 with 4 doubles and a homer against Wakefield), bringing Ruben Sierra (1 for 13 vs. Wakefield) to the plate. Sierra makes it 2 for 14 by pounding a ball to right center that Johnny Damon can't catch at the wall. It rolls away for a two-run triple making it 11-6 Yankees.

Suddenly the Yankees are in good spot. They have a five run lead and need just six innings from Vazquez and the rest of the bullpen to hold it. Javy starts off the bottom of the fourth by striking out the hapless Mark Bellhorn (1 for 12 on the series, 4 Ks on the night) on four pitches. Manny Ramirez then works Vazquez over for a 13-pitch walk (strike one looking, strike two looking, foul, ball one, foul, ball two, ball three, five more fouls, ball four). Ortiz then singles, first and second. On an 2-0 count, Jason Varitek shatters his bat in the process of lining out to Olerud, who then catches the nearby Ortiz off first, double play.

Top of the fifth against Wakefield, Jeter works a one-out walk. Rodriguez doubles to the alley in right to drive him home. Sheffield then doubles to center to drive in Rodriguez. This back-and-forth game is now 13-6 Yanks, a fact that Vazquez punctuates by seting down Nixon, Millar and Mueller in order on 12 pitches in the bottom of the frame.

With Tony Clark at first base for Olerud, who bruised his left instep supposedly by stepping on his own bat on his way out of the batters box as he grounded out to end the top of the sixth, Vazquez escapes a lead-off Cabrera double in the bottom of the inning by striking out Bellhorn (again) with one out and getting Manny Ramirez on six pitches.

Then things just get silly.

Top 7: Cairo beats out an infield single when Cabrera fails to execut the Jeter jump-throw from the hole, despite getting Cairo on that exact play in the fifth. Jeter flies out. Rodriguez replaces Cairo at first via a fielder's choice. Sheffield singles Rodriguez to third. Francona brings in Alan Embree to face Matsui. Matsui singles home Rodriguez, Sheff to third. Bernie doubles Sheff and Matsui home. Posada doubles Bernie home. Sierra grounds out. 17-6 Yankees.

Vazquez gives up his token homer in the bottom of the seventh, a two-run shot by Varitek. He then works around a pair of singles.

Francona brings in Mike Myers in the eighth, leaving just Timlin and Foulke unused in the Sox pen, though both did warm up briefly, and subs in Doug Mirabelli behind the plate. Much as I can appreciate wanting to avoid an injury down evelen runs in the eight, I don't think Francona should have made a concessionary move such as that in so important a game, 11-run deficit or no. Jeter gets his hit, Yanks go quietly.

Paul Quantrill works a 1-2-3 eighth against Boston's big two, striking out David Ortiz on four pitches to end it.

But the Yankees aren't done. Submarining LOOGY Mike Myers (against whom righties hit .344/.432/.574) isn't used to multiple inning relief work against all hands (he averages less than 2/3 of an inning per appearance over his entire ten-year career) and the Yankees are 'bout to remind him of that. Sheff singles (Crosby runs). Matsui, who earlier tatooed primary LOOGY Alan Embree, creams his second homer of the game. Williams and Posada single. Myers then works out of the inning.

Perhaps hoping to help Tom Gordon get his nerves under control (there are those who think he's been pitching scared in the postseason, his manager says he's just been over excited, Will Carroll says he's short-arming his curveball), Joe Torre brings him on for the ninth. Trot Nixon doubles with one out and moves to third on a wild pitch that's way outside to the righty Millar. Otherwise, Tommy gets the job done.

Yanks win 19-8 and take a nearly decisive 3-0 grip on the series.

Before I get started listing the Gas House Gorillas, here's a shout out to Javy Vazquez. Sure his line was ugly (4 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 96 pitches, 65 percent strikes), but in a game like this, all the Yankees needed was someone who could stop the bleeding and outpitch the dregs of the Boston bullpen. Javy did that. Thus, as Terry Francona used all but two of his bullpen arms, including his scheduled starter for today's Game 4--all of whom gave up at least one run--Joe Torre made it into the seventh inning having made only one pitching change.

That the Yankees have a 3-0 lead in this series should be a shock to everyone involved, players, management, fans, analysts (in post-game interviews Gary Sheffield claimed he wasn't surprised, Joe Torre was more honest), but the reason for it is that the Yanks have outpitched the Red Sox across the board. Even comparing last night's starters, neither of whom recorded an out in the third inning, its clear that Kevin Brown out-pitched Bronson Arroyo. Dig:

Brown: 2 IP, 5 H, 4 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR
Arroyo: 2 IP, 6 H, 6 R (6 ER), 2 BB, 0 K, 2 HR

Now check out Javy vs. the four Red Sox relievers (Mendoza, Leskanic, Wakefield and Embree) who worked innings three through seven:

Javy: 4 1/3, 7 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR
Sox: 5 IP, 11 H, 11 R, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR

I could keep going with Gordon and Quantrill against Myers, and reach back to Mussina's six-plus perfect innings, Lieber's domination in Game 2 and Rivera's 2 2/3 innings scoreless relief work in Games 1 and 2. Heck, even when the Yankees gave up some late runs in Game 1, they still outpitched the Sox (Mussina, who allowed four runs in 6 2/3 outpitched Schilling who gave up six in three; Sturtze, who gave up Varitek's homer, outpiched Wakefield who gave up 2 in the sixth; Gordon, who gave up two in two-thirds of the eighth just edges out Timlin, who gave up two in two-thirds of the ninth, by adding a strikeout and requiring fewer pitches).

Never mind offense (both of these teams will mash if they get pitches to hit), never mind defense (both teams are about even there as well), this series is being decided by pitching. The Red Sox have only gotten a decent pitching performance in one game thus far, that being Pedro's work in Game 2, and even then they were clearly outmatched by the dominance of John Lieber. So while he didn't pitch great, Javier Vazquez did outpitch the Red Sox last night, and he deserves praise for that.


Yankees' Heroes
Gary Sheffield 4 for 5 with a walk, a double, three runs scored, four RBIs and, most importantly, the three-run homer that broke the see-saw in the fourth inning. Oh, he also threw Manny out at third to kill a first-inning Sox rally.
Hideki Matsui 5 for 6 with a pair of doubles, a pair of homers, a record-tying five runs scored and, for the second time in three games, a record-tying 5 RBIs.
Alex Rodriguez 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles, a walk, three RBI, a record five runs scored and, most importantly, a solo home run in the third that erased the only lead the Sox have had in this entire series.
Bernie Williams 4 for 6 with a double, a run scored and 3 RBI.
John Olerud wait, didn't he go 0-for-4, the only Yankee starter not to get a hit, and leave the game with an injury? Yes, but he also made two rally-killing plays at first to keep the Red Sox at bay.
Javy Vazquez as per the above
Paul Quantrill only two of the ten pitchers in this game held the opposition scoreless. One was Tom Gordon, who worked around a double and a wild pitch in the ninth. The other was Paul Quantrill who threw 75 percent of his pitches for strikes while striking out two in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

Red Sox Heroes
Jason Varitek 2 for 3 with a two-run homer, three runs scored and a walk. So, of course, he's the one guy Francona subbed out in the late innings.
Trot Nixon I was just thinking prior to yesterday's game that things were going alarmingly well for the Yankees. Not only were they up 2-0 in the series, but Trot Nixon hadn't really done any major damage in the Bronx (2 for 7, both singles, no walks). Trot last night: 2 for 5 with a two-run homer and a double.

Yankees' Goats
Kevin Brown had nothing, got lit-up. Four runs on five hits in two innings. Might have been worse if Manny wasn't thrown out to end the first.

Red Sox Goats
Bronson Arroyo got outpitched by a Kevin Brown who said after the game that his 13-year-old daughter could have outpitched him. Six runs on six hits, including two homers, in two innings.
Ramiro Mendoza one inning, one hit, one run, but he balked home a run with his team down by one in the third.
Curtis Leskanic three runs, two hits (including a homer), just one out
Tim Wakefield the Red Sox were desperate enough that they were willing to burn Wakefield, who was originally scheduled to start tonight, in order to keep the game somewhat within reach. Wakefield responded by giving up five runs in 3 1/2 innings.
Alan Embree three hits, two runs, one out

I can't blame Mike Myers for being overextended.

Mark Bellhorn in a game that saw 37 hits, Bellhorn went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
Manny Ramirez managed just one hit, which he promlty erased by trying to take an extra base, running the Sox out of a first-inning rally that could have changed the tenor of this game before it got started.


By now I'm sure you've heard the stats about only two teams in all of professional sports ever overcoming a 0-3 deficit in a best of five series (those being a pair of hockey teams approximately thirty and sixty years ago).

Meanwhile, on last night's YES postgame, Suzyn Waldman reported the El Duque, who tends to sulk when he's hurting, was upbeat and animated on the Yankee bench last night (you may recall him standing on the dugout steps when Javy Vazquez was removed from the game, holding Javy's jacket for him as if it was James Brown's cape). A good sign?

What about the fact that tonight's Red Sox starter, Derek Lowe, has only pitched three times since September 23, putting together the following line:

5 1/3 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 2 K

the bulk of that damage coming against the Devil Rays?

Then there's the question of whether or not last night was a spirit-crushing loss for the Red Sox. The only Sox I saw interviewed after the game were Francona and Damon. Francona appeared to be in shock. Damon had a quiver in his voice and sounded like he had accidentally killed his own dog.

This is a familiar phenomenon. Observe what I wrote after the Cubs lost Game 6 of last year's NLCS:
What remains to be seen is whether or not this is one of those devastating Game 6 losses that decides Game 7 before it's even played. One imagines it very well could be. When the Marlins recorded the last out, Wrigley was so quiet that all you could hear were the jubilant shouts of the Marlins players. I've never witnessed something like that. In the postgame press conference, Dusty Baker appeared visibly shaken, stumbling all over his words while trying to downplay the roll of curses and history in deciding this series. Interestingly enough, Dusty's San Francisco Giants were leading in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the World Series last year when the pesky, no-quit Angels rallied to win the game. The Giants--who haven't won a World Series in San Francisco, their last coming in New York in 1954--never challenged in Game 7, losing the series.

It happened to the Cubs last year. It happened to the Giants in 2002. The Yankees did it to the Braves in 1996 by coming back from a pair of lop-sided losses in the Bronx to to sweep them in Atlanta and return home up 3-2. Most famously, it happened to the Red Sox in 1986. That series was over as soon as that ball went through Buckner's legs. Sure the Sox held a 3-0 lead through six in Game 7, but everyone knew what was coming. Quothe Shaughnessy:
Most Sox fans felt is was already over; some pledged they would not watch after experiencing the horrors of Game 6. Carl Yastrzemski, a man who died all the deaths in his twenty-three years in Boston, admitted, "After they lost the sixth game, you just knew somehow they wouldn't win the seventh game."

You just knew it.

posted by Cliff at 2:25 AM

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