Saturday, October 18, 2003

The World Series

I didn't do a World Series preview for two reasons. The first is that I didn't really have time since I went to the Syracuse football game against Boston Colloege today. The second is that, as far as World Series go, this one doesn't excite me too much because I don't really want either team to win and because I'm pretty drained from the rest of the post-season.

However, if you want to do some reading to prepare for the World Series, there are some excellent previews available. Aaron Gleeman likes the Yankees to win in six. Rich Lederer thinks the Yankees will win in seven. I agree with Aaron on Yankees in six, but I wouldn't really be surprised if the Marlins win this series. After all, they've never lost a playoff series before.

Enjoy the World Series and if the New England Patriots happen to be reading, you can help me recover from Boston's loss to the Yankees by beating the Dolphins tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2003

My first broken heart

Today, I am finally, truly a member of that great and sorrowful entity called Red Sox Nation. Sure, even before today I had rooted with all my heart for the Boston Red Sox. I had hung on every pitch, lived and died a little with every win and loss. But never, before last night, had the Red Sox made me cry.

Now they have, and not in the same way the New England Patriots made me cry two years ago. But there is some comfort to be had, thinking back on those two moments of unmanliness, those two times when the weight of all that had happened to lead up to that point caused me to break down and shed tears.

Earlier this week, Alex Belth of Bronx Banter wrote a post asking if we are too invested in our sports teams. It was an excellent post and there was some great discussion and I said that, unlike some of the other people who posted there, I had not yet reached the point where the stresses of losing outwighed the joys of winning. Last night confirmed that for me.

As I walked out of the news room on the fourth floor of the building I work in, the tears came. It was not open sobbing, but there were tears to be sure. By the time the elevator had taken me to the ground floor, the tears were gone. I was still devastated and upset, but there would be no more waterworks. In contrast, when the Patriots won the Super Bowl two years ago, I blubbered joyously for about an hour.

Where does one start when looking back on yesterday's game, which may go down in history as the best non-World Series game ever played? You start, of course, at the beginning.

And at the beginning of yesterday's game, many Red Sox fans were confident, for various reasons. Some Red Sox fans are just the confident type, some had faith in Pedro Martinez, some were sure Roger Clemens would choke and some just felt it was finally our turn to win.

And then there were those who thought, after the Cubs had a three-run lead needing just five outs to reach the World Series and couldn't close the deal, that we were safe. After all, there's no way it can happen to both sets of beleaguered fans in the same season, is there?

Sure there is. With Mia Hamm in attendance at Yankee Stadium, the Curse of the Bambino played a game of "Anything you can do I can do better" with the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Now, I don't really believe in curses. The Red Sox and Cubs both lost for the same three reasons: (1) they were both playing against very good baseball teams, (2) they both made some mistakes that their opponents were able to capitalize on and (3) they both have managers who are not good in-game tacticians.

Still, it's a lot more fun to talk about curses. There's something magical and mysterious about the idea of cursed baseball teams. The same thing that makes us want to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy when we're younger makes us want to believe that something like a curse could exist. And even if you don't believe in curses, you're probably superstitious. You'll wear the same shirt or sit in the same spot if your team is winning and change clothes or seats if they're losing.

So, yesterday's game began, as all games begin, with a single pitch -- a strike from Clemens to Johnny Damon. It felt like much more than just one pitch, however. It was the first brick removed from a dam that was holding back a flood of emotions. It was the first step on a path that would lead to a defining moment for a generation or three of baseball fans. It would either be the first taste of heartbreak for younger Red Sox fans like myself, or it would be the most glorious triumph over the enemy that older fans had ever witnessed. It was the first pitch in a game that could mean the end of the losing and the rebirth of the idea of being a Red Sox fan in a new century.

The game began, as all good heartbreaks do, with hope. After Clemens and Martinez matched scoreless first innings, the Red Sox took the lead in the top of the second. Kevin Millar hit a one-out single to set up Clemens' arch-nemesis, Trot Nixon. Nixon rose to the occassion with a two-run homer to deep right field. The Red Sox then got a gift run because Joe Torre doesn't understand small sample sizes.

As most of you know, New York's third baseman in yesterday's game was Enrique Wilson because he went 7-for-8 against Martinez in the regular season. Of course, Wilson was 3-for-12 against Martinez prior to this season and he went 0-for-3 against Martinez in game three of the ALCS. At any rate, Torre believed Wilson has some sort of special ability to hit against Martinez, so Wilson was in the game when, after Jason Varitek doubled, Damon hit a grounder to third that Wilson threw away, allowing Varitek to score Boston's third run of the inning. New York's normal third baseman, Aaron Boone, probably would have made the play easily, but he had a larger purpose last night.

Martinez pitched two more scoreless innings and Clemens had an easy third when the game reached a crucial juncture, with Clemens finding more trouble in the top of the fourth inning. His first pitch to Millar in that frame sailed into the left-field stands to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead, and then he walked Nixon. Bill Mueller followed with a single to put runners on the corners with nobody out and that was the end of Clemens' night and maybe, as far as anybody knew then, his career.

Mike Mussina, New York's favorite goat for much of the series, came on in relief and did a spectacular job. He struck out Varitek and got Damon to ground into a double play to end the inning without any more runs scoring. I said at the time that Mussina's work there could end up being critical to the outcome of the game. Unfortunately, I was right.

Still, at that point, I wasn't worried too much, since Martinez was cruising along with his fourth scoreless inning and he had thrown just 55 pitches to get through those four innings. Mussina put himself in a tough spot in the fifth with back-to-back one out singles from Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez. He was able to get the next two batters, however, to keep the Yankees within four runs.

In the bottom of the inning, Martinez hit his first bump in the road, surrendering a solo home run to Jason Giambi on the first pitch of the inning. Not a problem at all, though, as Martinez recovered to retire the next eight batters in a row.

Meanwhile, Mussina pitched a scoreless sixth and Felix Heredia and Jeff Nelson combined to pitch a scoreless seventh. So, the Red Sox still led 4-1 heading to the bottom of the seventh and Martinez retired the first two hitters, who were No. 7 and No. 8 in his streak of consecutive outs. Then, Martinez ran into trouble.

Giambi tagged him for another home run and Wilson reached on an "infield single." What really happened is that Wilson hit a tailing grounder to the right side that Millar fielded while running into foul territory. Rather than flip the ball to Martinez, who was in perfect position to step on first for the final out of the inning, Millar decided to dive for the bag with his glove. He ended up falling on his face a couple feet from first and the inning continued.

Karim Garcia knocked the next pitch into right field for a single, but Martinez saved Millar from being a goat by striking out Alfonso Soriano to end the inning.

Nelson came back out to start the top of the eighth inning for the Yankees, and I wondered why Torre wasn't turning to Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees gave up any more runs, I thought, it would be tough for them to come back and if they didn't come back, Rivera would have all offseason to rest. You might as well make sure you use your best pitcher for two innings in the biggest game of the season, right?

Well, Torre stuck with Nelson and Nelson got Ramirez for the first out of the inning. Then, Torre summoned David Wells to face David Ortiz. I turned to my co-workers and told them that Ortiz could take Wells deep because Wells doesn't have much of a split (he allowed a .778 OPS to lefty hitters and a .737 OPS to righties this year) and that's exactly what Ortiz did.

Wells retired the next two batters, but the Yankees were now facing a deficit of three runs instead of two runs. And then everything fell apart for Boston.

One of my co-workers asked me how much longer Martinez would be in the game. I said that he'd be in there until he gave up a baserunner and then he'd be out, or at least I hoped that would be the case. Martinez retired Nick Johnson to put the Red Sox five outs away from the World Series with a three-run lead (sound familiar?) before Derek Jeter doubled just past Nixon's outstretched glove.

At that point, I would have removed Martinez, but Grady Little wanted to stick with his ace as long as possible. Bernie Williams singled to center field to knock in Jeter and bring up Hideki Matsui as the tying run with the left-handed specialist Alan Embree warm in the bullpen. At that point, Little ran out to the mound.

I shouted at the TV, "make the move now, don't talk to him," but Little waited to make the move and went to talk to Martinez. He then patted Martinez on the butt and returned to the dugout without removing his obviously tired star hurler.

Matsui hit an 0-2 pitch down the right-field line for a ground-rule double that put the tying runs in scoring position. Little remained in the dugout, staring straight ahead, as Martinez prepared to face Jorge Posada. When Martinez's first pitch to Posada was inside, I turned my back to the TV, heaved my arm in the opposite direction and got a big laugh from the sports department:

"Toss him, ump! He's throwing at the hitters again! Throw him out of the game!"

It didn't work. Martinez remained in the game and Posada dumped his 2-2 pitch into No-Man's Land out in shallow center field to tie the game. Somehow, Posada even ended up on second.

I then asked, and still want to know the answer to, the following question, "How can the happiness of an entire region be entrusted to a complete idiot?"

There was no second-guessing of Little's move. It was obvious to every single person watching the game except for, it appears, Little that Martinez was out of gas. Even my girlfriend, who was watching the game despite the fact that she doesn't really like baseball in general or the Red Sox in particular, told me she was screaming at the TV for Little to take Martinez out.

Finally, with the damage already done, Little turned the game over to Embree, who retired Giambi on a fly ball to center field. Then, Little summoned Mike Timlin to face Wilson. Torre pinch-hit for Wilson with Ruben Sierra. Little had Timlin intentionally walk Sierra and Torre pinch-ran for Sierra with Boone, who would need to come in to play third base in the ninth anyway.

I don't really remember at that point whether or not I thought the Red Sox would allow the Yankees to take the lead right there. I was so disappointed that Little had left Martinez in to blow the lead that I didn't even know what to think or feel. That the Red Sox did not give the Yankees the lead there (after Garcia walked, Soriano hit a grounder off the mound that bounced to Todd Walker, who flipped to Garciaparra to end the inning) cleared my mind a little. The Red Sox bullpen had been excellent in the post-season and I thought they still had as good a shot at winning as the Yankees did.

Of course, Torre's move to not use Rivera in the eighth paid off because Rivera was able to hold the Red Sox scoreless in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings. He allowed a runner to reach scoring position twice, but both times he slammed the door without a hint of trouble.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox bullpen held the Yankees scoreless for two innings and, as the game went into the bottom of the 11th inning, I started feeling good again. Rivera was done for the night and the top of Boston's lineup was due up in the top of the 12th inning. If Tim Wakefield could just hold the Yankees scoreless for one more inning, the Red Sox would have a chance to take the lead and then turn things over to closer Scott Williamson.

Before I even really realized the inning was starting, Wakefield had delivered his first pitch to Boone and Boone had smacked it high and deep to left field. It stayed fair by plenty, it went into the stands by plenty and the Yankees won again.

Despite the fact that the Red Sox lost when they probably should have won, it was a great game. It was a game that may very well go down in history as the best non-World Series baseball game ever. I mean, come on, an extra-inning, walk-off home run by a player who wasn't even in the game when it started four hours earlier in the 26th meeting of the season between the most storied rivals in sports for a spot in the World Series? Who would ever believe it if it didn't really happen?

And, despite the fact that the story remained much the same, this was a great season to be a Red Sox fan. This season was a wildly exciting rollercoaster ride from the first game to the last. So what if last night it felt like the ride operator pulled the stop lever before we had reached the thrilling finale to the ride, leaving us momentarily disoriented as we stumbled off the ride and tried to refrain from being ill. When you choose to get on the big, exciting rides, you sometimes get sick. If you know what's good for you, though, you always come back.

And I'll be back next year, rooting just as hard for the Red Sox as ever. And the Red Sox will be back too. I guarantee that there will not be another prolonged stretch where the Red Sox don't make the playoffs or don't win in the playoffs.

How am I so sure? Hell, you might say, the fans in 1946 were probably sure that Ted Williams would get back to the World Series at least once and the fans in 1986 were probably sure that Clemens would lead Boston back to the World Series at least once. How can I be so sure, especially when the Red Sox didn't even reach the World Series this time?

Well, my faith is not in any of the players. Pedro Martinez? Nomar Gariciaparra? Manny Ramirez? You can take them all. Leave Theo Epstein in Boston, and I'll feel good about our chances. The boy wonder brought us to the brink of the World Series in his first season at the helm. Who knows what he can do from here on out? I know I'm excited to find out.

For you non-Red Sox fans, enjoy the World Series. I'll be following it a bit, but I won't be watching every pitch like I have been. After all, now that the Red Sox have been eliminated, it's time for me to get reacquainted with my true love, if she's still talking to me.

Other stuff

Here's my fantasy football column for this week:

Fantasy football: Teams needing running backs find gold

Also, I wanted to let everybody know that I plan on posting every day even during the offseason. I don't know if I'll actually be able to, but that's my plan at the moment. And after the World Series is over, I'll have all sorts of posts looking back on the season.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

It has come to this

It had to come to this

The first-ever World Series was played 100 years ago. That was also the first time there was a team from Boston and a team from New York in the American League. I don't think there was much of a rivalry back then, though. The Red Sox won that World Series and then won four more over the next 15 years, while the Yankees did not reach the post-season at all.

From 1903 to 1918, the Red Sox won 1,326 games and lost 1,070 for a .553 winning percentage. They finished first or second in the AL eight times and only finished out of the first division four times. During that time, the Yankees won 1,141 games and lost 1,239 for a .479 winning percentage. They only fininshed in the first division six times and only finished ahead of the Red Sox in the standings three times.

In 1919, the Yankees went 80-59 to finish third while the Red Sox slumped to 66-71 and a sixth-place finish. By the time the 1920 season rolled around, Babe Ruth had been sold to the Yankees and only six of the 32 men who had been on the 1918 championship team remained on the Red Sox roster.

The Yankees finished third again in 1920 before taking the pennant for the first time in 1921. When New York won its first World Series in 1923, six of players on the team (Ruth, Everett Scott, Carl Mays, Joe Bush, Sam Jones and Wally Schang) were members of Boston's last championship team and 11 of the player's on New York's roster (including Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock) had played in Boston before moving to the Yankees.

Since 1918, the Yankees have won 38 American League pennants and 26 World Series championships. In that time, the Red Sox have won just four American League pennants and no World Series championships. After finishing first in their division for just the seventh time since 1918 in 1995, the Red Sox slumped to third and fourth in 1996 and 1997 and have now finished second to the Yankees six years in a row.

Everybody knows the history. In 1948, the Red Sox needed to beat the Yankees just once in the final two games of the season win the AL pennant over the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees won both games and the Red Sox lost to the Indians in a playoff.

Thirty years after that, the Red Sox had a nine-game lead over Milwaukee when July 20, 1978 dawned. The Yankees were in fourth place, 14 games behind Boston. By the time September 7, 1978 dawned, the Yankees had pulled into second place just four games behind the Red Sox and were headed to Boston for a four-game series. New York swept the series, outscoring the Red Sox 42-9, and the two teams finished the regular season with identical 99-63 games. They met in a one-game playoff for the right to go to the ALCS. The Yankees won 5-4 thank in large part to Bucky "F***ing" Dent and went on to win the World Series.

In 1999, the Red Sox came back from a 2-0 deficit to the Cleveland Indians to win the ALDS and earn a shot at the New York Yankees in the ALCS. The first two games were close, tense affairs in the Bronx, but the Yankees got the breaks and the calls and won both games. The Red Sox won game three in Boston, but went quietly in the next two games and the Yankees went on to win another World Series.

Now, 25 years after Bucky Dent carried the Yankees past the Red Sox and into the playoffs, 55 years after Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees prevented the Red Sox from winning the AL pennant, and 85 years after Boston's last World Series championship, 100 years of the greatest rivalry in sports comes down to one game.

Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens.

Boston vs. New York.

One game at Yankee Stadium with a trip to the World Series on the line.

If there's been a more important, more eagerly anticipated game in my lifetime then I must have missed it. Honestly, I can't even find the words to describe how big this game is. The Yankees are being threatened by the Red Sox like they never have been before.

If the Yankees win this game, they can continue to feel that all is right with the world. They will be in the World Series and the Red Sox will be at home, having been unable to dethrone the Yankees yet again, as though it's their lot in life to perpetually finish second to the team from the Bronx.

If the Red Sox win this game, everything will change. Bucky Dent will become irrelevant, 1948 will not matter and the Red Sox will have a chance to end all talk of some silly curse.

Strap yourselves in and hold on tight, this thing is going to be great. I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


All post-season, we've been hearing about how the Red Sox and Cubs are cursed. The difference is that since Chicago's last World Series appearance in 1945, nothing truly horrific has happened to the Cubs. Sure, they blew a 2-0 lead over the Padres in the best-of-five 1984 NLDS and sure they blew some big leads to miss the playoffs, but they haven't had near the level of heartbreaking losses that the Red Sox have had to endure throughout the years.

Well, until yesterday that is, when the Cubs tried to catch up to the Red Sox in just one inning. If Chicago doesn't come back to win tonight's game seven, last night's loss will go down as one of the worst in the history of baseball. It can't touch Boston's game six loss to the Mets in 1986 because that was in the World Series and there are probably others that would rank higher than last night's, but without doing any research I'd have to guess that it's one of the 10 most devastating losses in baseball history.

Leading three games to two, the Chicago Cubs had their best pitcher, Mark Prior, on the mound to try and send them to the World Series. And through seven innings, it looked like he would do just that as he had allowed just three hits and two walks with no Marlins crossing the plate.

And the Cubs had given him all the runs it seemed he would need thanks to Sammy Sosa (RBI double in the first inning), Dontrelle Willis (wild pitch let Sosa score in the sixth) and Mark Grudzielanek (RBI single in the seventh).

Then, in the top of the eighth inning, the Cubs had the anti-Jeffrey Maier, Bill Buckner and Bucky Dent all happen so quickly that you could barely even believe it.

The inning started off innocently enough, as Mike Mordecai flied out to left field for the first out of the inning to bring the Cubs within five outs of the World Series.

Then, Prior gave up a double to Juan Pierre. The next batter was Luis Castillo, who worked the count full and then started fouling pitches off. On the third 3-2 pitch and the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Castillo hit a fly ball into foul territory down the left field line. Moises Alou made his way over to the wall, timed his jump and probably would have made a terrific leaping catch over the wall... except that a fan reached out and touched the ball before Alou could catch it.

Castillo had a second life, and Prior threw ball four on the very next pitch to put runners on first and second with one out for Ivan Rodriguez, who was merely hitting .351/.442/.649 (1.091) in the playoffs entering yesterday's game. Prior got ahead of him 0-2, but Pudge continued his torrid post-season play by smashing a single into left field to drive in Florida's first run of the game and extend his playoff hitting streak to 10 games.

Still, the Cubs were in the driver's seat with a two-run lead and runners on first and second with one out for rookie Miguel Cabrera. As he is wont to do, Cabrera swung at the first pitch and the result was a ground ball right at Alex Gonzalez that looked like a double play. Until Gonzalez's glove was seized by the spirit of somebody else (I know he's still alive):

"And a ground ball trickling... it is a fair ball! It gets by Buckner! Rounding third is Knight. The Mets will win the ballgame. They win! They win!"

Okay, it's obviously not the same thing. The Cubs still had the lead after Gonzalez booted the ball, but the bases were loaded with just one out and Derrek Lee.

I turned to one of my co-workers and said, "If Prior hangs one here, it's a grand slam."

I don't know if Prior hung that first pitch or not, but Lee roped it into left field for a two-run double to tie the game and put runners on second and third, still with only one out. That was the end of Prior's night. He went from being the sure MVP of the series to being the potential game six loser in a matter of minutes.

Kyle Farnsworth came in and issued an intentional walk to Mike Lowell to load the bases for Jeff Conine. Mr. Marlin came through with a sacrifice fly to give the Marlins a 4-3 lead.

After that, Farnsworth issued another intentional walk (to pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth) to reload the bases for Mike Mordecai. Now, in the regular season, Mordecai hit just .213/.276/.326 (.601) and he was hitless in four post-season at-bats before that one. However, like Gonzalez's glove, Mordecai's bat was possessed by a powerful force:

"Ball hit hard to left field...Yastrzemski goes back, he looks up. It's gonna be... outta here, a home run for Bucky Dent!"

Mordecai hit a bases-clearing double to give the Marlins a 7-3 lead. Florida tacked on another run and the Cubs went meekly (six up, six down) the rest of the way.

So, there will be a game seven tonight. And while I feel bad for the Cubs and their fans (especially That Fan), there's nothing better than a game seven. The matchup should be a good one as Kerry Wood takes on Mark Redman. When those two met up in game three, the Cubs won the game in 11 innings. If tonight's game is anything like that one, it'll go down as one of the best game seven's in history. And if the Cubs win, nobody will remember the Marlins scoring eight runs in the eighth inning of game six.

Now, a lot of people, including Rob Neyer, think that the fan is getting too much heat for touching that foul ball. They're saying that the Cubs still could have, and probably should have, won the game after that. I agree with that, but I'm going to make another contention that some people may disagree with.

Even if the fan hadn't touched the ball and Alou had caught it, the Cubs still could have, and very well might have, lost that game. Let's assume everything happens the way it happened after that:

After Alou catches the ball, there are two outs with Pierre on second. Rodriguez singles him home and moves to second when Cabrera reaches on Gonzalez's error. Lee follows with a double that makes it 3-2.

At that point yesterday, Farnsworth relieved Prior and walked Lowell to set up Conine's sac fly. If that had happened the same way, Conine's fly ball would have ended the inning. Let's assume that's what happens.

Now, you might say that the Marlins didn't score in the ninth, so the Cubs would have won. However, the pitcher the Marlins didn't score against in the ninth was Antonio Alfonseca. If the Cubs had had a one-run lead, the Marlins would have seen Joe Borowski. And there would have been different hitters up against Borowski than there were against Alfonseca.

Would the Marlins have scored a run or two off Borowski? I have no idea, and nobody else does either. Who knows if the rest of the eighth inning even would have unfolded the same way had Alou made the catch? My point is, you cannot say that the Cubs definitely win that game if the fan doesn't touch the ball. It's just not an absolute certainty.

Now, there was another game yesterday and I don't have an awful lot to say about it besides that the Red Sox offense just looks absolutely terrible. I know the Yankees pitchers have something to do with that, but these do not look like the same Red Sox hitters who terrorized pitchers (including those wearing pinstripes several times) during the regular season.

Both pitchers in the game pitched very well and the Red Sox might have won the game had Bill Mueller been able to make a play on a grounder to him with two on and two outs in the second inning. But he didn't, and now the Red Sox have their backs against the wall.

Andy Pettitte takes the mound for the Yankees and John Burkett will toe the rubber for the Red Sox, at least to start the game. With such a mismatch of the starting pitchers, many people have already penciled the Yankees into the World Series.

Not so fast. Baseball's a funny game and you never know exactly what's going to happen. Is it more unlikely that the Red Sox could win three in a row against the A's or that they could win two in a row against the Yankees? Actually, let me ask a different question.

Which is a bigger pitching mismatch: Andy Pettitte against John Burkett or Mark Prior against Carl Pavano? Pavano's certainly better than Burkett, but Prior is also certainly better than Pettitte.

Anyway, if you're a fan of dramatic baseball, then this should be a fun day for you. I know I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Best of three

Well, the way we got here is a little surprising, but it shouldn't shock anybody that the ALCS between the Red Sox and the Yankees is now a best of three series. As has been the case in each of the games to this point, pitching set the tone last night.

Tim Wakefield had a tough start, walking Alfonso Soriano and allowing a single to Derek Jeter to put runners on first and second with nobody out for Jason Giambi.

That's when Wakefield got lucky. Giambi hit a bullet, but it was right at Kevin Millar, who caught it and stepped on first to double off Jeter. Bernie Williams then drew a walk before Jorge Posada struck out to end the inning.

I was listening to the top of the first in my car because I didn't get out of work until 8 p.m., and I must admit that I was very concerned that Wakefield just didn't have it last night. He was lucky to get the double-play ball and I was a little bit worried that the Yankees would keep tagging him.

I needn't have been. Wakefield didn't give up a hit in either of the next two innings (although he did hit David Dellucci leading off the third) and he worked around a leadoff single by Williams in the fourth.

In the press conference, Wakefield said that he might have let his adrenaline get the best of him in the first inning. After he got the double-play ball and got out of the inning, he said he was able to calm himself down.

Mike Mussina, meanwhile, was gunning from the start. He mowed down the first six Red Sox batters with great ease before Trot Nixon singled to lead off the third. Not wanting to make Mussina work too hard, the Red Sox sent Nixon on a 3-2 pitch to Bill Mueller, the third game in a row in which the Red Sox sent a runner on a 3-2 pitch with less than two outs. And for the third game in a row, the batter struck out and the runner was an easy target for Posada. Making it even worse is that Doug Mirabelli followed with a single that should have put two on with one out rather than one on with two out. So, Mussina retired Johnny Damon and the inning was over.

So, with some luck and/or help from the other team, each pitcher was rolling along until the bottom of the fourth inning. For the next inning and a half, the offenses went into "high octane" mode. When I say "high octane," what I mean is that they didn't get completely shut down as they had been the rest of the game.

Todd Walker led off the bottom of the fourth with his second home run in as many games off Mussina in the playoffs. It was Walker's fifth home run of the post-season, after hitting just 13 in the regular season.

I don't know if Walker will be back with the Red Sox next year (I believe they have an option on him for something like $3.5-4 million) and I don't know what this post-season ultimately has in store for the Red Sox. What I do know is that there will always be a soft spot in my heart for Walker.

The Red Sox didn't win the World Series in 1999, but I still always think fondly of Troy O'Leary because he hit two home runs in the game five win against the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. From now on, I'll think similarly of Walker, wherever he is.

Anyway, Mussina finished the inning without further trouble as Manny Ramirez reached on an error but was erased on a double-play grounder from David Ortiz.

After that, it was New York's turn to get some offense going. Wakefield retired the first batter in the fifth without a problem, but Dellucci and Soriano followed with back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second with one out.

The next play is where one team got a break. Which team depends on who you talk to though. Jeter hit a hard grounder down the third base line and it hit the bag and bounced high in the air. Dellucci scored easily, but Jeter might have been held to first base if Nomar Garciaparra had fielded it cleanly. He didn't, and Soriano was on third and Jeter was on second by the time Ramirez retrieved the ball. That's not really the break I'm talking about though.

The break is the ball hitting the bag. Had the ball not hit the bag, it might have skipped into the left field corner, likely allowing Soriano to score the Yankees second run of the inning. However, had the ball not hit the bag, it also might have been fielded by Mueller, keeping any runs from scoring and the Yankees would have had the bases loaded with one out.

Neither of those things did happen, however, because the ball did hit the bag and the Yankees tied the game. They also had a great opportunity to take the lead, but Giambi hit a fly ball to very short center field and the Yankees decided not to send Soriano on a tag-up. In hindsight, Soriano definitely would have scored if he went because Damon's throw was awful. At the moment, you knew Damon has a bad arm, but you couldn't count on the throw being that bad. I don't know what I would have done if I were the runner or third base coach, but sitting on the couch watching, I said, "Good, that's not deep enough to score him."

Anyway, the Yankees still had a chance to score as Williams walked to load the bases, but Posada lined out to left field to end the threat.

And after that, Wakefield settled down immediately. He struck out the side in order in the sixth inning and needed just four pitches to retire the side in order in the seventh inning. Luckily for the Red Sox, he was doing that work with a one-run lead instead of in a tie game.

Mussina struck out Millar to start the bottom of the fifth, but Nixon followed with a home run to almost the exact same spot he hit his walkoff homer in game three of the ALDS. Mussina then got through the sixth inning before he ran into some more trouble.

Ortiz struck out leading off the bottom of the seventh, but Millar followed with a somewhat questionable walk. Then, Nixon hit the ball high and deep to left field. Hideki Matsui backed up very close to the wall and looked up (with his back still to the wall) as though he was about to catch it. Millar saw this and paused briefly near second base before he realized Matsui couldn't catch it. The ball hit high off the wall, Matsui fielded it quickly and held Millar to third base while Nixon went to second for a double.

I don't know if Millar would have been able to score either way, but Matsui's heads up play ensured that he wouldn't. The Yankees then decided to intentionally walk Mueller to get to Mirabelli. At that point, Jason Varitek came running in from the bullpen with his shinguards on and a huge bag draped over his shoulder.

He stepped up to the plate in place of Mirabelli and, having not taken many warmup swings (if any), hit a double-play ball to Jeter. Except that Varitek hustled down the line and, after Soriano didn't put much mustard on the relay throw, beat it out to allow Millar to score an insurance run that would prove to be very important.

That was the end of Mussina's night as Felix Heredia came in to pitch to Damon. After Damon took a ball to even the count at 2-2, Varitek was caught off first base. I don't know if he was trying to steal a run by allowing Nixon to score while the Yankees chased Varitek, but it didn't work. The Yankees ran the play beautifully, as Posada walked toward the mound and didn't throw right away. After he got rid of the ball, he retreated to the plate and, as soon as Nixon broke, Soriano sent the ball back to Posada, who immediately fired the ball to third to get Nixon trying to retreat to the bag.

Wakefield came out to start the eighth inning, but his night ended when he walked Giambi. That brought Mike Timlin into the game. I knew Timlin had been doing well this postseason, but I didn't realize just how well until FOX ran the graphic of his playoff numbers prior to last night's appearance:

IP 6.1
H 0
R 0
BB 0
K 8

That's right, Timlin had been perfect thus far in the playoffs. However, in the regular season his main problem was serving up home runs (he allowed 11 in 83.2 innings) and the first batter he faced was Williams, who hit a bomb.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, the bomb was toward the triangle in center and Damon was able to track it down for the first out. Timlin then got a groundout and a strikeout to keep his perfect post-season in order.

In the bottom of the eighth, Jeff Nelson started warming up and the Fenway faithful started chanting "We Want Nelson" a la New York's Thursday night chant of "We Want Pedro."

When Heredia hit Walker with one out, Joe Torre obliged, bringing Nelson in to face Garciaparra. After Nelson's first pitch, Grady Little tried some gamesmanship by asking the umpires to check Nelson to see if he had any illegal foreign substances with him.

At first, I thought it might have gotten inside Nelson's head as he threw over to first base three times before delivering his next pitch, but he got Garciaparra to ground into a double play to end the inning.

So, the Red Sox took a two-run lead into the top of the ninth inning and closer (there's no committe any more) Scott Williamson came in to get the save.

Williamson struck out the first batter and went to 1-2 on pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra before Sierra made things interesting with a home run over the bullpens. Williamson recovered to strike out Dellucci, which brought to the plate the Yankee that makes me feel most comfortable in a big spot.

Soriano swung at the first pitch even though it was well outside and there was no way he could hit it. The second pitch was in the same place and Soriano swung and missed again. Williamson threw the third pitch up high and Soriano took it for a ball. Having played around enough, Williamson went right back to where the first two pitches were thrown and Soriano swung and missed again to end the game.

So, the series is tied at two games apiece, and now I have a few questions.

How amazing is it that neither team got any production at all from a four-spot stretch in their lineup? New York's fifth through eighth hitters (Posada, Matsui, Nick Johnson and Aaron Boone) combined to go 0-for-15 with 10 strikeouts. Boston's third through sixth hitters (Garciaparra, Ramirez, Ortiz and Millar) combined to go 0-for-13 with a walk and six strikeouts.

Wakefield is now 2-0 in this year's ALCS. He also went 2-0 in the 1992 NLCS for Pittsburgh. He didn't win a single playoff game in between. Had any player ever won two games in one LCS, waited 10 years, and then won two games in another LCS before?

Williamson now has two saves in this ALCS for Boston. He didn't save a single game for them during the regular season. Has it ever happened before that a player's first two saves for a team come in the LCS?

Speaking of a Boston reliever, has a bullpen ever turned around so much in the playoffs before? In the regular season, Boston's relievers had a 4.83 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 7.73 K/9IP. In the post-season, Boston's relievers have a 1.09 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 10.58 K/9IP. The home run Williamson allowed last night was the first run allowed by the Boston bullpen since game one of the ALDS against Oakland.

Finally, is my jersey sapping all the power away from Garciaparra? I wore my authentic Nomar Garciaparra Red Sox jersey last night for the fourth time and, for the fourth time, the Red Sox won. However, since I first wore the jersey (on Sept. 5), Garciaparra has just 20 hits including in the playoffs and he's hitting .177/.256/.336 (.592). I don't mind as long as the Red Sox keep winning, but I do feel kind of bad for him.

Ok, that's all I have for today. Big game in four hours. I think whoever wins today is pretty likely to win the series. That may seem like an obvious statement considering the pitching matchups in Yankee Stadium, but it makes clear just how important today is.

Enjoy the game and go Red Sox.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Stupid errors

Well, I was going to write a post about how all of the strange things the Boston Red Sox have done in the last two or three weeks have made me somewhat ashamed of the Red Sox. And I was going to say that the rainout of yesterday's game four and getting to watch a gutsy Patriots team improve to 4-2 washed the bad taste out of my mouth.

However, halfway through my post, internet explorer crashed. I hadn't saved the post yet, so I lost the whole thing and now I don't have time to redo it all. So, I'm afraid I probably won't be able to post anything today, because I have to leave pretty soon write a story about a guy who has supposedly had three hole-in-ones on par 4's this year. I may only be working until around 5, I may be working until 11 p.m., I have no idea.

Sorry there's nothing interesting for you to read here today, I'll definitely be back tomorrow.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Big day

At 1 p.m. today, I get to watch the Patriots host the NY Giants to either improve to 4-2 this season or fall to 3-3. Later tonight, I get to watch the Red Sox host the NY Yankees in game four of the ALCS to either even the series at two games apiece or fall behind 3-1.

If both teams win, I'll be walking on air tonight. If both teams lose, I'll be absolutely devastated. Should be a another nice, gutwrenching day.