Games 11, 12, 13: Red Sox vs. Yankees, Round 1

I have to admit, I’ve been saying for a while that I’m a little done with this whole Red Sox-Yankees thing.  The games always go on for like 7 hours, and it just inspires ugliness in the stands, and gets the Pink Hats out in full force.  There shouldn’t be any further appeal, nothing to make these games any more special than any game the Sox play against a good team.  Not since 2004.  For all of the pain the Yankees inflicted on the Sox over the year, the 2004 ALCS is still the best baseball has ever been for me.  That was when it all changed.  That was the year when the universe decided there would be no more.  The year when the Sox started off the ALCS losing the first three games before decided that that was it, that they would take no more.  That history-making beatdown was the ultimate punctuation to the long-standing Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.  Anyone who was on that Yankees team in 2004 will never get over that.  Sure, they’ve moved on, congratulated the winners, been good sports, but I have to believe that in the back of every player’s mind, the back of every coach and manager’s mind, that that one stings.  They’ll forever be the first (and perhaps only) team to be up 3-0 in a best of seven series and find a way to blow it.  Four chances to win one game, and they couldn’t.

I don’t know that I’ve seen this discussed before, but in hindsight, the 2004 ALCS shouldn’t have been so surprising.  By that I mean, I knew the Sox could do it (even if I wasn’t convinced they would), and that when you broke it down, it didn’t seem as improbable as one might lead you to believe.  Take Curt Schilling.  The staff ace, he was having a fantastic year for the Sox in his first year, finishing the regular season 21-4 I believe (or was that 21-6?).  He should have won that first game, and if injury hadn’t taken it’s toll, he would have.  I’m just saying, not to take anything at all away from their achievement, but I don’t think the 0-3 start they had to that series was a true reflection of their talent, and that’s why they were able to persevere and come back.  It wasn’t like, say, the Colorado Rockies after Game 3 of the World Series last year; the Rockies didn’t have a chance at that kind of comeback.  They just didn’t have the stuff.  Their first three losses weren’t due to any fluke or freaky circumstance that couldn’t be accounted for, tough luck at the worst time, as the Sox 0-3 hole largely was.

Anyhow, despite having no logical reason to get all pumped up about this series, I found myself drawn in.  Knowing that they play 18 games against each other this season, my blood pressure wasn’t as high as it might have been in previous years, but there’s still something there.  I wonder if it’s just because the Yankees are so high profile that you know everyone on that team.  I follow the entire Sox season but I couldn’t recite the Tampa Bay or Minnesota roster by heart.  I probably could for the Yankees.  That’s why it’s exciting; you know who you’re up against, and somehow it seems more personal in an oddly contradictory fashion.  You know the individual players and that’s something, but they’re all wearing the Yankee uniform, so at the same moment they’re all the same, part of the beast.  Weird.

Chien-Ming Wang pitched an outstanding game.  Period.  I don’t really enjoy losing all that much, but as a fan of the game of baseball, I like to see well played games and great performances.  I prefer when it doesn’t happen against my team, but so be it.  Buchholz was actually pretty darn good himself, 6 innings and 1 earned run.  Not bad against a team with hitters that can turn lethal in a second.  One thing that this game made me think back to was Clay’s no-hitter last year, and just how rare such a thing is, how many breaks the pitcher needs to get.  A no-hitter (or perfect game) is the ultimate achievement by a pitcher, but pitchers don’t exist in a vacuum, and it takes some incredible strokes of luck to have the chance to make it through to the end.  Take Wang’s night.  Pedroia gets on in the fourth in what’s initially ruled a hit, later changed to an error on A-Rod’s throw to first, and then contested by both teams after the fact; as far as I’m concerned, it was a hit.  A-Rod didn’t make a bad throw; Pedroia just hit the ball to a spot where A-Rod couldn’t make the standard play, and was able to beat it out.  The official scorer must’ve felt that Wang had a chance to go the distance, not wanting that play to be the thing that took away a no-hitter from the guy.  So it’s no longer a perfect game since a runner has reached base, but it’s still a no-hitter.  Later on, J.D. Drew hits a solo shot to right center that Bobby Abreu should have caught.  I thought he was going to catch it.  Looks like he was leaping for it and hit his back on the bullpen wall, which screwed up his reach.  But as much as I want to see J.D. Drew hit a homer, that was really a ball Abreu could have caught.  You need the guy to make that play to keep a no-hitter going.  Then, in the 9th, Coco Crisp gets onboard with a bunt single that they might have had a chance at.  Those are the breaks you need to walk away with a no-hitter.  Wang gave up two hits and both of them could have been outs just as easily.  The “error” could have been an out as well.

So when you think that all of that went right last September 1 for Clay Buchholz, that’s an incredible achievement.  There were multiple opportunities in that game where the no-hitter could have slipped away, and somehow it all worked out.  That’s magic.  The baseball gods shined down on Buchholz during his game; despite what arguably was a better performance from Wang, the baseball gods were nowhere to be seen.

Now, I won’t go so far as to say that Mussina has nothing left in the tank, as some have offered.  He’s certainly not an ace or even a #2 guy anymore, but he still looks like the kind of guy that can get you through 5.  So although I’d normally pick Josh Beckett to win that game easily, with Beckett still working his way up to full strength, there was a chance Mussina could be just good enough to squeak by.  Didn’t work out that way, thankfully.

During an early part of the Fox coverage, Joe Buck was interviewing Terry Francona, and Tito said that he just wanted to be “one run better” than the Yankees in that game.  Turns out that that was exactly what they were.  Beckett looked brilliant through the first four, pretty good during the next two, and out of gas in the 7th.  But during his last start against the Blue Jays, I thought Beckett looked brilliant through two, pretty good through the next two, and out of gas before the end of the 5th… so that’s a big improvement.  I’m not worried about him at all; couple more starts to get the stamina back where it should be, and that’ll be that.

How about that rain delay?  The ironic part was–of course–if they had just played through from when they first paused the game, they probably would have been fine.  Didn’t seem like it was raining hard enough at the time to justify stopping play, and the game would have been wrapped up not long after that.  But instead, we were treated to a more than two hour delay; fortunately I had been checking the Boston Globe’s live blog, which informed me that the game would be resuming on FX.  Had I not caught that, I would have been one of the many watching in the 9th, with two men out, two strikes on the batter, with the TV just going over to Nascar.  I get that they’re contractually obligated to show pictures of cars racing around a little track as if it was some sort of athletic achievement worthy of spectacle, but would it have been asking too much fo
r them to have waited another fifteen seconds or so for the game to end?

Papelbon looked great, striking out three of the four batters he faced.

Before Sunday night’s game began, I thought, wow, these have been some fast games, at least for Yankees-Red Sox.  Clearly I spoke too soon, as this one went past midnight.  Neither starting pitcher was particularly good.  Hughes was awful, pulled in the third without recording an out.  Matsuzaka looked like the nibbler of last year rather than the in-command guy he’s been the past couple of starts.  I wonder if the unpleasantly cold weather last night threw him off of his game.  Sometimes you just can’t get comfortable.

So despite being treated to a maddeningly slow outing from Dice-K (more than two hours to go five innings, a staggering 116 pitches), he managed to keep the Yankees at bay.  With Papelbon and Okajima needing the night off, and David Ortiz getting a rest as well, I was really hoping for more from Dice-K.  But David Aardsma–that’s right, the guy who I still can’t figure out how he made the team–got through a few batters, and when Timlin proved ineffective, the normally frustrating Javier Lopez somehow managed his way through 1 1/3 scoreless innings.  Manny Delcarmen came on for what was technically not a save situation, but performed brilliantly, finally bringing the game to a close.

Sox win the weekend series, 2-1.  Off to Cleveland we go for two days, before a two day return engagement in the Bronx… 


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