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Monthly Archives: October 2004

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ALCS Game Five: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4 (14 Innings)

“As Balzac said, ‘There goes another novel.’” Alvy Singer.

The Red Sox proved why they are a tremendous team. They had calls go against them but their bullpen was terrific again and David Ortiz won the game with a bloop single to center in the bottom of the 14th. It came off of Esteban Loaiza who pitched tremendously for the Yanks. Ortiz’s game-winning at-bat is one for the ages. The Yanks could not score a clutch hit, and the bullpen blew a 4-2 eighth inning lead. In all, it was a thrilling game. Exactly what we’ve come to expect from these two teams. Rest up good, the series returns to the Bronx tomorrow night. This one is a long way from over.

ALCS GAME FOUR: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12 Innings)

Idiot’s Delight

The Yankees were three outs away from returing to the World Serious. But the Red Sox were not about to go down without a fight. For the second time this October, and only the fourth time in his career, Mariano Rivera blew a save. After pitching a scoreless eighth inning, Rivera walked Kevin Millar on five pitches to start the ninth. Dave Roberts pinch-ran for Millar and Rivera threw to first base three times before throwing another pitch. No matter, Roberts broke for second on Rivera’s first pitch to Bill Mueller and safely swiped second base. The throw from Jorge Posada was on the third base side of the bag; a perfect throw may have gotten him. Mueller then knocked a single to center and the game was tied at four. Rivera would work out of a bases-loaded jam, but after scratching together two runs on softly hit ground balls against Mike Timlin in the sixth inning, the Yankee offense was shut-down by Boston’s bullpen. They had their opportunities (Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams both were unable to get a key two-out hit with the bases juiced). Finally, David Ortiz ended it with a two-run dinger off of Paul Quantrill in the bottom of the 12th.

Wake up the kids, the Red Sox refused to go out like chumps. It was a tough loss for the Yankees. Fortunately, they had a three-game cushion. That’s about the only good thing about it. Game Five is start late this afternoon at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez will go against Mike Mussina. Should Boston manage to win, the series will return to New York, where anything can still happen.

Game Four: Open Thread

The Sox have their backs up against the wall tonight. They need to win in order to continue their season. El Duque Hernandez hasn’t pitched in weeks but hopes to shut Boston down and send New York back to the World Serious. Derek Lowe goes for the Sox. Feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section below. Enjoy the game.

ALCS Game Three: Yankees 19, Red Sox 8

Bomb Squad Buries Boston

It was cold and rainy late yesterday afternoon in Manhattan when Emily and I arrived at the Colony Club on Park Avenue to attend the wedding of Emís cousin. The Colony Club, one of the oldest private clubs in New York. Man, I never thought Iíd be in an exclusive place like that, unless I was working in the kitchen or delivering flowers. The Colony Club is on northwest corner of Park avenue and 63rd street, directly across the street from where Woody Allen used to edit his movies. I worked for Allen for six months in the mid-90s and hadnít been back to that neck of Manhattan more than once or twice since. What made the experience inherently weird is that Emís direct family is so unpretentious that you’d never expect to see them at a place like the Colony Club.

I borrowed my cousin Scottís tux, and made like the good boyfriend that I am. (Is it cruel or just unusual to mention that Scott is a die-hard Sox fan?) Emily was pleased because she doesnít get to see her family too often, and sheís fond of a few of her cousins. The rest of the scene was good for laughs, as there was plenty of fodder for jokes. Most all of the women had huge rocks on their fingers, and their husbands either looked like zhlubby accountants or the kind of rugged, handsome scoundrels you see on the Lifetime network. During the ceremony, I looked around the room and was reminded of those grotesque audience shots from Woody Allenís “Broadway Danny Rose,” and “Stardust Memories,” (which he lifted from Frederico Fellini). Here is part of a conversation I overheard between two women moments before the bride walked down the isle:

First Lady: So he refuses to buy a Rolex. He says it’s just a waste of money. But then he goes around and buys a Bentley. So I say, what’s the difference?

Second Lady: He’s so full of it.

First Lady: Well, he says, ‘You know, you can get a decent watch for $500. A Bentley is luxurious.’

Second Lady: Really.

First Lady: But what are you paying for a Bentley? He tells me $165,000 dollars.

Second Lady: Don’t you believe it.

First Lady: For a quarter of that price he can have a Lexus which is just as luxurious and comfortable. But then he tells me, “‘People notice you in a Bentley, and not in a Lexus. They notice a Bentley. They can’t even see a Rolex.’

Second Lady: He does have a point.

It was that kind of crowd. The bride seemed genuine, and happy but the affair was an exercise in excess. The whole thing left me feeling melancholy. Fortunately, Em was having a good time and thatís all that mattered.

At one point, I heard a curly-headed Yankee fanatic sitting at the next table say, “Six-six, third inning.” What? Man, I was trying avoid hearing anything about the game. Itís only the third inning. Itís almost 10:00. Awww man, here we go again. I told the guy only to give me updates if there was good news. Needless to say, I heard nothing but happy reports from then on out.

We got back to our place in the Bronx in time to watch the bottom of the ninth. The fans who remained had their hats turned inside out, and most of them were smiling. (Got to laugh to keep from crying at that point.) Those are true fans I thought. I only got to see the highlights, but it seemed like a horrible game to watch from an aesthetic point of view. Of course, I canít complain because the Yanks now have a 3-0 lead. The offensive numbers for New York’s middle of the order are staggering:

Alex Rodriguez, 3-5, 5 runs scored, 3 RBI; Gary Sheffield, 4-5, 3 runs scored, 4 RBI; Godzilla Matsui, 5-6, 5 runs scored, 5 RBI, Bernie Williams, 4-6, 1 run scored, 3 RBI.

So while I canít offer any analysis of the game, here is some of the media reaction: Larry Mahnken, Edward Cossette, The Soxaholix are the only bloggers up early this morning. But the mainstream media had plenty of time time before the end of the game to file their stories. Check out the latest from:

Bob Hohler, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Jackie MacMullen, Tyler Kepner, Jack Curry, Bill Madden, Mike Lupica, and John Harper.

El Duque Hernandez will start for the Yankees tonight; Derek Lowe goes for Boston. Let’s Go Yank-ees.

Game Three: Open Thread

Warshed Out

There was rain but no baseball in Boston on Friday night. Thankfully, the good people at Major League Baseball didn’t attempt to get the game in. Fenway Park has an antiquated drainage system but hopefully the field will be in decent shape tonight. Game Three will be made up on Monday. The question is, which team benefits more from the rain out? Ahhh, you tell me. An extra day of rest just can’t be bad for Kevin Brown and El Duque. Curt Schilling had a bullpen session yesterday and obviously will try to get in another start should the series return to New York. In addition, now Pedro Martinez can pitch Monday on full-rest. No changes have been announced, but I would expect to see Mike Mussina pitch on Sunday and El Duque go against Pedro Martinez, and not Derek Lowe, on Monday if necessary.

I’m going to miss the first part of the game tonight on the count of a wedding. For real. One of Emily’s cousins is getting hitched and there is no way out, I gotta go. But it’s not a big deal. It should be funny. We’ve got to get all decked out in the fine threads; the wedding is being held at some snooty-ass joint on Park avenue. It starts in the early evening so I figure we’ll catch the last couple of innings in the car on the way home. Since I won’t be around to watch–though I’ll most likely tape it–I’d sure appreciate it if y’all you could leave me your thoughts, impressions, and all of the gory details.

Go Yanks.

Series Moves to Boston, Sox Hope to Rain on Yankees’ Parade

Rain is in the forecast for tonight up in Boston. Terry Francona announced yesterday that Curt Schilling will not pitch Game 5, so the press is playing it like the Red Sox are hoping for Game Three to be rained out. But even should that occur, who knows how Schilling would perform should he pitch again in this series? As for Game 3, Bronson Arroyo will start against Kevin Brown. The Yankees are acutely aware of how important it is to win this game. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

[The Yankees] are confident, but hardly complacent.

“We don’t know that we’re going to find a way to win,” said [Mike] Mussina, who retired the first 19 batters in Game 1. “That’s taking something for granted. The last thing we’re going to do is take something for granted.

“Even now, we won the first two games, but that doesn’t mean anything. They win the first game up here, and all of a sudden, it’s a whole new series again.”

That is why the Yankees will approach Game 3 on Friday with the urgency of an underdog – which they were, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, when the series began. Mussina said the players were aware that no team in baseball history has lost a postseason series after winning the first three games.

“The difference between 2-1 and 3-0 is immense in a seven-game series,” Mussina said. “Immense.”

I’m remaining cautiously optimistic. But one thing that makes me feel better is knowing that the Yankees don’t take anything for granted. They know the deal. But yo, remember how I wrote about trying to enjoy this series a few days ago? Time to get a shrink. I’m more nervous now than I’ve been at any point this season. I won’t elaborate because regular readers don’t want to hear my fatalistic spiel anymore.

I’ll leave it at this: Let’s Go Yankees! (I’ll be hiding behind the couch, biting my nails, hoping for the best and bracing myself for the worst…what can I say, make jokes if you want, I’m incorrigible.)

ALCS Game Two: Yanks 3, Red Sox 1

As expected, Pedro Martinez pitched his heart out at Yankee Stadium last night. After struggling with his control early, he displayed his trademark toughness, setting the Yankees down with a mid-90s fastball, and a devastating change up. But Jon Lieber, the quiet man on the Yankees starting staff, was even better, shutting the Red Sox out through seven innings. He allowed a base runner to start the eighth (who would eventually score) but otherwise both bullpens were perfect. It was a lean, tense game, which the Yankees won 3-1. The series now moves north to Boston for three games this weekend.

Martinezís stuff looked good in the first inning, but it took a few batters before he could harness it. With his stringy hair hanging out of his cap like a raggy mop or month-old Christmas tinsel, Martinez walked Derek Jeter on four pitches, all fastballs, to start the game. Jeter took off for second on Pedroís first pitch to Alex Rodriguez. It was a breaking ball and Jason Varitek made a perfect throw to the second base side of the bag. Mark Bellhorn reached back for it as Jeter slid into the tag, and the ball popped out of his glove. Jeter would have been out easily; instead he was standing on second. Rodriguez worked the count to 2-2 and then was grazed on the wrist by an inside fastball. Gary Sheffield swung at the first pitch and lofted a liner to center. The ball hung in the air long enough for Jeter to pause several times. But when it fell in safely, Jeter still had plenty of time to score. (The only person on either team with a worse throwing arm than Johnny Damon is Bernie Williams.)

Runners on first and second and nobody out. The class acts at the Stadium started to roar, “Whoís Your Daddy?” This wasnít a small chant by a group of yahoos; it a pronouced Stadium-wide effort, which came across loud and crystal clear over the TV. Martinez gathered himself and struck Hideki Matsui out looking with a fastball over the inside corner. Next, he got Bernie Williams looking on a 2-2 breaking ball over the outside corner. Both strike out pitches were just nasty. Jorge Posada grounded out weakly to second to end the inning, and Martinez escaped relatively unscathed. Again, his pitches were good, but he didnít have any rhythm. Jason Varitek visited the mound four times. The Fox announcers were all over the Red Sox, but they figured the reasoning behind it was that Boston suspected that once a base runner was on second, the Yankees were tipping the hitters off as to the location of Martinezís pitches.

Meanwhile, Jon Lieber breezed through the Red Sox in the first two innings. With two out in the first, Lieber got ahead of Manny Ramirez, 0-2. He threw a pitch way up and in and Ramirez dropped his bat with disdain. But Lieber had set him up perfectly, and got Manny to wave at the next pitch, a slider dipping low and out of the strike zone. David Ortiz walked to start the second but Lieber needed only six pitches to retire Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek.

The Yankees continued to make Martinez work in the second. John Olerud ground out sharply to Mark Bellhorn before Miguel Cairo worked a walk. Kenny Lofton swung at a fat, first ball fastball, and lined a single into center field. Martinez fell behind Jeter 2-0 but got him to fly out to Damon for the second out; Cairo moved to third. With Alex Rodriguez at the plate, Kenny Lofton took off on the first pitch, which was fouled off. After a ball, Martinez pulled the old fake-to-third, look-to-first move, which came dangerously close to being a balk. He pulled the move again during the at-bat and threw to first once too. Rodriguez worked the count full and the Stadium stood and roared. But Martinez buckled Rodriguezís knees with a back-door breaking ball for strike three. Whoís Your Daddy, indeed. Sit down New York.

The next two innings moved along quickly. Orlando Cabrera singled off of Lieber to start the third but and moved to third on two ground outs but was left stranded when Bellhorn lined to center to end the inning. David Ortiz just got under a pitch with one out in the fourth; instead of a game-tying dinger, he launched a sky-high pop out to Cairo in shallow right field. Martinez worked a perfect third, now starting the hitters off with his off-speed pitch, and after a walk to Posada to start the fourth, retired Olerud, Cairo and Lofton easily. He blew Lofton away and the two players glared at each other.

Boston went down in order in the fifth. After five innings, Lieber had thrown just 45 pitches. After Jeter grounded out, Alex Rodriguez tapped a change up on the outside part of the plate toward third and beat it out for an infield hit. Martinez, using a slide-step delivery, left a breaking ball over the heart of the plate on his first pitch to Gary Sheffield, who fouled it back. It was a pitch to crush and he missed it. The count went to 2-2 and Sheffield fouled off a good change up, low and away, barely staying alive. Martinez then blew a fastball past him for the strike out. Oh, baby. It was right in Sheffís kitchen too. Beautiful stuff. Matsui put forth a tough at bat and worked the count full but was frozen by another back-door breaking ball, called strike three.

Both pitchers were in fine form, but the biggest difference in the game was that the Yankee hitters were making Martinez work much harder. That changed with one out in the fifth when Johnny Damon finally made Lieber sweat a little bit. Damon had a terrible night against Mussina and hadnít looked much better early on against Lieber. He fell behind quickly but then started fouling pitches off like crazy. The count went full and on the fifteenth pitch of the at-bat, Damon hit a low line drive to center field. It appeared as if Bernie Williams temporarily lost sight of the ball in the lights but he stood his ground and made the catch. Was this the moment Boston had been waiting for? Would Lieber be spent? Mark Bellhorn worked the count full and whiffed on a slider in the dirt that would have been ball four.

Pedro Martinez reached the 100-pitch mark with one out in the bottom of the sixth. It was a ball to Jorge Posada, who would eventually walk. Pedro got ahead of John Olerud with a change up and then a fastball on the outside corner. Jason Varitek set up outside again, but Martinezís fastball tailed back inside and Olerud, with his short, level swing, lined a home run over the short, right field porch in right to make the score 3-0 Yankees. It was the 106th pitch of night for Martinez. Miguel Cairo put together a pesky at-bat before striking out and Lofton popped out to Bill Mueller to end the inning. Exit Martinez.

The heart of Bostonís order came to bat in the seventh. Manny Ramirez grounded out to Jeter and then David Ortiz smacked a single to right. Lieber got ahead of Kevin Millar 1-2, and escaped any trouble by inducing the bearded-one to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Mike Timlin and Alan Embree each allowed a hit in the bottom of the inning but the Yankees did not score. Lieber came back in the eighth and promptly served up a single to Trot Nixon. And that was it for him. Flash Gordon replaced Lieber and looked far from crisp against Jason Varitek who worked the count full. Gordon threw a tits-high fastball that the Boston catcher ripped into right center field for a double. But Nixon, who suffered with leg injuries this year, was not running on the pitch and was only able to reach third. For the second straight night the Yankee starters held Boston down for the first part of the game and now the Red Sox were threatening again. Cabrera grounded out to Jeter and Nixon scored. Mueller grounded out to Cairo and Varitek moved to third. That was all for Gordon. Joe Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch to Damon. Riveraís first three pitches to Damon were cut fastballs in on the hands. The first went for a ball, and Damon fouled the next two off. He fouled off a fastball that was out over the plate on the fourth pitch and then Rivera missed high with another heater. Posada slunk outside for the next pitch and Rivera hit his mitt, getting Damon looking on a fastball right over the outside corner of the plate. Unfair.

The Yankees threatened in the ninth but Keith Foulke got Alex Rodriguez to fly out to right field with the bases loaded to end the inning. Mark Bellhorn bounced a soft grounder to John Olerud for the first out in the bottom of the ninth and then Rivera quickly got ahead of Manny 0-2. The next two pitches were ball and then Rivera left a cutter up too high that Ramirez crushed into left field for a double. Ortiz, 7-13 lifetime vs. Rivera, followed and struck out on three pitches. Millar saw four pitches. He waved at the last one, a fastball, high and out of the zone, for strike three. Rivera had himself another save, and the Bombers had a 2-0 series lead.

This is a long way from over, especially with Brown, and the combination of Hernanez and Vazquez looming as big unknowns. Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield have faired well against the Yanks too. Things can change in a hurry. After all, this isn’t a 3-0 lead, it’s 2-0. Still, the Yankees have to be extremely pleased taking these two games. So long as they don’t get swept in Boston, they should be okay.

Game Two: Open Thread

Here’s another open forum for Yankee and Sox fans to leave their thoughts tonight before, during or after an important Game Two, which pits Pedro Martinez against Jon Lieber. Should be another tense ride. Try and enjoy.

Common Sense

Steven Goldman offered some sage and sobering thoughts on the ALCS yesterday in the latest edition of The Pinstriped Bible. I think they are worth sharing:

Though the American League Championship Series promises to be a highly diverting contest, bursting with great baseball play, compelling personalities, and high-pressure situations, enthusiasm cannot help but be dampened by the sure knowledge that some so-called fans will use this series and the anonymity granted by large crowds as an excuse to drink too much, say too much, and act badly out of over-identification with one team and unearned hostility towards the other.

Baseball: it’s just a game, not life and death. In the case of the Yankees and the Red Sox, it’s not even a game. It’s a spectator sport, which means except for a select 50 of us plus associated hangers-on, we’re watching, not playing. Nothing is happening to us that will change the course of our lives. Most of us will simply enjoy these games, but some will make them into Ken Caminiti and Christopher Reeve, and use that as an excuse to treat their fellow spectators and the players to abuse. Pity them, for they lack both perspective and humanity.

The rest of you, have a swell time. It should be fun to watch.

Right on.

ALCS Game One: Yankees 10, Red Sox 7

You didn’t think it was going to easy now did you? Well, okay, maybe Yankee fans were feeling pretty good about themselves with thoughts of a perfect game dancing in their heads as Mike Mussina started the seventh inning with an 8-0 lead. But before you could chant “Who’s Your Daddy?” the perfect game was lost and the Red Sox were alive. It took a clutch double by Bernie Williams and a four-out save by Mariano Rivera to finally kill Boston for the night, but the Sox threw some kind of scare into the Bronx along the way.

Which was to be expected. Although these two teams affect different aesthetic personalities, they have more in common than not on the field. Both offenses are resilient and relentless. The Sox mount a comeback and then the Yanks add some insurance runs of their own. How do you stop these teams? The Yankees came away with the win yesterday but it was by the skin of their teeth. Why wouldn’t this series go to the last inning of the seventh game again? It may not, but that’s at least how it feels with these two teams.

Curt Schilling was off his game and the Bombers got to him early. Unable to push off his ailing right ankle effectively, Schilling’s fastball was clocked in the high 80s instead of the mid 90s. With two out in the first inning, Schilling hung a 3-1 breaking pitch to Gary Sheffield which was lined into left for a double. He got ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2 and then Godzilla poked a good split-fingered fastball into left for an RBI double. Bernie Williams followed and smacked a first pitch fastball into center for an RBI single.

Schilling hung an 0-1 slider to Jeter to start the third, which went to center for a single. Alex Rodriguez reached on an infield single to shortstop and then Gary Sheffield walked. Schilling threw a fastball–was it a flat cutter?–to Matsui which was roped off the right field wall for a double. Trot Nixon slipped allowing Sheffield to score all the way from first. Sheffield threw threw an imaginary punch in the air and then chest-bumped Alex Rodriguez, clumsily knocking the helmet off his head in the process. Matsui would score on Jorge Posada’s sacrifice fly and Schilling did not return for the fourth inning. According to the Boston Globe:

“If I can’t go out there with something better than what I had today, I’m not going back out there,” he said. “This is not about me braving through something. This is about us and winning the world championship, and if I can’t give them better than I had today, I won’t take the ball again.”

Conversely, Mike Mussina was brilliant. His stuff was sharp and he kept the Red Sox guessing. In the top of the fourth, Mussina went to a full-count on the first two batters (Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn) and struck them both out looking; Damon on an inside fastaball, Bellhorn on a fastball away. He then froze Manny Ramirez with a breaking ball to get him looking too.

Curt Leskanic and Ramiro Mendoza worked the fourth and fifth respectively for Boston. Kenny Lofton led off the sixth with a solo home run off of Tim Wakefield. Derek Jeter followed–he would ground out to third–and the Yankee fans loudly cheered “Who’s Your Daddy?” Moving along, Johnny Damon struck out for the third time of the evening in the bottom of the seventh. At that moment the only tension in the game was whether or not Mussina could pull off the improbable perfect game. He got ahead of Bellhorn with fastballs 0-2 and then Bellhorn smacked an outside heater off the wall in left center field for a double. So much for perfection.

Manny Ramirez hit a first pitch curve ball to Jeter for the second out, and then it got exciting. David Ortiz fought off an inside curve ball to right for a single. Mel Stottlemyre came to the mound for a visit. Then Kevin Millar lined a double off of Matsui’s glove in left. The Yankee lead was 8-2. Matsui sprinted for Millar’s ball and got a glove on it. But he couldn’t hold on. The first pitch to Trot Nixon nailed Jorge Posada in the chest and scooted away, clearly a cross-up between Mussina and his catcher. Millar moved to third and scored when Nixon singled to center on the next pitch. So much for perfection, Mussina’s night was over.

Taynon Sturtze replaced him and threw two fastballs past Jason Varitek. Boston’s switch-hitting catcher was 0-36 at Yankee Stadium this year at that moment, but Sturtze got greedy and tried to muscle another fast ball past him. But it wasn’t high enough and Varitek pounded it over the right field fence for a two-run dinger. 8-5. The chanting ceased, the sweating commenced.

Tom Gordon came on in the eighth and Bill Mueller reached on an infield single. Miguel Cairo made a terrific diving stop to his left but couldn’t get the ball out of his glove smoothly to make a throw. Damon followed and whiffed for the fourth time of the night. Mark Bellhorn flew out to Matsui. Mariano Rivera, who didn’t arrive at the Stadium until after 8:00 p.m., started warming up. Manny Ramirez then fisted a breaking ball that was up and in into left for a bloop single. A great piece of hitting. Mueller advanced to third.

I figured Torre would go to Rivera to face the lefty Ortiz. So did the Fox announcers. But he stayed with Gordon who fell behind the “Cookie Monster” 2-0 and then 3-1. Ortiz then launced a long fly ball to the deepest part of left center field. It was a few feet short of a home run. Matsui tracked it down and then ran past the ball at the last moment. Looking like a backward elbow macaroni, Matsui reached for the ball which knocked off his glove. Two runs scored and Ortiz was reached third. It could have been a game-tying home run, it could have been the third out. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Enter Sandman. Rivera came on to pitch to Kevin Millar and promptly fell behind 2-0 before getting the burly first baseman to pop up to Jeter to end the inning. Yankee Stadium was officially shook. Who’s your daddy now? The hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin retired Derek Jeter to start the bottom of the eighth and then threw two fastballs past Alex Rodriguez. The next pitch was up and in and brushed Rodriguez back. After two balls that missed outside, Rodriguez lined a single into left. Timlin got ahead of Gary Sheffield and narrowly missed striking him out with a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner. Sheffield fouled a pitch off and then dumped a single to left. Timlin stayed in the game to pitch to Matsui, who had 5 RBI on the evening, and got him to pop up to short. But Bernie Williams shot line drive over Manny Ramirez’s out-stretched arm in left for a double, scoring two runs to give the Yankees a three-run cushion. Ramirez one-upped Matsui misplaying the ball.

In the ninth, Trot Nixon popped out to Jeter on Rivera’s first pitch. But Rivera left several pitches up in the zone to Jason Varitek who eventually singled hard to right. Cabrera bounced a single through the hole to left and suddenly Bill Mueller was at the plate representing the tying run with just one out. Yipe! He worked the count even at two, then Mueller hit a ground ball to Rivera who started the 1-6-3 double play. Exhale. Game over. The Yanks pound Schilling, Mussina was close to perfect, the Sox mount an impressive rally, neither bullpen was especially good, Rivera saves the day and the Yanks snake away with the victory.

Game One in the books. And they’re just getting warmed up. What’s next?

Game One: Open Thread

Red Sox fanatic Edward Cossette and I will have a running correspondence throughout the ALCS this year which will be posted at the all-baseball.com home page. Be sure to check it out. Part One is up this afternoon.

Im leaving an open thread for anyone to leave their thoughts and reactions to the game tonight. Red Sox fans are welcome to hang with the Yankee faithful here. Let’s just make an effort to keep it as civil as possible and may the best team win. (In addition, I’m going to be posting later than normal tomorrow, most likely not until noon. For game recaps I suggest checking out the nighthawks, Larry Mahnken, Steve Bonner and Cliff Corcoran.)

Whatta Ya Hear, Whatta ya Say?

I asked several writers for their thoughts or feelings about the ALCS between the Yanks and Sox. Here is what they had to say:

Allen Barra (author of “Brushbacks and Knockdowns”):

Like many of my colleagues, I feel the Yankees are going to win, though no amount of analysis is going to tell me exactly how. That’s because no amount of analysis has given me a satisfactory answer as to how the Yankees came up with the best record in the American League this year and how they are currently just four wins away from the World Series.
After the lost of their best hitter, Giambi, and then the breakdown of the pitching staff, I must have said at least fifteen times during the second half of the season and through the playoffs that “If they don’t win this game, that’s it.” I said it three more times against the Twins, and each time they came back to win. I don’t get it, except to say that this team probably had more heart than anyone has given it credit for.
On the practical side, there is no reason why Mussina pitching at home can’t cancel out Schilling. Or for that matter, Lieber pitching at home can’t beat Pedro — who most certainly did not pitch the game against the Angels that the TV commentators were saying he pitched. (There were at least four times when a single pitch gone the other way could have knocked him out of the box.) By my count that now gives him five unimpressive starts in a row. The big X factors are El Duque’s tired arm and Kevin Brown’s sore back in Boston.
Two things. First, it is absolutely ridiculous the way commentators have taken the loss of Nomar and the acquisition of Cabrera and what’s-his-name at first base as what turned the Red Sox around. A bunch of other guys simply got hot is what happened. The defensive difference at shortstop is slight, to say the least, and there are two holes in the Sox batting order now that can be exploited. Second, I have no idea how Mariano Rivera’s loss will affect his pitching. I suspect not at all. Most professionals tend to hunker down and play better after moments of great tragedy. But that is all rather beside the point. What happened to his family members is of far greater import on any human scale than a baseball game, and I think it’s rather vulgar for all of us to speculate, so I’ll stop.

Howard Bryant (Boston Herald columnist, author of “Shut Out”):

Sox in five. And no, this is not a joke.

Daniel Habib (baseball writer, Sports Illustrated):

OK, deep breath: Predicting the outcome of this series is an exercise in hubris. Over the past two seasons, they’ve been so evenly matched it’s hard to imagine anything other than seven tight games, and seven between these two would be so fraught with potential for luck, happenstance, etc., that honestly, I might as well toss a coin. That’s how closely I feel the Sox and Yanks match up. However: I’m going to hang my hat on Schilling, because he owns the Yankees in October. If he’s healthy, my gut tells me he’ll pitch in at least three games, impacting each one, and that will be the difference.

Pat Jordan (author of “A Nice Tuesday”):

The Twins were intimidated by Yankee glory. Too bad. Now, perennial losers Red Sox will self-destruct, too.

King Kaufman (columnist salon.com):

My gut feeling is that the Red Sox are going to take them this time. I think they’re a much better team with the Twins, especially the way the Twins diluted Johan Santana by using him on short rest. I know Beckett made me look bad for saying it was a mistake to pitch him on short rest in Game 6 last year, but I still think it’s generally bad news to take a guy — particularly a young one — whose spent the whole year, and probably his whole career, pitching on four days’ rest and throw him in on three days’ rest in the most important game of the year. But I digress. I think the Big Two are an advantage, Rivera has lost a little of his invincible sheen, and the Sox can just slug and slug. It’s going to be a tight one, I think, and a Yankees win wouldn’t surprise me — it never does. But I’m picking the Red Sox by a whisker.

Michael Lewis (author of “Moneyball”):

None, except I’ll bet if they [Boston] win the World Series Theo [Epstein] will downplay the role of sabermetrics.

Buster Olney (author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty):

I have no credibility with predictions at this point. I chose the Cubs to win the World Series before the season started, and I picked Anaheim to win the ALCS at the start of the post-season. So I will qualify everything:

The Red Sox will win if:
1. Pedro is effective against the Yankees.
2. The Boston starters pitch long enough to limit the responsibility of the Red Sox middle relief, which is weak.
3. Kevin Millar doesn’t kill Boston with a series of atrocious screw-ups at first base.

The Yankees will win if:
1. Kevin Brown pitches effectively and doesn’t attack any more walls.
2. They drive up the pitch count of Schilling and Pedro and get into the Boston bullpen during the sixth innings.
3. A-Rod continues to thrive in the spotlight of New York (and so far, even cynics like myself have to give him lots of credit).

Dayn Perry (columnist Fox Sports.com/Baseball Prospectus):

The consensus is that Boston is better equipped to win it. That may be true, but I think it’s too close to call. I think the fact that both teams will use four-man rotations will benefit the Yankees. Schilling and Pedro > Mussina and Lieber, but I like the back end of the Yanks’ rotation, even in disrepair, better than Arroyo and Wakefield. It’ll be critical for the Yanks to show up in Fenway when they have the Brown v. Arroyo and Vazquez v. Wakefield matchups (Or Orlando
Hernandez, if the Yankees decide he’s healthy enough to start Game 4). I think the series will ride on the Yanks’ ability to win Games 3 and 4. If they do that, they’ll win the series, I think.

Alan Schwarz (Baseball America/ESPN columnist and author “The Numbers Game”):

I will offer you the same prediction that Clubber Lang had for his first match up with Rocky: “PAIN.”

Glenn Stout (author of Red Sox, Yankee and most recently Dodger Century):

Everything is lined up for the Red Sox to win. For once, their pitching staff is rested and the starters they want are all in a line. They also seem to have successfully addressed the weaknesses that have long plagued Red Sox teams–not enough pitching, defense, speed and depth, although I think there are still some holes in the defense–itís almost a guarantee that Ramirez will botch at least one routine fly ball and that someone will run on Damon and score a run they shouldnít, but all in all, much improved. On the other hand, the Yankees seem beatable, particularly given the possible loss of Rivera and the unavailability of El Duque. Add it up in any logical fashion and Boston should win, perhaps even easily.

Maybe thatís why I think they wonít. Riveraís loss give the Yankees that cheesy but nevertheless effective jolt of “us against them,” underdog status, A-Rod and Jeter appear to be playing an internal game of “top this,” and vets like Bernie Williams seem determined to give one last demonstration that he can still play. Meanwhile the Red Sox, for the first time, suffer from the “expectation of victory” premise and for a team that over the year has shown a propensity to blow hot and cold, theyíve had to sit around for a few dayshard for hitters to stay in a groove.

Two more things tip the Yankees way. Torre has a big edge over Francona. The Yankees, not the Red Sox, have won an awful lot of games they should have lost this year and Torre is much the reason. Granted, he probably has more tools at his disposal, but he knows how to use them. And the home field advantage of Yankee Stadium is enormous this time of year. Iíve long held to the “big ballpark theory” in the post season. Historically, over the past decade or so, teams that play in larger ballparks not only tend to reach the post season but to defeat those teams that play in smaller parks. I donít know whyperhaps random acts of chaos take place more frequently in smaller parksbut it seems to happen nearly every year.

So while I wouldnít be surprised to see the Red Sox win in about five, a little voice, maybe history, tells me that wonít happen. If NY steals a game pitched by Schilling, it starts to tilt their way. Besides, way too many books are already being written in anticipation of a Boston world championship, and thatís usually the kiss of death. And like last year, I think that whoever wins this Series may be too gassed to win the World Series. So for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, this series may mark the effective end of their season. Thatís what everyone is hoping for everywhere else. Because for the rest of the country, there are two “evil empires.”

Previewitis

Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken have kept tabs on the Yankee-Red Sox feud all season long over at The Hardball Times with their column called “Rivals in Exhile.” (The reason for the title is that they both live in Rochester, New York.) Be sure to check out what they’ve got to say as the ALCS unfolds. And while you are at it, peep Mahnken’s separate preview–a study in objectivity–as well as Aaron Gleeman’s analysis.

For more predictions and pre-game hype, head on over to Baseball Think Factory’s “Newsstand,” for links to all of the papers in Boston and New York. I perused the New York papers this morning and came away uninspired. (The one bit of significant news is that Mariano Rivera is scheduled to return and be available to pitch in Game One.) The tabloids are pumping up the “Curse” nonsense, George Vecsey wants the Red Sox to win, Dave Anderson has obligatory piece about Washington Heights’ favorite son, etc. You know the routine.

Game time can’t come soon enough.

Whatchu Grinnin at?

Here I is, a heppy ket, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx last Saturday, just hours before the Yankees beat the Twins to win the ALDS. Emily, Alex Ciepley and I grabbed some great food, and I just had to get a photo in front of this old-timey candy store. Fortunately, you can take pictures with your telephone these days. At least Alex C can:

Here’s a cock-eyed close up featuring a busted-ass smile:

Seltzer, seltzer. A malted, maybe?

Calm Before the Storm

Standing on the downtown platform of the 231rst street station this morning I read the news about Mariano Rivera’s two relatives who were electrocuted over the weekend. Rivera joined his family in Panama yesterday but is expected back in the Bronx tomorrow night. It is officially cold here in New York. Looking up from the paper, the sun had yet to rise over the eastern skyline. Small clouds littered the blue sky and they were moving south quickly. The sun reflected through these clouds, coloring them orange and then yellow. It was a striking sight. I wished I had remembered my scarf.

I leafed through the Post and the News on the train ride to work to learn that along with Rivera’s tragedy, Christopher Reeve and Ken Caminiti died this weekend. Of course, the Yankee-Red Sox hype has begun, but I just couldn’t get juiced up about it. When I got out of the subway at 50th street, I noticed that the fruit cart which is positioned at the top of the subway steps was gone. Maybe it’s because today is a holiday, or maybe it’s finally time to pack up shop for the winter. Either way, it’s a somber start to the week around these parts.

It will surely pick up tomorrow night uptown when Curt Schilling starts for the Sox against Mike Mussina and the Bombers. I know there are segments of Yankee fans and Red Sox Nation who couldn’t be more amped for this confrontation. But as was noted in the comments section here a few weeks ago, there are also Yankee and Sox fans who are ennervated by the match-up. What do you feel? Any predictions? For what it’s worth, my gut tells me that the Sox could steam roll the Yanks in five games, but if it goes to six or seven, the Yankees should prevail. I think the Yanks could swipe Game One tomorrow, and that Pedro will pitch a whale of game on Wednesday. Irregardless, as they say in the Bronx, may the best team win.

ALDS Game Four: Yankees 6, Twins 5

Moving On Up

It doesn’t ever get old, it doesn’t ever get boring. Down 5-1 to start the eighth inning in Minnesota yesterday, the Yankees rallied against Juan Rincon to tie the game and eventually put the Twins to sleep for the year in extra innings to advance to the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Emily and I were entertaining some friends: Jay Jaffe and his lady, Alex Ciepley and two of our dearest friends Lizzie Bottoms and her husband Andrew. Watching baseball with a group of people makes it harder to retain the details of the game. There is all sorts of conversation happening and I like to enjoy the company regardless of what’s happening on the field. Which is not to say that we weren’t paying close attention. There was a great, hushed tension in the room during the late innings when the score was tied.

Alex C was the lone voice of support for the Twins. When Lew Ford broke the game open with a two-run double, he was a happy man. And then when Esteban Loaiza relieved Javier Vazquez, Jay said that the Yankees were all but sending up the white flag. The game plodded along, Loaiza wasn’t sharp but he didn’t allow any runs either. “We’ve got em right where we want em,” I said several times.
Little did I know how it would pan out. Johan Santana threw a decent amount of pitches but was pulled after just five innings of work. With the season on the line, why so early? I don’t know but Grant Balfour mowed the Bombers down and so it didn’t seem like a point worth persuing. But New York mounted a rally in the eighth inning. A good three batters before the decisive blow, Alex C said, “Ruben Sierra is going to tie this game.”
And sure enough he did. Sierra couldn’t catch up with Rincon’s fastball, but he connected with a hanging slider, knocking a three-run dinger to right-center field which tied the game. Tom Gordon pitched two scoreless innings and Mariano Rivera did the same.

Alex Rodriguez lead off the bottom of the ninth with a double in the left field gap off of Joe Nathan, virtually a carbon copy of his game-tying double off Nathan in Game Two. But the Yankees couldn’t get him home. Gary Sheffield went 1-6, Jorge Posada was 0-5, and Mr. Teflon, Derek Jeter was 1-6 with four strike outs. Rodriguez doubled down the left field line with one out in the eleventh off of Kyle Loshe. He proceeded to steal third base, without drawing a throw from Pat Borders, who replaced Henry “Home Run” Blanco. The Twins continued to pitch to Sheffield. But Loshe threw a breaking ball in the dirt which Borders couldn’t handle. The ball skipped away and Rodriguez scored standing up. Loshe retired Sheffield and Matsui, and then Mariano retired the Twins in order to give the Yankees another big win.
It was a great series for the Yankees. Curiously, the post-game celebration was disrupted by a personal issue concerning Mariano Rivera. The details were sketchy but something sure kept the party subdued.
I was geeked up last night unable to fully enjoy what had happened, because I was already fretting about the Boston series. Surely, the Yankees have their hands full with this Red Sox team. The New Yorkers may actually be underdogs this time round, figure that. Regular readers of Bronx Banter know that I’m a pessimist by nature, and am always waiting for the Sox to finally overwhelm the Yankees when it counts. And it’s not hard to rationalize why Boston will defeat New York this year. But while Boston may be the superior team right now–mainly due to Mr. Schilling, and a relentless PS2 offense–it would be silly to over-look the Yankees. They’ve been so tough, and such a rewarding team to follow this year, I’ve just got to have faith in them, warts (pitching staff) and all.
And regardless of what happens starting Tuesday night, it would be a shame if I didn’t spend a majority of my day soaking in what the Yankees accomplished against Minnesota. More terrific memories for us Yankee fans who have been spoiled with dozens of such victorious moments since 1995. It’s a sunny, crisp day in New York. And it’s a good time to be a Yankee fan. Am I right or am I right?

ALDS Game Three: Yanks 8, Twins 4

The Yankees took a 2-1 series lead last night behind a strong six innings from Kevin Brown. The offense put the game away the middle innings; every Yankee had a hit with the exception of Alex Rodriguez, who went 0-4. Derek Jeter went 3-5 with 3 RBI, Gary Sheffield had two hits and smoked the ball every time up (save his first trip), and Bernie Williams lined a two-run homer which helped break the game open. Paul Quanrill pitched very well in relief. The only downer for the Yankees was that Mariano Rivera had to enter the game to record the final three outs.

Felix Heredia, who relieved Quantrill to get the final out of the eighth, started the ninth by hitting Corey Koskie and Lew Ford. Tanyon Sturtze replaced him and gave up an infield hit to Christian Guzman–his third such hit of the night–which loaded the bases. Michael Cuddyer lined sharply to center scoring Koskie. The score was 8-2 and Torre brought Rivera in. Mariano retired all three men he faced, with two inconsequential runs scoring in the process. After the game, Torre was more upset about having used Sturtze–who won’t be available today–than Rivera. Anyhow, it was a cruddy way to end a solid win, a real buzz kill.

It was far from the thriller that we witnessed in Game Two, but hey, a win is a win. Without jumping ahead of ourselves, it was a game the Yanks needed. Jacque Jones hit a solo home run in the first off of Brown, but the Yankees came back in the second with five straight two-out singles off of Carlos Silva to jump ahead 3-1. Several of the hits were bloops (Cairo, Lofton), and two others (Olerud, Jeter) were a result of turf field. After Bernie launched his line-drive homer (on a hit-and-run play of all things) in the sixth, Derek Jeter came up with a two-out, two-run single.

Torii Hunter lead off the bottom of the inning and dumped a double into left field. Hideki Matsui botched the play and the ball kicked off his back foot. Hunter gambled and continued on to third. But Matsui was able to recover and throw him out. It was not a smart play considering the situation. After Justin Morneau flied out to Godzilla for the second out, Corey Koskie lined a base hit into left center field. He tested Bernie Williams, which has become standard practice for the League, but Bernie made a perfect throw to second to nail Koskie for the third out.

It was just one of those nights for the Twins. And it got worse in the top of the seventh when Hunter characteristically tracked down a long line drive by Matsui on the warning track. Hunter had the ball in his glove as he crashed into the outfield wall. But he could not hang on to it, and the ball bounced out of his mitt, over the fence for a home run. That pretty much said it all for the Twins, who look to their ace, Johnan Santana, pitching on three-days rest, to keep their season alive later today.

It may be tempting for the Yankees, and their fans, to gear up for the Boston Red Sox, who completed a sweep of the Angels in style yesterday. But should Minnesota win today, anything can happen in New York tomorrow night. Red Sox Nation is flying high, their confidence is soaring, and they would like nothing more than to trample the Yanks on their way to the World Serious. They have until Tuesday night to soak up the good vibes. Their rotation will be set up exactly how they want it. Then all they need to do is go out and win the eight biggest games in franchise history.

And Another Thing

I talked to a lot of people yesterday about the final play of Wednesday night’s Game Two between the Yanks and Twins. Here is Joe Sheehan’s salient take from his latest column for Baseball Prospectus:

The final play of the game has been the subject of a lot of debate, with the consensus being that Jacque Jones screwed up. I don’t know that it’s so easy to grill him. Upon catching Hideki Matsui’s line drive, Jones was on his heels. He appeared to focus more on getting rid of the ball quickly rather than making a good throw, and as such becomes the first player in history to be criticized for hitting the cutoff man.

It’s a split-second choice–set up for a good throw or just fire–and I don’t know that I can ride Jones for the decision he made. What we do know is that Jeter made his own decision, to put his head down and run. That, as much as Jones’ poor throw, was the key part of the game-ending play. It’s not easy to score from third on a fly ball to right field in Yankee Stadium. Jeter did, displaying the excellent baserunning skills that are a hallmark of his game.

Stand and Deliver…Pretty Please

In case you hadn’t noticed–and I know that you have–the Red Sox are creaming the Angels. The series moves to Beantown this weekend with the Sox up 2-0. New York Times columnist George Vecsey is ready to see this Boston team go all the way and win a championship:

I know they’re trying. Let’s make it clear that these current Sox have very little to do with the past. Every year is different. Last year, Kevin Millar introduced the cowboy-up theme. This year, Johnny Damon has pronounced the Red Sox to no longer be cowboys but idiots.
Fine. Whatever it takes. These 2004 Sox need to do away with all those failures and fumbles committed by other people in other decades, other centuries. Give us all a break.

They need to do it not only for the so-called Red Sox Nation but also for baseball fans out there in America who have taken on the Sox as some kind of auxiliary cause.

…In my early childhood, I was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with charismatic, skilled legends at almost every position. From 1946 through 1954, we ultimately experienced terrible pain every autumn.

Our suffering seemed like forever. In reality, it was only nine years. In 1955, the Boys of Summer won a World Series. Just one. I can still hear the bells chiming all over Brooklyn. The Sox haven’t won a World Series since 1918.

Might I suggest they are overdue?

Please, somebody, cowboy or idiot, star or sub, please take everybody – even those of us who observe from an emotional distance – out of this ancient misery.

What’s All the Hubbub, Bub?

There are articles in the New York papers this morning about Kevin Brown and some about Alex Rodriguez, but as usual there are more about Derek Jeter than anyone else. Like him or not, nobody captures sportwriter’s fancy more than the Yankee captain come October. While it may seem difficult to get an objective opinion on Jeter in New York, may I offer the following piece by fellow All-Baseball.com writer, and native Californian, Rich Lederer.

The Man Some Love to Love and Others Love to Hate

By Rich Lederer

Derek Jeter? I have no reason to like him, and I have no reason to dislike him. I’m not a Yankee fan by any means, but I’m not a Yankee hater either. What I am is a baseball fan.
I also pride myself on being non-partisan when it comes to evaluating, comparing, and ranking players. I believe statistics can tell us a lot about a player’s value, but I don’t subscribe to the theory that numbers can tell us everything.
Look, I’m not here to make excuses for Derek Jeter. His numbers stack up with the very best shortstops in the game today, and he is on pace to rack up career totals that will likely place him among the top ten at his position in almost every important category by the time he retires.
You want numbers? OK, try this on for size. Jeter was one of just four players this year to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases at a success rate of 85% or better. (Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, and teammate Alex Rodriguez were the others.) Only 36 players in the history of baseball have put together such a combination of stats in a single season. Moreover, there are just eight players who can say they have performed this feat more than once.
Derek Sanderson Jeter is one of those elite eight. The others? How ’bout Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds, Eric Davis, Kirk Gibson, and Carlos Beltran. Not a bad list by any means, huh? However, did you notice something? Of the eight players, all but one was an outfielder. The lone exception? That *$%^!@# overrated Yankee shortstop!
I realize Jeter’s defense doesn’t measure up to his offensive production. But I don’t think it is quite as bad as his harshest critics in the sabermetric community would lead you to believe. Yes, he has a slow first step when moving to his left and, as such, covers less ground than the average shortstop. But he is also athletic and posseses a strong arm, and this combination makes up for some of his deficiencies. I think what annoys the studious fan is the fact that Jeter has a habit of making easy plays hard and hard plays easy.
Jeter dives into the stands and catches foul balls and gets criticized. He catches pop flies over his head with his back to the infield and on the run and gets criticized. He sprints across the diamond, cuts off an errant throw, and tosses it to the catcher to nail a runner trying to score at a critical moment in a postseason game and his critics point to his low UZR.
On Wednesday, Jeter tags up from third and scores the winning run on a shallow line drive to right field in a situation in which at least half of the players in the majors would not have had the sense, the guts, or the speed to not only challenge the throw but to beat it. Where does that heads up play show up in the alphabet soup of stats?
The guy is a winner. He plays hard. He plays everyday. He has great instincts and smarts. He is well-liked by his teammates and respected by his opponents.
Finding fault in Jeter’s game is similar to finding fault with Ichiro Suzuki. Jeter can’t field and Suzuki can’t hit for power. Don’t mind the fact that Derek can hit for average, hit for power, and steal bases. Forget the fact that Ichiro can hit for a very high average, steal bases, and field and throw with the best of them. Let’s concentrate on what they can’t do rather than what they can do. It’s kind of like looking at the Mona Lisa and questioning the slight smile rather than the overall beauty and elegance of the portrait.

ALDS GAME TWO: Yanks 7, Twins 6 (12 Innings)

It’s difficult to avoid writing in tired old cliches when you write about sports. Though I’m acutely aware of this problem, I fall prey to the same old descriptions as much as the next guy. For example, how many times have you read, “The Yankees won in dramatic fashion,” this season? It may accurate, but after a while, it comes across as dull, unimaginative writing. Which is a shame because what you are trying to describe is anything but dull. So at the risk of being redundant, the Yankees actually did win in dramatic fashion last night, beating the Twins with two runs in the bottom of the 12th inning to tie the ALDS at one game apiece. Derek Jeter, who cranked a long home run into the center field black in the first inning, scored the winning run on Hideki Matsui’s line-drive sacrifice fly, while Jacque Jones‘ throw from right field inexplicably went to the cut-off man and not through to the catcher. Mariano Rivera blew a save and Alex Rodriguez was the offensive hero. But Tanyon Sturtze and Derek Jeter came up with major contributions too.

The Twins scored early off of Yankee starter Jon Lieber; an RBI double by Justin Morneau in the first, followd by an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer and a sacrifice fly by Henry Blanco in the second. Once again, Minnesota’s speed was on display and they ran the bases shrewdly. New York tied the score at three in the bottom of the third when the slumping Gary Sheffield nailed a line drive, two-run homer into the left field seats. Jon Lieber settled down and with the Yankees swinging at Brad Radke‘s first pitch with regularity in the middle innings, the game sailed along.

Alex Rodriguez hit a towering solo dinger in the fifth and then dumped a soft RBI single to left in the seventh scoring Miguel Cairo (who had walked and was sacrificed to second by Jeter). Three hits and two RBI for Rodriguez, a two-run lead for the Yankees and all looked fine in the Bronx. Tom Gordon replaced Lieber with two out in the seventh and got pinch-hitter Jose Offerman to line out to Miguel Cairo.

Shannon Stewart worked the count full to lead off the eighth before lining out sharply to Sheffield in right. Next, Gordon struck out Jacque Jones on a nasty curve ball in the dirt. The ball got away from Posada and Jones reached first. Oh, shades of Mickey Owens. Torii Hunter followed and smacked a liner to Bernie in center; Jones held up at second. That was it for Flash as Torre brought in Mariano Rivera. I got a call from Rich Lederer at that moment and he first-guessed Torre’s move, believing that Gordon could work out of the jam. I saw that Stewart and Hunter hit the ball hard so I wasn’t upset to see Rivera in the game.

After the fact, Joe Morgan, the color man on ESPN’s broadcast, wondered if Rivera had had enough time to warm up. Justin Mourneau blooped a single to right scoring Jones and putting runners on the corners with just one out. Rivera got ahead of Corey Koskie but the veteran third baseman worked the count full. Morgan commented that Rivera was going for the strike out, as he threw more fastballs than cutters. Luis Rivas was brought in to pinch-run for Mourneau. Sure enough on the 3-2 pitch, Rivera went with a fastball on the outside corner instead of busting Koskie inside with the cutter. Koskie slapped a line drive down the left field line for a grounds rule double. It was a rare mistake for Rivera, who blew only his third save in 33 post-season opportunities.

Fortunately for New York, Rivas wasn’t allowed to score. Rivera struck out the rookie Jason Kubel easily and ended the inning by getting Christian Guzman to ground out. The Stadium was shocked. I know I was silent, sitting on my living room floor enveloped by a sense of dread. The bullpen was now on for the Twins and they were outstanding. Rivera was much sharper in the ninth working a one-two-three inning. But he was replaced by Taynon Sturtze when the game went to extra innings and shoot, as good as he’s been of late, anything was bound to happen then.

Minnesota’s bullpen didn’t allow a base runner from the eighth inning until Miguel Cairo walked with one out in the bottom of the 12th. Sturtze was solid again for the Yanks until Torii Hunter launched a two-out solo bomb into the night giving the Twins a 6-5 lead in the top of the inning. Awww, nertz. There it is. Memories of Jeff Weaver in last year’s Serious. (Actually, that’s not entirely fair as Sturtze really did perform well.)

Joe Nathan buzzed through the the 10th and 11th innings and was brought out for a third stint in the 12th. Minnesota’s options were limited, and Ron Gardenhire felt that he needed to go for the juggular with his closer. John Olerud whiffed on a check swing to open the inning but Nathan walked Cairo and then Jeter. Rodriguez saw a ball, patiently took a strike and then cranked a fly ball into what used-to-be-known as Death Valley. Rodriguez thought he had a game-winning homer. I thought Shannon Stewart was going to track it down and make the catch, but the ball fell between Stewart and the wall, falling in for another grounds rule double. Cairo scored the tying run.

Now, the Twins were really in a fix. They walked Sheffield and brought in the soutpaw J.C. Romero to pitch to Hideki Matusi. The infield was positioned at double-play depth but the outfield was playing in. Godzilla jumped on the first pitch, which under normal circumstances would have likely gone for a single. It was a low, line-drive hit right at Jones. No way Jeter could score I’m thinking. But he didn’t stray far off the base and he tagged. Perhaps Jones didn’t believe that Jeter would try to score because he threw the ball to first baseman Matt LeCroy. Jeter slid home with the winning run and the Yankee stadium crowd, which had been up-and-down like a yo-yo all evening, erupted with cheers. Finally, relief!

Had the Yankees lost, they would have been in some spot. Now, the series is even. Game Three becomes critical with Johan Santana penciled in for a Game Four start at the Metrodome. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s soak in yet another exhilerating come-from-behind victory by the Yanks, a team that proved once again to be one tough out.

Game Two: Open Thread

Batgirl and I have a running commentary on the Yankee-Minnie series over on the All-Baseball home page (Round One and Round Two). Give it a gander…In addition, feel free to throw in yer two-cents on tonight’s game as it unfolds. Go Yanks!

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver