Friday, October 03, 2003

American League Divisional Series, Games 1 & 2

Oakland A's 5, Red Sox 4 (12)
Oakland A's 5, Red Sox 1

I'm very, very hesitant to type this entry, because I'm emotionally and physically drained by the Sox efforts in the first two games of the ALDS, and I don't want my psychic state to color my fondness for the 2003 Boston Red Sox. That said, what an unmercifully painful cockpunch these first two games provided.

Game 1 was moments away from being an all-time great Sox victory. It had so many positive elements - great, clutch performance by Todd Walker, stone cold willpower from Pedro, a come-from-behind surprise, a terrific performance by Mike Timlin, and then...and then the manager stepped in and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. B.H. Kim recorded two outs in the bottom of the 9th - he scuffled, and he had men on first and second, but he was one out from victory with Erubiel Durazo headed to the plate. Grady yanked Kim in favor of Alan Embree to get a lefty versus lefty matchup against Durazo. But Embree hadn't pitched in 10 days, and isn't markedly better against lefties than he is against righties.

Predictably, Durazo lined an Embree fastball (he has no other pitches) to left to plate the tying run and ensure that I would be up until the wee hours of the morning. Oh, I haven't mentioned that the game started at 10:00 EST? Another exquisite postseason baseball touch brought to you by the fine people at Major League Baseball and their friends in the television industry.

Later, at 2:45 am, A's catcher Ramon Hernandez made like Jake Taylor in Major League, and dropped a pretty bunt down the thirdbase line to score the winning run, while the Sox infield stared at it with an "oh, shit" look on their faces. But it never should have got to that moment, and here's why:

1. Grady got managed into a corner in the top of the 8th. The Sox had runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out and Trot Nixon coming to the plate, leading 4-3. A's lefthander Ricardo Rincon was on the hill, so Grady pinch-hit with right-handed hitter David McCarty. Predictably, A's manager Ken Macha replaced Rincon with the right-handed Chad Bradford. Grady responded by pinch hitting for his pinch-hitter, sending Adrian Brown to the plate to bat from the left side. Keep in mind, now, that all the Sox really needed in this instance was a fly ball to score a critical insurance run. David McCarty is no Manny Ramirez, but he's an acceptable option when you need to put a ball in play. Adrian Brown's not even a very good AAA hitter, and he only had 15 ABs in the regular season. I knew that he would not make contact with the ball when I saw him at the plate, and I was right, save for one meek foul tip.

2. The aforementioned yanking of the Bunger. If Grady was going to pull his "closer" to take advantage of a matchup, he should have taken advantage of a matchup, and brought in a true lefthanded specialist. Though I hate him, Scott Sauerbeck does fit that description.

3. Johnny Damon reached base in the late innings with 2 outs. Nomar, who had hit the ball well, came to the plate. Damon stole second, opening first base for the A's, who quickly walked Nomar to face...Damian Jackson, who had entered the game to replace Todd Walker at 2nd base. Inning over.

4. During the A's game-winning rally, with Derek Lowe on the mound (the presumable Game 3 starter, by the way), the A's had runners on 1st and 3rd with 2 out. Terrence Long, a weak hitter under the best of circumstances, took strike 1 from Lowe. Scott Hatteberg stole second. Grady ordered Long walked to load the bases, even though he already had a strike, and even though it put much more pressure on Lowe to throw strikes, and even though he sucks.

There's more, but I'm too depressed to continue, and too tired to remember with any sort of clarity.

Game 2 was a foregone conclusion, as the Sox sleptwalked through the whole thing while the A's danced on their lifeless bodies.

Here's the thing, though:

The Era of Positivity has not ended, goddammit. The Sox will win Game 3, they will win Game 4, and Pedro will take the hill in Oakland on Tuesday like a gladiator. I haven't given this much of my heart to this team to see them swept. I remember 1999, and I remember the greatest comeback in my lifetime. Cowboy up, motherfuckers, because there's still a lotta ball left. Stay on goddamn target.