Monday, July 26, 2004

Games 94 through 98 - Red Sox
Finding What Don Johnson Was Missing
Orioles 8, Red Sox 3
Yankees 8, Red Sox 7
Red Sox 11, Yankees 10
Red Sox 9, Yankees 6
Record: 54-44
Apologies for the headline above, which references the Miami Vice star's seminal hit song, "Heartbeat".  Just as the erstwhile Sonny Crockett was seeking a heartbeat, so too has Red Sox Nation been dying to find evidence of this team's guts.  And after Saturday's game against the Yankees, the question of the 2004 Sox' toughness and spirit has been asked and answered in the most emphatic affirmative.

When this team looks back after clinching the World Series title this fall, Saturday, July 24 will be the single most important date in team history.  It's the day Jason Varitek decided to impose his will upon this season and upon his teammates - and upon the Yankees, smashing his open hand into Alex Rodriguez' well-paid mug, then lifting the Yankee star by one leg and frog-hopping him 10 feet before collapsing under a pile of Sox and Yankees.

The fire shown by the Sox in the melee that followed the Varitek/Rodriguez contretemps would have been enough for me, even if the Sox had lost the game.  That outcome seemed assured after the Yankees took advantage of abysmal Sox pitching to take a 9-4 lead in the 6th inning.  It still seemed likely even though the Sox closed to within 9-8 in the bottom of the 6th, because Mariano Rivera took the hill in the bottom of the 9th with the Yankees protecting a 10-8 margin.

The game went from memorable to legendary when Nomar Garciaparra doubled, moved to third on Trot Nixon's long fly to center, scored on a Kevin Millar single (color change in awed recognition of Millar's jawdropping 10-for-13, 4HR, 8RBI three-game series), watched as Bill Mueller slammed a Rivera offering into the Sox' bullpen to win the game and magically resurrect a moribund season, and jumped around like an idiot with the rest of his teammates and one semi-drunk guy in a seaside house in Nags Head, NC.  I didn't fall asleep until 2:30 that morning, fueled by a combination of adrenaline, Sierra Nevada, and Red Bull.

Last night's win validated the energy created on Saturday, as Derek Lowe (!) pitched 6 2/3 very solid innings, even though his line shows that he gave up 4 runs (2 earned).  He was victimized by his defense in both the 1st and 7th innings, and not helped by the bullpen when Mike Timlin came in to give up a walk and a grand slam in the 7th.  As far as this correspondent is concerned, Lowe got the message from Varitek on Saturday and showed some steel of his own last night.

Only down note of the whole weekend is the defense, which went from bad to comically horrific against the Yankees.  The Sox committed 4 errors on Saturday, including errors on 3 consecutive plays to load the bases in the top of the 7th.  Alan Embree drank the Varitek-supplied Kool-Aid and got the Sox out of the no-out, bases-loaded jam, but that doesn't change the fact that the defense is simply execrable.  I expected Lowe to lose his mind when Johnny Damon and Gabe Kapler let a simple pop-up fall between them in the 1st last night, but Derek surprised me (and lost his puke green denomination) by pitching through it. 

No more bad mouthing from me here, though.  This team found its heart on Saturday, and its name is Jason Varitek.  Lotta ball left, and I can't wait to see the Sox get after it, and I bet they can't wait, either.


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