Tuesday, October 19, 2004

American League Championship Series - Game 5

Red Sox 5, Yankees 4 (14)
Yankees lead, 3-2
To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number
one is laugh. Number two is think—spend some time time in thought. Number
three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think
and cry, that's a heck of a day.
— Jim Valvano

I pulled the quote above right after Derek Jeter's 2-out double scored 3 runs to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in the top of the 6th. I'd planned to use it as the foundation of my eulogy to the 2004 Red Sox, who made me laugh (both sardonically and heartily), think and cry (at least metaphorically) all season long. I was pretty certain at that point that the Sox had emptied all their chambers and come up just short.

8 innings and nearly 3 hours later, I was laughing and crying for a very different reason after David Ortiz' (natch) humpbacked liner dropped gently in front of Bernie Williams and scored Johnny Damon from 2nd with the game-winning run in the bottom of the 14th. Yeah, the 14th. Were I a Yankee fan (and this guy is and agrees with me), the vision of Ortiz' broad face and menacing bat would send spasms of abject terror hurtling through my body. As luck would have it, I'm a Sox fan, so I love the guy more than a married heterosexual male probably should. Me and 37 million others.

I was laughing - frankly, like a mental patient - in the top of the 13th, too, when Jason Varitek very nearly added his name to the pantheon of Sox post-season goats by allowing 3 Tim Wakefield flutterballs to elude him and advance runners. Just when it seemed that the baseball gods were flinging one last absurdity at the Sox, Tek squeezed a third strike from Wake and the Sox were spared.

Speaking of Wake, he and his bullpen mates were absolutely nails in this game. 8 innings of shutout baseball, pitching out of jam after jam, giving more than they'd given all season - Foulke one day after pitching 2 2/3 innings, Arroyo out of the pen with a monstrous inning of relief, Timlin, Embree, Myers, all doing their jobs. Shades of 2003.

And Dave Roberts has quietly made 2 of the season's most important plays, stealing 2nd in the 8th inning of consecutive games - when everyone in the building knew it was coming - to put himself in position to score game-tying runs. Both runs were scored against Mariano Rivera, who blew consecutive post-season saves for the first time in his career. He also pitched 2 innings in consecutive games for the first time in his career - a fact that may have huge implications for tonight's Game 6. (Edit - Roberts didn't actually steal 2nd last night, but he distracted Tom Gordon to the point where the Yankee pitcher offered up a meatball for Trot Nixon to drill into center for a base hit. Sue me.)

Which brings us to this: the fact that there will be a Game 6 simply stuns me. Only twice before in the history of baseball has a team forced a 6th game after trailing 0-3 in a 7-game series. Never before has a team forced a 7th game after losing the first 3. Before last night, though, the New York Yankees had never lost consecutive extra-inning games in the post-season. I know how emotionally drained I feel, and I wonder how the players on both of these teams will find the energy to compete again tonight. I wonder what must be going through the Yankees' minds right now - it's simply not human for the seeds of doubt not to have found purchase there.

Game 6 seems to be the perfect environment for a loose team playing with house money - which describes the Sox now to a "T". They were favored before the series, and played like that meant something. They're not now, and they're playing with the verve and grit that carried them through the last 2 months of the season.

Curt Schilling gets the ball tonight, with the memories of his Game 1 debacle fresh and painful. If his ankle holds up - and that's a massive, massive "if" - I would be stunned if he was anything less than inspired. Jon Lieber goes for the Yankees, and he's dominated the Sox in consecutive outings over the past month. The ghosts of Yankee Stadium are in full cry, as will be the 55,000 in attendance. Though it is a vastly overused cliche, it may actually be correct to say that it doesn't get any better than this - although I'd love to find out if a Game 7 might top it.

At the ready, preparing to laugh (to relieve tension), think (about why I wasn't born a Brewers fan - would be so much less draining), and cry (with joy or pain, equally possible) sometime late this evening.

No comments: