Thursday, October 21, 2004

ALCS Game 7

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 10, New York Yankees 3

It took about an hour and a half for me to realize on visceral level that the Red Sox had done the impossible, made all nay-sayers (including me) wrong and become the first team in baseball history and the third team in major sports history* to come back from a 3 - 0 deficit and win a championship series and that they were going to their first World Series in eighteen years. Robin, Ryan, Morgan and I were sitting on the couch. We had already gone downstairs to the bar next door, had a celebratory shot and were drinking beer, watching Sportscenter replay the David Ortiz and Johnny Damon homeruns over and over and over and just talking. Robin, who I think has really and truly blown a fuse because of all the stress, kept saying every five minutes, "hey, the Red Sox won the pennant." Someone asked about the location of game one of the World Series and Robin said that because the AL had won the All Star Game, they had home field advantage. Suddenly it hit me that because the Red Sox had won game 7, the World Series would start in Boston and I cracked up. I've been seconds away from a big smile ever since.

Speaking of those Sportscenter replays, watching ESPN run the top 10 moments of the ALCS made me realize how oblivious I was during the last four games about how close the Sox were to losing. Sure, I knew, but with the exception of last night and possibly game 6, this series came within inches or a bad pitch of ending. Any of the games of this series, with the possible exception of game 3, which was just sloppy, belong on ESPN Classic and will make excellent demonstrations for years to come of the mastery and resiliance shown by players on both sides.

So, to wrap up last night: Derek Lowe has proven once again that despite it all, he IS a big game pitcher of the highest caliber. Coming back after two nights rest to hold the Yankees to one hit and one run with one walk and three strikeouts on sixty-nine pitches was an incredible, incredible feat and one that if it doesn't get him resigned to the Red Sox, will certainly earn him a great deal of money next year somewhere in baseball. Lowe was helped by a key two run homerun by Big Papi in the first, coming right after Johnny Damon was thrown out at home on another bad running call by Dale Sveum; a grand slam by Damon in the second; a two run homerun by Damon in the fourth (yeah, Johnny's out of his slump) and a solo shot by Mark Bellhorn to send the Sox over the top. The Ortiz homerun was by far the most important - putting the Sox on top, especially after that throw to the plate almost killed the rally, seem to have had far reaching effects on that game and on the Red Sox confidence.

After the sixth, Francona, for reasons known only to him, decided to lift Lowe and put in Pedro instead of one of his bullpen. Perhaps Pedro asked for an inning. Perhaps Tito felt that he should rest his tired bullpen and remove the possibility of getting his weaker relievers into trouble. In any case, the gamble, like all of the gambles Francona's taken in the past few games, worked, although it did have a few interesting side effects. First, it woke Yankees Stadium back up. By shutting down the Yankees hitters, Lowe had silenced the crowd as well and Fox was having a field day showing the faces of the discontented. Pedro comes out, though and suddenly "Who's Your Daddy" comes out with him in full force. The Yankees, seizing the moment, go for one last rally. Matsui hits a Pedro fastball into the right field corner (which I swear is his favorite place - he hit so many balls in that tricky section of both ballparks). Bernie Williams misses a homerun by inches (another break) but scores runs. Pedro starts to heat up - he's throwing 96 mph gas now and he uses it to get out of the inning.** The Yankees have scored two...but the Sox get them back within two innings.

Timlin comes on in the eighth and holds on through two outs in the ninth. After he walks Lofton, Tito pulls him for Embree, who gets the final out off a ground ball off the bat of Sierra to Pokey Reese. Pandemonium erupts on the field, as I celebrate on the phone with my dad and on IM with five or six different people. My sister calls me and tells me she wants to come back from college in Ohio just to be in Boston during at least one of the World Series games. Dave IMs me and tells me to be at the Cask and Flagon on Saturday. On the television, a rare, rare and very surreal sound - you can hear Red Sox fans cheering in Yankees Stadium, as enough Yankees fans had left in disgust to no longer drown them out. Robin and Morgan make their way over from his apartment to my place and the three of us and Ryan commence drinking and celebrating until 4 in the morning. The ghosts of 2003, if not of the last 85 years, are finally put to rest.

After the ALDS, I said the lesson of the series was that the Sox could make it through times of trouble, like the Vlad grand slam, without falling apart and keep the presence of mind to win anyway. The lesson of the ALCS, I think, is that as long as The Idiots stick to Tito's one game at a time philosophy, they can win anything, including the impossible four game comeback. The Sox let the big picture get into their heads in games 1 and 2 and the Yankees took advantage in a big way - Mussina and Lieber had excellent, excellent outings in part because Boston was trying to go way too big in one bound. With their backs to the wall, the Sox remembered how they won all of those games in the second half of the season - they just focused on winning the game at hand and they became, once again, the incredibly talented team they've been all year. We'll see if this frame of mind sticks with them for the start of the World Series. GOOOOOOOOO SOOOOOOOOOX!!!

* - Along with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders
** - Robin freaked out completely during this inning and had to sign off, shut off the computer and the television and go run around the block. He kept IMing me that he couldn't see and I had serious thoughts that he might have blown a blood vessel in one eye. He's a crazy boy, that one.