Monday, September 20, 2004

Weekend with the Sox

This was the circled-in-the calendar weekend. This was the weekend, when my brother and I were putting together our season ticket plan back in January, that we wanted every little bit of.

At least that's how we planned it.

In reality, I work out in the boonies. So for Friday's game, I just accepted that I wouldn't get there in time. Since I hadn't had the chance to pick up my ticket, it was time to give someone else the honor of attending that game.

Not sure if I regret that choice.

Then, our younger brother came into town with his girlfriend ... a Red Sox fan. He asked to be able to take her to the game. My older Brother and I had to balance Yankee Fan Directive # 05324 ("Thou shalt not invite more friggin' Red Sox fans into the Stadium") with the fact that he's our little brother, and we love him, and therefore we're required to accept his interfaith relationship, even if we don't necessarily approve of it.

There was a huge chance I'd regret giving up that ticket. If the Red Sox won, dinner afterward might've been tense; if they blew Jon Lieber and the Yanks out, it was likely to be unbearable.

Thankfully, didn't need to regret that one.

Finally, I got to go to one. The grand finale. The rubber game, after the Red Sox force-fed the Sandman a blown save; and after Lieber took a no-hitter into the 7th on Saturday. Pedro "I'd Drill The Bambino In The Ass" Martinez against Mike "Obsessive/Compulsive" Mussina.

In many ways, this was the perfect way to enjoy a Yanks/Sox matchup (for a Yankee fan, that is). Through five innings, the game was close, 3-1. The Yanks did their damage early on a Gary Sheffield 2-run shot in the first. Sheff, holding off on a cortisone shot, which Sheff said he would only take if the Yanks won this series against Boston, was greeted by the fans with chants of "MVP!" in each of his at bats, and with great applause from the rightfield fans when he took his position at the top of the second inning. The Red Sox got their run on a gork double down the rightfield line by Orlando Cabrera, and an infield single by Johnny Damon.

It was obvious that the Yankees' book on Martinez was (at least in the early running) to get him early in the count. Seven out of the first ten Yankees up against Pedro swung at the first pitch, and the first three runs came on first-pitch hits: single by A-Rod, homer by Sheffield, rocket homer into the home bullpen by Jeter. The second time around, the Yankees seemed determined to make Martinez work, and Pedro worked his way out of a number of batter's counts.

Through all of this, there was a testy, but not quite nasty air at the stadium. Everyone in the Stadium was alternately cheering or booing, but the pitchers were doing such a good job that everyone -- Yankee fan and Red Sox fan alike -- was tense. They were waiting for someone to blink.

In the bottom of the sixth, Pedro Martinez blinked. It started with a four-pitch walk to Bernie Williams, followed by a home run to Jorge Posada that looked like a pop fly that just drifted and drifted. Sitting in the leftfield stands right behind where the homer was hit, I couldn't tell that it was out at first -- I figured from the crowd reaction that the ball had just gotten away from Manny. It took a few seconds to realize that Jorge was trotting, not running around the bases.

Now, this should probably have been the end of Pedro's day -- five runs surrendered, three homers -- you'd think Terry Francona comes out and gets him, right?

Nope. Not even after the four-pitch walk to John Olerud. Not even after Ruben Sierra doubled, to make it second and third with nobody out.

By the end of the inning, with the Yanks up 8-1, the Red Sox fans were silenced. The rest of the game belonged to the Yankees and their fans. And to Mussina. Moose's pitch counts looked pretty ugly in the first three innings -- he was throwing up about 20 pitches an inning, nibbling a bit, he looked like the pitcher most likely to get bit on the ass by the opposing offense. But somewhere along the line, Moose stopped trying to fool the Red Sox batters, and simply took the game to the them. The result was a lot of pop-ups, and seven impressive innings of work.

More important than the short-term gain of another series won against the Red Sox, is the fact that Lieber and Mussina showed they could hang in there with the Boston lineup. We all knew that the Yankees' offense could erupt, particularly in a series where they missed Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield. The question was, could any Yankee starter get the team through seven innings against the Sox?

To that extent, the Yanks have given the Sox something to think about.

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