Game Diary: ALCS Game 7

I’m not sure if this game is, as I heard Peter Gammons say, “the most anticipated game in the history of the sport,” but I do know that my alarm clock woke me up at 6:51 yesterday morning, I didn’t even hit the snooze button for my nine minutes of heaven, and the very first thing that popped into my groggy head was “Yankees-Red Sox.” In fact, I think the first words out of my mouth yesterday, after I begrudgingly made my way to an 8 a.m. class, were “man, I am so pumped for tonight’s game.”

So now it’s here, and that incredible sixth game of the National League Championship Series wasn’t a bad appetizer. Try as I might — and the media obsession with New York and Boston bugs me sometimes too — I just can’t quite get as worked up over St. Louis-Houston, despite it being an extraordinary series. It might have something to do with me being an “American League guy,” but it probably goes beyond that. New York-Boston is just tough to beat, and this year’s battle has been more unique, entertaining and compelling than I could have imagined, which is really saying something.

After the first six games of this series, I honestly have no clue what to expect tonight, and that’s the beauty of it. It could be a blowout, it could be a pitcher’s duel, it could be a slugfest, and it could last 20 innings. Whatever happens, I expect tonight to be one of those games you remember when you’ve got your grandkids on your lap and you’re spinning tales of the good old days.

“I remember way back in 2004, the Red Sox came from being down 0-3 to force a Game 7, and that was back when only four teams made the playoffs in each league and the series was a best-of-seven! Curt Schilling pitched Game 6 without one of his legs after it was chewed off by Julian Tavarez, and Dr. House stitched him back together … oh wait, I think I got mixed up. Go get me my dentures!”

PRE-GAME

Maybe this is the Twins fan in me remembering his father’s great call in 1991, but I thought Joe Buck‘s “and we’ll see you … later tonight!” David Ortiz home run call in Game 5 was fabulous.

I submit that when these two teams meet up in next year’s ALCS — and they will, don’t fool yourselves — they should just play seven games in a row, with 10-minute bathroom breaks between each game.

The main “intro” for the game was based on Game 7 being “like a championship fight,” complete with clips of some random guy hitting a punching bag, a bell being rung, and Buck using every boxing cliche in the world. My question is, do we really need to compare Game 7 of a series like this to another sport? I’ll take this game over the biggest boxing match of the year every time.

The MasterCard ad for “seeing the Red Sox in the World Series” being “priceless” is silly. The problem hasn’t been seeing Boston in the World Series — they were there in 1986, 1975 and 1967, just to count appearances in the last 40 years — it’s been seeing them win the World Series.

TOP FIRST

Johnny Damon leads off the game against Kevin Brown, whose FOX “scouting report” includes: “Clinched Game 6 of the 1997 NLCS.” Is that really the third-best thing FOX could think of to include in his scouting report, a game he pitched in 1997? I’m sure that’ll really impact tonight’s game.

Damon, who came into this game 3-for-29 in the series, smacks a single into left field with two strikes. Tim McCarver: “Damon led the American League with 90 two-strike hits this year.” One might think that his actual batting average with two strikes might be something that is a worthwhile addition to that fact, but apparently not. Remember, context means nothing, people.

With Mark “Buster doesn’t like me” Bellhorn batting second, Damon steals second base without any trouble. In case you missed it, Buster Olney wrote a running diary of sorts for Game 6 on ESPN.com, where he ripped Bellhorn in the beginning of the game and then didn’t even mention the three-run homer he hit later. Right on cue, Bellhorn strikes out.

Manny Ramirez hits a sharp single to left-center. Damon pauses to make sure it gets through the infield and then tries to score from second. Hideki Matsui makes a strong, quick relay throw in to Derek Jeter, who fires a rocket to Jorge Posada to nail Damon at the plate.

Getting a runner thrown out immediately comes back to bite the Red Sox, as David Ortiz launches a line drive into the seats in right field. McCarver: “That is the place Kevin Brown has to stay away from.” Amazingly, I agree with McCarver — Brown won’t win this game if he keeps giving up hits into the seats in right. 2-0 Boston, although it could have been 3-0.

Jason Varitek grounds out to end the inning and FOX heads to commercial with 3rd BassPop Goes the Weasel. That brings back some serious Yo! MTV Raps memories from my childhood.

BOTTOM FIRST

I just saw a commercial for Surviving Christmas, starring Ben Affleck. Can we all agree that James Gandolfini should never be allowed to play someone other than Tony Soprano for the rest of his life? Someone needs to tell him about our decision.

McCarver: “Breaking ball from Derek Lowe … that is low.” My head hurts. Incidentally, Lowe looks very good, getting ahead of Gary Sheffield with some nasty breaking stuff and then striking him out to end the inning.

TOP SECOND

FOX returns to the game with their trademark “we planned this break poorly, so we had to cut the last commercial off and get you back right as the first pitch is crossing home plate” debacle.

Bucky F. Dent threw out the first pitch tonight. That’s just cruel.

With one out, Kevin Millar rips a single up the middle and into center field. Brown isn’t fooling anyone tonight, I wonder how short his leash is. Just as I typed that, FOX shows the Yankees’ bullpen, where there are no less than five people standing and stretching. And now Javier Vazquez is throwing, as Brown walks Bill Mueller on a 3-1 pitch. Mel Stottlemyre tugs on the leash with a trip to the mound.

Brown runs the count full to Orlando Cabrera, after getting ahead 1-2. McCarver: “If you don’t send the runners here, you’re playing too conservative.” Either that, or you’re playing in 2004. The runners don’t go and Cabrera fouls off the pitch. On the third 3-2 pitch, Brown comes way inside on Cabrera to load the bases and we find out just out short that leash is, as Vazquez comes in four outs into the game.

An instant message I just got from a sarcastic New Yorker: “Is that a quality start for Brown?” Brown’s line for this series: 3.1 innings, nine hits, five earned runs.

Vazquez enters the game with one out in the second inning, down 2-0, with the bases loaded. Before he can probably even realize what a tight spot he’s in, Damon gets under Vazquez’s first pitch and lofts it into the stands down the right-field line. 6-0 Boston, and I do believe Mystique and Aura have some serious work to do tonight.

Vazquez, who looks completely shell-shocked and in major need of a mulligan, walks Bellhorn to bring up Ramirez with a runner on and one out. FOX shows Brian Cashman updating his resume. Vazquez recovers to get Ramirez on a pop out and Ortiz on a ground out to end the inning.

BOTTOM SECOND

As Buck repeats that “the Yankees had the most comeback victories in baseball history this season” line for the eight-millionth time in the last week, Lowe gets two quick outs to start the inning. Posada walks, bringing up Kenny Lofton, who hits one of those “a grown man hit that ball!” squibbers right in front of home plate for the final out.

TOP THIRD

Vazquez blows a 93 MPH heater past Varitek for the first out and then does the same to Trot Nixon for out number two. The Red Sox fans in the crowd look as if they are waiting for some sort of impending doom. I honestly don’t think they’d look any different if the Yankees were winning 25-0 and it was just announced that Tom Brady has decided to retire from football to pursue a modeling career. Millar walks with two outs, and Mueller pops out to Jeter to end the inning.

BOTTOM THIRD

First-pitch swinging, Tony Clark hits a weak fly ball to left field for the first out. Boston is only 20 outs away (just kidding), as Lowe plunks Miguel Cairo with a pitch. Jeter comes to the plate to hit his legendary, game-tying six-run homer. Cairo gets a great jump and takes second base easily, as Varitek makes an ill-advised throw from his knees. One pitch later, Jeter settles for a run-scoring single to left field. Does that count as clutch? Can I get some sort of official ruling on this? 6-1 Boston.

Words that would normally make Red Sox fans contemplate suicide in the third inning: “Mike Myers warming up in the bullpen.” Alex Rodriguez chops one back to Lowe for the second out, advancing Jeter to second base. Lowe ends the inning by getting Sheffield to ground out weakly to third base.

TOP FOURTH

Vazquez starts off well, getting ahead of Cabrera 0-2, but then walks him. Damon comes up and, for the second straight time, hammers the first pitch he sees from Vazquez into the seats in right field. 8-1 Boston. In a game like this, a series like this, you always wonder who the heroes will be. It looks like they are Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon.

Vazquez, who is whatever comes after “shell-shocked” at this point, walks Bellhorn on four pitches, as Stottlemyre makes another trip to the mound. Esteban Loaiza is getting warm in the bullpen. After retiring Ramirez for the first out of the inning, Vazquez walks Ortiz.

As Loaiza comes in, here’s my question: At what point does Boston’s lead get so big that the world just ends?

Varitek hits a hard liner to second base that bounces off of Cairo and into right field. Bases loaded, one out. The official scorer at Yankee Stadium, a job for which sight is apparently not required, gives Cairo the least-deserved error of all time. Kenny Albert interviews World Series hero Jim Leyritz, who in addition to playing for both New York and Boston, is wearing every piece of leather in the state of New York. Loaiza gets out of the jam to keep the score 8-1.

BOTTOM FOURTH

Matsui hits a slow grounder between first and second, and the Red Sox narrowly get the out on a nice flip from Millar to Lowe. That’s a single with Schilling on the mound last night. Bernie Williams flies out to left field for the second out. Posada grounds to Millar, who makes another nice play and flip to Lowe for the third out.

We are 15 outs away from the apocalypse. I hope everyone remembered to stock up on bottled water and canned goods.

TOP FIFTH

Mueller leads off the inning with a single through the right side of the infield. Cabrera advances Mueller to second with a broken bat grounder to Cairo and Jesus Damon comes up again. Shockingly, he takes the first pitch right down the middle for a strike.

Okay, now I’m starting to believe. Damon hits a weak chopper back to Loaiza, who catches Mueller hung up between second and third base. Loaiza runs him back to second and makes the throw, which bounces off of Mueller’s leg and into short right field. Instead of two outs and a runner on first, there is one out and runners on second and third. That’s the type of play that usually happens to Boston, not for them.

Bellhorn takes an extremely close pitch on 2-2 to run the count full and then pops out to Jeter for the second out. Ramirez hits a hard grounder to third that Rodriguez handles easily for the third out.

BOTTOM FIFTH

If I’m still not totally convinced this game is over, sitting here in Minnesota, I can only imagine what’s going through the collective minds of Red Sox Nation right now. Lofton grounds out to shortstop on the first pitch and Clark quickly makes the second out. Lowe might just make all that “who’s available in the bullpen?” talk unnecessary.

McCarver is now talking about how Boston will set their rotation up for the World Series, sound bites you have to think are destined to be prominently featured in the updated version of the “Boston’s Most Gut-Wrenching Defeats” video. They can put a nice montage together with McCarver’s “the Red Sox are just five outs away” quotes from last year.

Buck: “The official scorer has had a change of heart on that ball Varitek hit in the fourth inning.” First the umps get together and overturn a couple of incorrect calls last night and now the Yankees’ official scorer thinks better of his original decision tonight. Amazing. Perhaps the world really is coming to an end. I’ll be right back, I need to grab the laptop and head down to the bomb shelter.

TOP SIXTH

Ortiz grounds out to Clark at first base for out number one, as Pedro Martinez begins throwing in the bullpen. I’m not sure I understand this at all, unless Pedro is just doing some light throwing for the hell of it. Loaiza retires the Sox 1-2-3. New York’s three pitchers have now thrown 140 pitches in six innings. That sounds like a lot at first, but it’s only 17.5 pitches per run.

BOTTOM SIXTH

Captain Dreamboat begins the inning with a weak grounder to shortstop. Jeter is now 6-for-29 (.207) in this series, giving him a career batting average of .268 in ALCS play. Someone might want to pass that note along to Buck and McCarver if they ever release their lips from Jeter’s butt and come up for air.

Lowe gets ARod to ground out and Sheffield to strike out to end the inning. This is as good as I’ve seen Lowe pitch this year. He’s pitching down in the zone and his breaking stuff is extremely effective. Sheffield chased a 1-2 breaking ball down and away for strike three.

TOP SEVENTH

Lowe appears to be done, walking around the dugout and hugging everyone. Pedro remains throwing in the bullpen. This is very strange. Larry Mahnken‘s theory: “Terry Francona just wants Pedro to get the last out. Really classy.” Incidentally, the authorities in Rochester, New York might want to put Larry on suicide watch.

With one out and runners on first and second, Joe Torre yanks Loaiza and brings in Felix “The Run Fairy” Heredia. “Oh great,” says Larry, who has advanced past suicidal and is now trying to determine what number Carlos Beltran will wear for the Yankees next year. The Run Fairy gets a ground ball double play to get out of trouble.

BOTTOM SEVENTH

Ronan Tynan comes on to sing God Bless America. I think Ronan should be required by law to yell “let’s get some runs!” after he finishes whenever the Yankees are losing. Is it possible that he got a World Series ring from the Yankees? Either that or he’s wearing something from the Liberace Collection.

One of my favorite memories as a baseball fan was watching Pedro come strolling in from the bullpen in the fifth game of the 1999 ALDS against Cleveland and then tossing six no-hit innings. This doesn’t have quite the same feel, but seeing Pedro on the mound in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium is pretty damn interesting. Interesting and confusing.

Matsui also thought it was interesting, replaying last year’s Game 7 with a line drive double down the right-field line. As the Yankee Stadium crowd chants “who’s your daddy,” Williams rips a double off the wall in deep right-center, scoring Matsui from second. 8-2 Boston.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who replaced Millar at first base to start the inning, makes a nice play on a Posada grounder for the first out. Well, this is officially getting scary for Boston. Lofton lines a single right past Pedro’s head and into center field, scoring Posada from second. 8-3 Boston. John Olerud pinch-hits for Clark, and Lofton steals second base on a close play. Pedro strikes Olerud out on a 95 MPH fastball up and away for the second out.

As the “who’s your daddy” chant continues, Mike Timlin starts to get loose in Boston’s bullpen. Cairo gives it a ride down the right-field line, but Nixon gets over there in time to make the play for the third out. I’d say Francona’s Pedro plan didn’t quite go as well as he imagined.

TOP EIGHTH

Bellhorn, who has already walked twice and took another count to 3-2, swings at the first pitch from Tom Gordon, popping it foul into the seats along the first-base line. Bellhorn also swings at the second pitch, hitting it deep into right field and just fair, smacking his solo homer into the fence connected to the foul/fair pole. 9-3 Boston.

Someone who hasn’t made a pledge to himself never to read Olney’s work again needs to check out his running diary for tonight’s game and see if Buster admits to Bellhorn existing or not. I’m guessing not. On a completely unrelated note, there haven’t been a whole lot of important Productive Outs for the Red Sox tonight.

BOTTOM EIGHTH

Six outs to go, six runs ahead. Timlin replaces Pedro on the mound and Pokey Reese replaces Bellhorn at second base. The Red Sox are now in their prevent defense. It’s a good thing Francona had some runs to play with. Can you imagine if the Red Sox had a two-run lead and Pedro came in and blew it?

Jeter leads off the inning and runs the count full, before hitting a grounder to third base. Mueller makes a nice play on it but his throw to first comes up about five feet short. No matter, Mientkiewicz saves him with a beautiful scoop. If you’d have told me a few years ago that a team would be playing a game to take them to the World Series with Mientkiewicz at first base and Ortiz at DH … well, I’d have been pretty damn excited.

Timlin strikes out Rodriguez for out number two and Sheffield grounds a 1-2 pitch to shortstop for the third out. Three outs to go. Mystique and Aura might want to get a move on.

TOP NINTH

Gordon stays in to pitch to Nixon and it looks possible that the Yankees will play Game 7 without using Mariano Rivera at all. Nixon drops a single into short left field, just past the outstretched glove of Jeter (I’m sorry, I am contractually obligated to utter that phrase at least once during every Yankees game). Mientkiewicz dumps a single between Matsui and Jeter, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Rivera is throwing in the bullpen, as Mueller steps to the plate. Mueller flies out to Williams in medium-center and Nixon tags up and goes to third.

It appears as though every Red Sox fan in the entire stadium is either on their cell phone or posing for pictures. Yes, you read that right — there are Red Sox fans posing for pictures with a 9-3 lead at Yankee Stadium. That’s gotta be even worse than the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, right?

Cabrera battles through a tough at-bat against Gordon and hits a fly ball to center field, more than deep enough to score Nixon considering Bernie Williams is now able to run the ball to home plate in less time than it takes him to throw it there at this point. Boston 10-3, and Rivera is coming in. For some reason, Enter Sandman doesn’t have quite the same feeling tonight. Rivera gets Damon to tap back to him for the third out of the inning.

BOTTOM NINTH

Well, this is it. I haven’t heard any huge blasts of lightning and my power is still working, so I’m going to assume God has plans for a comeback here.

Timlin stays in to pitch to Matsui leading off the inning. Matsui rips a long single that bounces up against the wall in right field. Bronson Arroyo and Alan Embree are getting loose in the bullpen for the Red Sox as Williams steps to the plate. Timlin falls behind 3-1 and gets a generous call on an inside pitch to fill the count. Williams hits a slow grounder between first and second, and Reese throws to second to get the force out. One down.

Posada is first-pitch swinging and pops out to Cabrera right behind the pitcher’s mound. Two down, Lofton up. High and outside, 1-0. High and way outside, 2-0. Down the middle but high, 3-0. High and outside, Timlin walks Lofton on four pitches. Francona takes a nervous stroll out to the mound and brings Embree in to face Olerud. Well, I guess I didn’t think it’d be easy.

As the clock at Yankee Stadium strikes midnight, Ruben Sierra pinch-hits for Olerud and steps in against Embree. The first pitch is low, 1-0. Sierra hacks at the second pitch, hitting a slow grounder to second base. Reese fields it cleanly, makes an easy, smooth, exaggerated throw to first base, and the Boston Red Sox are headed to the World Series.

               1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9      R      H     E
               -----------------------------------------------------
Boston         2   4   0   2   0   0   0   1   1     10     13     0
New York       0   0   1   0   0   0   2   0   0      3      5     2
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