Boston Massacredby Larry Mahnken
October 17, 2004
Let's get this out of the way, because you don't hear it enough from Yankees fans.
There is no Curse Of The Bambino. There is no Curse of anything, period. It was the invention of sportswriters decades after Boston's last World Championship, and the entire basis of it is false. Boston has not failed to win in 86 years because they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, or for any reason other than they haven't been good enough. Name a single Boston team whose failure can only be explained by the supernatural?
1978? They lost not because of what they did, but because the defending World Champions got red-hot. 1986? They were an overachieving team that lost to a truly great team -- a 108-win team. Merely getting within a strike of victory was a great accomplishment. 2003? The Yankees had won 101 games, more than Boston, and they had won the head-to-head season series, too. Boston might have been better, and Aaron Boone's homer was a shock, but it wasn't a massive upset.
The Red Sox have lost because they played teams that were as good as or better than them, and that's how it goes sometimes. If they had fielded teams with as much talent as the Yankees, they would have won a lot of titles, maybe as many or more as New York. To say that Boston's lost -- or that the Yankees have beaten them -- because of Babe Ruth doesn't give the Yankees enough credit, and it gives Boston too much.
Last night the Red Sox had to win. Winning would bring them back within only one game of the Yankees; winning would allow them to dream of a possible return by Curt Schilling, perhaps a win out of Pedro Martinez, and a rematch of last night's starters in Yankee Stadium for Game Seven. No game has a larger possible swing than Game Three. Win, and you're back in, lose and you're all but done.
The Yankees were starting Kevin Brown, who had been torched by the Red Sox a few weeks ago in his first start back from breaking his hand on a wall. Boston was going with Bronson Arroyo, behind whom they had won 10 consecutive games, including the clincher in the ALDS. Before the game it appeared as though both teams would need strong starts.
Neither team got one.
The Yankees took the lead right away, just as they had in each of the first two games. Derek Jeter walked and scored when Alex Rodriguez doubled down the left-field line. Hideki Matsui followed Gary Sheffield's fly-out with a homer to right to make it 3-0.
But the Red Sox didn't let the Yankees hang on for long, like they had in the first two. Right away Kevin Brown struggled to get the ball over the plate, and with two outs and Manny Ramirez on first, David Ortiz ripped a base hit to right. Inexplicably, Ramirez tried to get to third, and while replays showed he reached third just before Rodriguez's tag, he was called out, killing the rally.
They came right back at Brown in the second, scoring off a two-run homer by Trot Nixon, a double by Bill Mueller and poorly fielded grounders by Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, and taking their first lead of the series. But their lead lasted four pitches into the third inning, as Alex Rodriguez crushed a home run over the Green Monster, and knocked out Arroyo with a Sheffield walk and Matsui double. A base hit and Mendoza balk scored two more, and Javier Vazquez came into game for the Yankees.
He wasn't much better than Brown, at least not at first. He walked Jason Varitek and gave up a double to Kevin Millar, walked Bill Mueller and gave up a double to Orlando Cabrera. But Kevin Millar, uncertain as to whether Cabrera's ball would be caught, had tagged up at second and rounded third with Mueller on his back. Third base coach Dale Svuem was unable to wave Millar in and stop Mueller, and as a result the latter was tagged out by Jorge Posada as the former slid in for the tying run.
At no point thereafter would the Red Sox really be in the game, as the Yankees once again scored big right away, first off of a three-run homer by Gary Sheffield, then on a two-run triple by Ruben Sierra. Boston threatened in the bottom of the inning by putting two on with one out, but a line-out to John Olerud turned into an inning-ending double play, killing the rally, and killing Boston's chances. The Yankees scored two more in the fifth, four more in the seventh, two more in the ninth, and Hideki Matsui hit a second home run to essentially seal up the ALCS MVP (though I think a strong argument can be made for Jon Lieber or Mariano Rivera). Boston did add two runs on a Varitek homer in the seventh, but by then it was 17-8, and Boston's chances for winning the game and the series had faded to almost nothing.
Even for a team that's blown a massive division lead in two months, lost a World Series after being one strike away with a two run lead and nobody on, and lost the pennant after holding a three run lead with five outs to go, this is still perhaps the most stunning, humiliating, and devastating event in their history. Not the specific blowout last night, but rather the relative ease with which they're being dispatched by a team that some rated equal to them, but almost none rated better than them. Despite having arguably more talent in every aspect of the game, and advantages in the pitching matchups, they've never really had a chance.
The odds of a team winning four straight against a team they are matched up equally with are 1-16. It can be argued that the Red Sox are better than the Yankees, and the odds are even lower. Those are still long odds.
And those odds don't take into account that for Boston, they now have to win four consecutive must-win games, while the Yankees won't have a must-win until Wednesday. The Yankees can afford to put Esteban Loaiza in the game to get hammered if Orlando Hernandez has nothing today, the Red Sox will have to do whatever it takes to stop the bleeding if Derek Lowe doesn't have it, they simply can't afford to lose. And in trying to win those games, the Red Sox may blow their bullpen, even their starters, just trying to last another day. The Yankees can afford to let a game get away.
The odds are probably much longer than 1-16. The reality is that no team in baseball history has ever come back from 0-3. No team has even gotten to a Game Seven from being down 0-3, and only one team, the 1999 Mets, was able to force a Game Six. Boston might come back. If they can pull out a victory with Derek Lowe tonight they can go with Pedro Martinez on short rest Monday, and perhaps Curt Schilling can find a way to pitch in Game Six, and perhaps force a seventh game, which they just might win. If they do it will be the greatest moment in the history of their franchise, perhaps in the history of baseball. If you really want to believe, you can almost see the plausibility of it. But they are almost certain to not come back. Not against this Yankees team, not under these circumstances. It's possible, but it's not plausible.
Before this series, I could come up with a dozen reasons why New York would win, and others could come up with a dozen reasons why Boston would win. The actual reasons for New York's apparent victory could not have been forecasted by anybody. Most people ignored the possibility that Curt Schilling's ankle could seriously impact his effectiveness, because he had pitched so well with it already. Nobody projected that Kenny Lofton or John Olerud would hit game-winning home runs, or that the slumping Javier Vazquez could come in and cool off Boston's bats. That's how baseball goes, and while in 162 games that unexpected stuff has small impact, in seven games it has an enormous one.
But don't tell me it was a Curse. I don't want to hear it anymore, and if you're trying to tell that story, you're not worth listening to.
Larry Mahnken is a staff writer for The Hardball Times, and co-editor of the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. You can contact him with your comments, questions, romantic propositions and incoherent rantings at DLMahnken@hardballtimes.com.