Rivals in Exile: ALCS­­­­—Part One

Tuesday Night — Game One

Ben Jacobs: Did that really just happen? Just when you think that these two teams must be running out of different ways to make a game absolutely unbelievable, they find another one. I don’t even really know what to think after a game like that.

I went from watching Mike Mussina make Boston hitter after Boston hitter look helpless through six perfect innings of an absolute laugher to cheering for the Red Sox to get the tying run home from third base with two outs in the eighth inning against Mariano Rivera. How do you think logically when the game itself defies all logic?

Should I be mad that Curt Schilling got lit up to the tune of six runs in three innings or happy that Mussina didn’t join Don Larsen in a two-man group of pitchers with postseason perfectos?

Should I be mad that Tim Wakefield gave up two runs in the sixth inning or happy that the Red Sox put on such a charge that those two runs had any significance at all?

Should I be mad that Manny Ramirez didn’t catch the double from Bernie Williams in the bottom of the eighth or happy that Hideki Matsui didn’t catch the triple from David Ortiz in the top of the inning?

Should I focus on the pop up from Kevin Millar with the tying run 90 feet from home with two outs in the top of the eighth or on the two-run double from Millar in the seventh that made that pop up matter?

Should I focus on Bill Mueller’s leadoff single in the eighth that gave Ortiz the chance to cut the lead to 8-7 or on Mueller’s double play in the ninth that finally ended a game that seemed over hours earlier?

With a game like that, there’s so much good and bad that it’s almost impossible to dissect what happened and what it means.

The good news is that the Red Sox can probably use Schilling in Game 4 since he only threw 58 pitches. The bad news is that there’s no way to know if he’ll be any better then than he was tonight.

The good news is that the Red Sox made the Yankees use Rivera and Tom Gordon when it looked like the entire bullpen might get to take the night off. The bad news is that the Red Sox made themselves use almost all of their relievers when it looked like they were ready to let the mop-up crew finish the last two innings.

The good news is that the Red Sox never gave up and almost made one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball history. The bad news is that they still lost. That means they almost have to win Game 2, or else they’ll have to work really hard just to get back to Yankee Stadium.

Two thoughts that I can’t get out of my head about the series opener — I was absolutely sure Ortiz had homered, and Rivera is simply amazing.

Now, I have to try and recover quickly and get ready for Game 2, and hope that Pedro Martinez can find a way to beat his daddies.

Larry Mahnken: I almost think that Pedro’s “daddy” comment was a setup to lower expectations. Maybe he was hoping that letting the Yankees know that he’s frustrated would make them overconfident, or maybe he was trying to set himself up to be a hero if he won the games that he would normally be expected to. What I do know is the effect of his comments — people are asking what’s wrong with Pedro. Martinez has in fact pitched very well against New York all year except for the one blowout in New York. As long as Francona gets him out before, or not long after he reaches 100 pitches, he should be fine.

I think Game One shows us how dumb it is for us to have argued over exactly which lineup was better. Whether Boston averages a tenth of a run more or less than New York in neutral parks is wholly irrelevant, because both of these teams are capable of destroying any starting pitcher. The relatively small difference in the quality of their lineups isn’t going to be clearly established in this series because there simply aren’t enough games. The Yankees pounded Curt Schilling in Game One, Boston may well pound Lieber in Game Two.

But it’s a big win for New York, even if they almost blew it. To win this series they’ll have to beat Schilling or Pedro at least once, maybe twice, and they got the first one out of the way quickly. That doesn’t mean they’ll beat Arroyo or Wakefield, but it makes those games more important for Boston.

I can’t complain about Mussina, of course. His line doesn’t show how he pitched, which was brilliant. Gordon struggled, but not as badly as I feared after getting a cork in the eye on Saturday, and while Rivera wasn’t perfectly sharp, he got the job done. Most importantly, they won. Everything else is secondary.

I don’t think Game Two is a must-win for Boston. Being down 2-0 would be tough, but they can win four of five against the Yankees, especially if Pedro and Schilling are pitching three of those games. I think the big question for me is how well Lieber pitches. The Yankees were 3-0 in the games he’s started against Boston this year, and he was brilliant in September, but with Boston hitting like they have, will he be able to do it again?

Wednesday Night — Game Two

LM: I guess that would be a yes. Jon Lieber was as good as I’ve ever seen him, and it came at just about the best possible time.

Pedro Martinez pitched a little better than I thought he would, and a lot better than the media did. His stuff was in the mid-to-high 90′s most of the evening, he only allowed three singles until Olerud’s homer, and at times he looked like the late-90′s Pedro. That’s gotta be good news for Boston.

But there was lots of bad news for the Red Sox Wednesday. The first, and worst, is that Curt Schilling might be done for the year with his ankle injury. That might not do in the Sox in this series, but it’s going to make it really hard to beat St. Louis or Houston. And I think I speak for all Yankees fans about the prospect of Derek Lowe pitching Game Five: Yum.

Almost as important, or maybe more importantly, they lost. Pedro was very good, but the Yankees were able to get guys on and work his pitch count, and in the sixth inning, after he went past 100 pitches, John Olerud lined a homer into the right field seats, which was the difference in the game.

Now Boston gets to find out if 2-0 is the death sentence, which I don’t think it is. They are going to need good pitching the next two games, though, because I think Kevin Brown is going to redeem himself for his first start back, and El Duque is going to be solid after two weeks to rest his tired arm. I think this series will come back to New York, and that it’s 50/50 to go to seven games, but then it could also be a sweep. I think even if it goes down like that, we’re in for at least two more great games. If the rest of the series is as tense as these two games have been, I think I’m going to be a lot balder in a week.

Thursday

BJ: Nothing good happened for the Red Sox yesterday. Nothing at all. Tuesday night, you could talk about the impressive rally and say the Red Sox could take something out of it. Wednesday, there was nothing.

Before the game, the news came out that Curt Schilling is seriously hurt. Once the game started, the Red Sox couldn’t do anything at all against Jon Lieber. And once again, the Red Sox fell behind in the first inning. Granted, it was only one run and Pedro was impressive after allowing it, but then he reached 100 pitches in the six, gave up the homer to Olerud and his line at the end of the game wasn’t anything to get excited about.

So, the Red Sox fell behind 2-0, and I got depressed. I came into this series with such high expectations, and suddenly everything had been turned on its head. Instead of having a solid chance to go to the World Series, the Red Sox had their backs against the wall and now had to fight and claw their way back.

I drove home from work in a bit of a daze. I slept until noon and sat and stared at my computer for an hour. Then, for some reason, I turned on Mike and the Mad Dog. I got annoyed after 10 minutes and turned them off. I read some stories online. I got annoyed and started reading a book instead.

My girlfriend called and I made her hang up on me because I wasn’t in the mood to hold a conversation. She called back a little later and I explained that I just wasn’t going to be happy today because there was nothing for me to do but think about what happened the last two days.

After that I stared into space for a bit before I decided that I needed to snap out of it. After all, I wrote on Wednesday that the Red Sox weren’t done. So, I did what I frequently do when I’m in a bad mood. I watched The Shawshank Redemption. And in the words of Andy Dufresne:

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I hope the Red Sox can make it past the Yankees. I hope to see a World Series championship this year. I hope the feeling is as great as it has been in my dreams. I hope…

I don’t know exactly why, but that movie always does it for me. I’m refreshed and ready for Game 3. Time for the Red Sox to get busy living, or get busy dying.

LM: Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use for a Red Sox fan. You’d better get used to that idea.

Sunday morning — Game Three

BJ: Like Brooks did?

Because the Red Sox appear to have taken the Brooks Hatlen route rather than the Ellis Redding route.

This series is all-but-officially over and I actually don’t feel that bad. I’m upset, sure, and I wish this hadn’t happened, but it’s not nearly as bad as last year was. Last year, I thought that the Red Sox were going to the World Series and then they were suddenly going home.

This year, I thought the Red Sox should go to the World Series. Then, after Game 1, I thought they still could go to the World Series, but it would be tougher. After Game 2, I thought they still might be able to go to the World Series, but it would be very difficult. And after last night, I knew they weren’t going to get to the World Series.

Having the realization that this wasn’t the year come over a span of three games and five days seemed to be a little easier on me than having it happen in a matter of hours. Of course, last year’s ALCS was infinitely more fun, despite the agonizing outcome.

At any rate, I no longer have any expectation at all that the Red Sox will win this series. I certainly hope they will, but I’m almost certain they won’t. What I hope for now is that the Red Sox win tonight. That’s all I want for them right now, just this win and a chance to play again tomorrow.

I want it partly because if they win today, then Pedro could win tomorrow and they could at least send this thing back to New York. I want it mostly because I just don’t want the Red Sox to get swept by the Yankees. A loss is a loss, but some losses are worse than others, especially for the conclusion certain people will draw from them (although, they might draw those conclusions anyway).

LM: Frankly, I’m as stunned as anyone else about this outcome. I figured the Yankees could win this thing, but to be running away with it with relative ease is a shock. I think that maybe it’s just possible that everyone, including myself, underestimated just how good this Yankees team is. Right now, the entire lineup is playing at the peak of its ability, and how great it is when they’re clicking goes beyond anything I or anyone else expected. The top six hitters in the Yankees’ lineup all have an OBP above .400 for the series, a combined OBP of .522, and an OPS of 1.291. The entire lineup has a 1.134 OPS for the series, and only two players, Olerud and Cairo, aren’t hitting well — and Olerud hit the game-winner off of Pedro!

And despite this, I think the series MVP is really either Jon Lieber or Mariano Rivera. The offensive explosion Saturday resulted in some nice numbers for just about everyone in this lineup, but it was Lieber’s brilliant pitching Wednesday that allowed the Yankees to maintain Home-Field advantage going into Fenway and take control of the series, and it was Rivera who was able to stop the Boston comeback on Tuesday and finish them off in Game 2. Without either of those guys, there’s a very good chance it’s only 2-1 New York right now, or even 2-1 Boston. Either way, the Red Sox would be in this series right now if not for the performances of those guys. Hideki Matsui’s second homer yesterday didn’t change much, but it probably clinched the MVP for him.

And part of me thinks that it’s important for the Yankees to close out the Red Sox tonight, with Derek Lowe on the mound. If they don’t, then it’s Pedro versus Mussina tomorrow, which Boston can win if Pedro pitches his best, Wakefield on Tuesday, which despite his recent struggles and the fact he pitched Saturday, I think will be a tough match for New York, and then it’s Kevin Brown starting for the Yankees in Game Seven, perhaps against Curt Schilling. This is the Yankees’ best matchup in the final four games, and I think they need to take advantage of it.

But maybe I’m just being my paranoid self, and the Yankees won’t have any problem finishing this off. We’ll see.

Early Monday morning — Game Four

LM: Last night was a night for the Sox and their fans. They got a solid start from Derek Lowe, a comeback against Orlando Hernandez, and another, much more dramatic one against Mariano Rivera (well, so much for an MVP argument for him) in the bottom of the ninth, three outs from elimination, and Ortiz’s walkoff homer in the 12th against Quantrill. It was a night in which hope stayed alive for at least one more day.

Now Boston is in the position they would have been in had they won Saturday, and lost last night. Their task is still a difficult one, but if one keeps in mind that three of these four games have been very closely played despite poor execution by the Red Sox, it no longer seems like an impossible one.

The Red Sox are now where only five other teams have ever been — playing Game Five after going down 0-3. They now are trying to get where only two teams have ever gone, and then where no team has ever gone. But just because it’s never been done doesn’t mean it will never happen. Just because the Red Sox haven’t won in 86 years doesn’t mean it can’t be them.

So I’m a little bit nervous now. Not panicky of course, the Yankees still have a big edge in this series, especially with Keith Foulke having been used three innings in trying to keep Boston alive. But the Yankees can’t let Boston back into this series, they can’t give them a glimmer of real hope. They’ve gotta beat Pedro one more time.

BJ: That’s what I love about this team. Even after three terrible losses, they can come right back and win a game like this one. And what a game, too. I don’t know how many teams can make a potential sweep game as exciting as that.

It seems like a 3-0 deficit just wasn’t big enough for the Red Sox. It’s like they said to themselves, “Heck, if we’re going to try to become the first team to do this, let’s really do it. Let’s give Mariano Rivera a 1-run lead to hold and see if we can beat him and then win three more.”

At any rate, I was amazingly calm throughout this game. Maybe it’s because I knew there were only two options — get to play another game or do what every other team in this situation has done and lose the series. I felt good about Lowe right from the beginning. I felt good about Boston’s chances of getting to Hernandez. I even thought they would tie it up on Rivera.

And once they did, I was pretty sure they would win. When they reached the bottom of the 12th with Manny and Ortiz due up, I didn’t think there would be any need for a 13th frame and I simply smiled as Ortiz’s homer traveled into the bullpen. If the Red Sox do end up losing this series — and that still seems pretty likely — at least they didn’t get swept and at least I have a moment I can think back on and smile about.

Hopefully, tonight’s game will give me another moment and will give the Red Sox another game to play. The Red Sox are on a one-game winning streak right now. To borrow from the Patriots, I’d like them to have another one-game winning streak. The Patriots have had 20 one-game winning streaks in a row; the Red Sox need four.

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