Rivals in Exile: The Comeback

Monday night — Game Five

Larry Mahnken: All of the sudden, we’ve got ourselves a series. It’s amazing, but this series is almost a microcosm of the regular season. Boston still can’t afford to lose, but they only have to win two straight in order to complete the greatest comeback in baseball history. And the way things are breaking, I’d almost say the Red Sox lead 2-3.

Terry Francona has managed his team well in the past two days, while I think Joe Torre has done quite poorly. Francona has managed both games as must-wins, but kept in mind that he would have to have something left for tomorrow. Torre has managed like both games were must-wins, and he’s also acted like there was no consequence to losing. Now, as long as there’s no rain Tuesday, the Yankees don’t have Mariano Rivera or Tom Gordon available for Game Six. They’ll have to rely on Jon Lieber to outpitch Curt Schilling and take the ball deep into the game, and I might even say they need to beat up on Schilling to have a chance to win.

I think I might have been the only person in the world who really felt that this series wasn’t completely over, that Boston had the cards lined up for a comeback. I even told Aaron Gleeman before the series that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Boston come back from 0-3.

To me, the Yankees have already lost; they’ve taken a great triumph and turned it into, at best, a close call. To me, this series is over in favor of Boston.

I’m mad. I’m mad that the Yankees stopped hitting with runners on, I’m mad that Joe Torre ordered or allowed Derek Jeter to sacrifice bunt two games in a row, I’m mad at how he’s used his bullpen. This is agonizing.

Ben Jacobs: Wow, just wow. The thing I really liked about the way this series set up was that I didn’t need to wait long to find out whether this comeback was just a one-game thing or something with a little more life to it. I got home from work (and watching Game Four) a little after 2 a.m. and got to sleep around 4:30 a.m. after finishing up our last conversation. Then, I woke up at 11 a.m. this morning, watched some Mike and the Mad Dog, and it was game time six hours later. Six hours after that, I had my answer.

This comeback has some life to it.

So much happened the last two days that you can’t help but overlook things. So many little things happened that could have ended this series had they gone the other way. Tonight, after Pedro failed to make the big pitch in the sixth inning for the second time, I got down for a little bit. Then I looked up at the TV and said, “Hey, we’ve got four innings left. This isn’t over.”

And it wasn’t, as the Red Sox tagged Mariano Rivera with a completely undeserved blown save. Just like in Game Two against the Twins, this blown save really belonged to Tom Gordon, who gave up the solo homer to David Ortiz and put runners on the corners with nobody out. To ask Rivera to come in and get both Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller to strike out, pop up or do something unusual that would result in speedy Dave Roberts being unable to score from third was just not reasonable.

Then came extra innings, and I think you used the perfect word. They were agonizing. Every time the Red Sox pitcher got through the top of the inning unscathed, I told the TV and anybody who was standing near my desk that the Red Sox had to win it in the bottom of the inning.

Ninth inning? Foulke gets through a scoreless inning thanks to Tony Clark’s double going into the stands and leaving Ruben Sierra at third, but the Red Sox can’t score because Johnny Damon gets caught stealing after leading off with just his second hit of the series.

Tenth inning? Bronson Arroyo amazingly bounces back from his Game Three disaster by getting Derek Jeter to pop up and then striking out Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, but Boston can’t score when Ortiz gets called out on a terrible check swing call (although Manny Ramirez wasn’t called out on an equally terrible check swing call the previous inning) before Doug Mientkiewicz’s ground-rule double (which, to be fair, Sheffield should have caught) and Gabe Kapler and Varitek can’t get Mientkiewicz home.

Eleventh inning? Mike Myers and Alan Embree combine to strike out the side, but Boston can’t score when Damon (can he do anything right?) pops up on a bunt attempt and Orlando Cabrera grounds into a double play.

Twelfth inning? Tim Wakefield gets through his first scoreless inning, but Boston can’t score when Ortiz gets caught stealing second. That the play was as close as it was is shocking.

Thirteenth inning? Wakefield somehow works around three passed balls to keep the game tied, but Boston goes down in order against Esteban Loaiza.

Fourteenth inning? Wakefield gives Boston just its second 1-2-3 inning of the night, and the Red Sox finally break through thanks to two walks from Loaiza and an amazing at-bat from Ortiz.

And now it’s back to New York, and anybody who says they have any idea what’s going to happen there should just be ignored. Neither team has a bullpen left to speak of.

For the Red Sox, Foulke threw 50 pitches Sunday and came back with 22 tonight, Embree has pitched in all five games this series, Timlin threw 57 pitches the last two games, Wakefield threw 64 pitches on Saturday and 43 tonight and Arroyo threw an inning tonight after throwing 60 pitches Saturday.

Who might be available? Foulke and Timlin might try to go on fumes for a couple batters or an inning, but they may not be up to it either. Embree only threw nine pitches tonight, but threw 30 Sunday and certainly can’t go more than an inning tonight, if that much. Wakefield has to be unavailable and Arroyo probably has to be saved just in case there’s a Game Seven. Myers has pitched three games in a row, but only four pitches the last two games and should be available, but isn’t a good idea against righties. Curtis Leskanic and Ramiro Mendoza both had tonight off, and will probably be the first guys out of the pen on Tuesday.

For the Yankees, Rivera threw 40 pitches Sunday and came back with 22 tonight, Gordon has thrown 62 pitches in the last three games, Quantrill has pitched three straight games and may have hurt his knee again, Loaiza threw 59 pitches tonight, Vazquez threw 96 pitches on Saturday.

Who might be available? Rivera and Gordon are in the same situation as Foulke and Timlin, they might try to go but they’re both gassed. Quantrill can’t be counted on and Loaiza might be able to go an inning at most. Tanyon Sturtze pitched in the last two games, but didn’t throw a ton of pitches and should be available. Vazquez might be a possibility, but he’d only have two days of rest since throwing almost 100 pitches and using him would mean you have to use Kevin Brown on three days rest in a Game Seven. The only New York reliever who shouldn’t be tired at all is Felix Heredia, and I’m sure no Yankees fan wants to see him pitch in an important spot.

With both bullpens so empty, Game Six is going to come down to the starters, and the Yankees have a decided advantage there. Curt Schilling is a great pitcher, but nobody knows what he’s going to be able to give the Red Sox. If he can somehow go six or seven innings, Boston might be OK. If he’s done after three (or fewer) again, the Red Sox are in big trouble.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have a pitcher going who they at least know is fully healthy. And a pitcher who was able to get through seven innings on just 82 pitches (and 16 of those came in one at-bat). If the Red Sox don’t get some runs off of Jon Lieber, the series will probably be over. If they don’t at least make him throw more (many more) pitches, it will almost certainly be over.

But since most people declared the series over after Saturday’s game (and again after eight innings of Sunday’s game), I’m thrilled that I’m worried about how the Red Sox are going to get through Game Six. And of course, there is rain in the forecast for Tuesday, so both bullpens may get a day off to recover after all.

The only thing I really know about this series is that it’s quickly gone from one I would need to forget about as quickly as possible to one that I will think very fondly of. Even if the Red Sox lose, they’ve made me a very happy fan with these two wins. Not just because they won, but because of how they won. It was just great to see the team keep fighting and fighting and refusing to let the series end.

Tuesday Night — Game Six

LM: A year ago, the day of Game Seven was horrible. All day it felt like I was waiting for an execution, and the victory was like getting a full pardon. This year I’ve felt the same way, but it’s been going on since Sunday night. I think I was the first person in the world to see this happening.

But now that the lead is blown, I feel almost relieved. It’s like the worst thing I imagined happening is about to happen, and nothing worse can. Obviously, the Yankees are better than this, and it’s been their hitting, not their pitching that’s failed them. After a day off, Gordon and Rivera can probably go two innings again. What’s it’s going to come down to is Kevin Brown giving them four or five solid innings, and being able to score runs off of Derek Lowe, and getting into the bullpen early.

What worries me most is that the Yankees haven’t shown any fire. Boston’s bullpen has been impressive since Sunday, but the Yankees’ lineup has been hideous, period. They’ve just stopped hitting completely, all at once. And the fact is that they have been only a well-timed hit away from winning each of the last three games, and they haven’t gotten it. And they’re starting to press, you can see it.

A-Rod’s swat last night is going to be the lasting image of this series, a player on the Yankees desperately trying to make something happen, and going outside the rules to do it. In years past, the attitude has been like Jeter told Boone last season, “eventually the ghosts show up”. I don’t believe that’s really how it works, but the attitude that eventually something would go right for them has had a calming effect. That A-Rod felt he had to make something happen shows that this team is cracking.

Even Kevin Brown lacks confidence. He’s always been hyper-critical of himself, but he’s talking about his body not working, and he looks like he’s in pain. Someone needs to step up tonight, someone needs to put the Yankees on top.

Wednesday Night — Game Seven

LM: Congratulations. That’s all I have to say. If the Yankees sign Beltran and Clement and whoever else this winter, I won’t feel this slightest bit bad about it.

Thursday Morning

BJ: Thank you, Larry. I’m obviously thrilled with what happened. I was too young to care about 1986, so this is the first time I get to cheer on the Red Sox in the World Series. And they way they got there, falling behind 3-0 before making the greatest comeback ever against the team that has haunted Red Sox fans’ dreams, just makes it that much sweeter.

With that said, I’m sorry you had to go through that. After last year, I know what it’s like to see a trip to the World Series slip through your fingers. I’m glad the Red Sox went through the Yankees the way they did, but I’m sorry that the result of that is anguish for you and several other Yankees fans I know and like.

I pretty much poured out everything I had in me about this series Wednesday night, but I’ll say one more thing about the rivalry before I get ready to find out who the Red Sox will be playing Saturday. That one thing is that I actually hope the Red Sox and Yankees don’t meet in next year’s ALCS.

The two teams have played 52 games against each other the last two years, including two truly draining seven-game series. And the Red Sox and their fans now have the victory over the Yankees that they lost last year. I’m going to need a year or two off from a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS or this rivalry may seriously shorten my life.

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