Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Agony

This is the second of a two-part joint venture with Suldog, recounting two defining moments in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. To read Part One of my contribution, go here.

The 2004 American League Championship Series could not have started any better. The Yankees won the first three games, including a 19-8 drubbing in Game Three. Since no team had ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit in the entire history of baseball, this one was in the bag, and the Yanks were headed to the 2004 World Series.

At least, that how it was supposed to happen.

Now, if you read my account of the one-game playoff in 1978, you know that I remember (or researched) every detail of that fantastic matchup. But since the conclusion of the 2004 ALCS didn't work out so well, getting me to pore over the play-by-play of Games 4 through 7 would be like getting the Kennedy family to sign up for a tour of the Texas School Book Depository. It's just not going to happen. So I'll just dredge up the memories that my subconscious hasn't mercifully deleted.

As I said, the Yanks won Game Three by the score of 19-8. You read that right, 19-8. I've seen lower-scoring Jets-Patriots games. If the fat lady wasn't singing at this point, she was certainly running through arpeggios in the green room. I was so confident that the Yankees were going to polish off the lowly Sox that I was fairly obnoxious about it at work.

"Yeah, this baby's over," I told my secretary. "No one's ever come back from down 3-zip. The Yanks just POUNDED them." I set our phones to play "New York, New York" as the on-hold music.

Game Four took place at Fenway Park in Boston. The Yankees carried a one-run lead into the ninth inning, with the virtually unhittable Mariano Rivera coming in to close it out.

Let's examine this more closely. The Yanks are up three games to nothing, in a best-of-seven series. They're winning in the ninth inning of Game Four. The best post-season closer in the history of the universe is on the mound. The odds of Boston winning THIS GAME were slim. Winning the SERIES?

Fuhgeddaboudit.

But then . . .

The Sox got a runner on first base. Boston manager Terry Francona sent in Dave Roberts to pinch run. Roberts was a mediocre player at best, but he could fly around the bases, and as the tying run, everyone in the ballpark knew he was going to try to steal second.

Which he did. And he scored on a base hit shortly afterward, tying the game.

Boston pulled it out in extra innings. Yanks lead, three games to one.

Big deal. No one was really expecting that we'd sweep them. The Bombers will surely finish them off in Game Five.

Once again, the Yankees had the lead late in the game. Once again, Boston came back to win. Some guys got hits, some guys walked, blah blah blah, I think Fat Papi might've hit a homer or something.

Yankees lead the series, 3-2.

This is where I started getting nervous. When the Yankees eliminated Boston in the one-game playoff in '78, that was like a quick bullet to the head of Red Sox Nation. What Yankee fans experienced in '04 was more like a week-long stay in a torture chamber manned by methodical Nazi war criminals.

In Game Six, Curt Schilling pitched for Boston. Schiwwing had a boo-boo on hims widdle ankle, and he was cwying about it to all the weporters in New Engwand. He didn't know if he'd be able to thwow the baseball. Curt was afwaid that his mommy might have to take him to the doctor for a shot, and hopefuwwy a wowwipop.

To pwove to the world that his ankle was hurting weawwy weawwy bad, he marked his sock with wed Sharpie to pwetend he was bweeding.

I guess he'd just watched "The Natural" or something.

Anyway, Schilling pitched pretty well, the Sox won again, and the series was now tied at 3-3.

Let me take a moment here to place some blame at the feet of Yankees' manager Joe Torre. Torre had led the Yankees to four World Series titles in the late 90's and in 2000, but hell, I could've managed those teams to a championship. All you'd have to do is write out the lineup card and stay out of the way. But Joe's handling of the Yankees during the 2004 ALCS was abysmal. I mean, if Schilling was indeed crippled and gushing blood (which I'm not conceding, by the way), why aren't you bunting all over the place to make him run around?

But that's not the worst of it.

The worst of it is how he managed the pitching staff. Here they were, getting ready for the most important game of the year. You'd think Joe would've had a plan so that one of their aces would've been on the mound, right? Nope. Who was the Yanks starter in game seven?

Kevin Brown.

Don't get me wrong, at one time, Brown was an outstanding pitcher. A headcase, but an outstanding pitcher nonetheless. Those days were long gone. By 2004, Brown was a banged up, whiny has-been with a rag arm. At one point during the season, after giving up fourteen runs to the team from St. Mary's Academy for Wayward Girls, Brown took out his frustration by punching a cement wall.

With his pitching hand. Bloody brilliant, Kevin.

Suffice it to say that having Kevin Brown start the seventh game of the 2004 ALCS was like sending Charlie Brown out to kick a game-winning 52-yard field goal at Lambeau.

He got his ass lit up, and quickly. I don't think he got out of the second inning. Javier Vazquez came on in relief and on his first pitch, Johnny Damon hit a grand slam, giving the Sox a lead they'd never relinquish.

The final score was something like 27-2. I may be off by a few runs, but that's what it felt like. The Sox had done the impossible, winning a series after being down three games to none. As devastating as it was, I had to give them credit. Any other team would have rolled over and died, but not those idiots. They kept fighting, and it paid off.

Bleah.

When I got to work the next day, my office had been redecorated with Red Sox pennants, pictures, all sorts of stuff. My staff is hilarious, aren't they? But given the amount of smack I was running when the series was 3-0, I guess I had it coming.

As everyone knows, the Sox then went on to obliterate the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, four games to squadoosh. After what the Sox had already accomplished, I was kinda rooting for them myself.

Oh, bullshit, no I wasn't. I wanted the Cardinals to come back from being down 3-0 and turn that sucker right around on Boston. But no. THEY laid down and died like dogs.

Two things about that Yankees - Red Sox series keep popping up, ensuring that we Yankee fans will never hear the end of it. The first is Dave Roberts. It doesn't matter what team Roberts plays for (and I think he's played for just about all of them at this point), whenever he comes up to bat, the announcers will say:

"And who can forget Roberts' key stolen base in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS, which sparked the greatest comeback blah blah blah . . ."

Dave Roberts, the Ghost of Choke Jobs Past.

I wish Roberts would do something else to be remembered for. Anything. Maybe it'll turn out that he was on 'roids, like the rest of those Red Sox were.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

The other thing that will haunt us is the whole "no team ever came back from down 3-0 in a seven game series" thing. It doesn't matter if you're watching the NBA Playoffs, Stanley Cup Finals, or the World Series. Whenever a team goes down three games to none, you'll see a graphic on the TV screen:

TEAMS THAT HAVE COME BACK FROM A THREE GAMES TO NONE DEFICIT TO WIN A 7-GAME SERIES

It's never happened in the NBA and only once or twice in hockey. But right there, under the heading "Major League Baseball" you'll see . . .

2004: Boston Red Sox, vs. New York Yankees

We'll keep seeing that until it happens again to some other team.

Don't hold your breath, though. That series was once-in-a-lifetime.

Click here to read Suldog's account of this tragic event in American history.

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10 comments:

moooooog35 said...

Ah..finally...a fond memory instead of having to watch the Yankees in the post season while my guys sit.

Just ain't right.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I can't believe I'm about to admit this, but I went to bed that night, the night Robert's stole second, assured in the knowledge that my team was indeed toast-burned to a blackened crisp.
In other words, I missed the whole freakin thing. Never was I so shocked to wake up and learn that indeed we had won to live another day.

The entire World Series run after that was probably one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The curse reversed, out first World Championship in 84 years, euphoira. It was like Red Sox Nation was high on E, strangers high fiving each other, every person wearing proudly their Red Sox colors, love and joy throughout the streets of Boston.

Nothing will ever compare to it. And as for winning the ALCS championship in the fashion that we did, by beating the "Spankees" in the greatest comeback in MLB history, it was better than winning the World Series. Although the sweep of St Louis was the final icing on top of the cake.

AND....Mr. Shilling's heroics were the stuff that baseball legends tell their grandchildren about. Books and stories will be written about what he did for us that night. HE solidified his place in the heart of every Sox fan forever and will always be a true Red Sox in our minds.

That widdle bwoody sock sits prominently in Cooperstown. Where it rightly bewongs...

Beth said...

We have a friend who is a die hard Sox fan (I know, I know - time to get a new friend). He talks about this series. All. The. Time.

I'm over it. He should be, too.

Suldog said...

I just wanted to publicly thank Knucklehead for the opportunity to relive the most enjoyable moment of my life, sports division :-)

For a Yankees fan, he's alright.

Michelle H. said...

So sad... although you gotta love the humor of your staff.

Quirkyloon said...

Another wonderfully, written post about baseball and yet not even ONE reference to peanuts, hotdogs, or even (blech for me) beer?

Where are the gluttons and drunkards in your story?

Where are the fights in the stadiums and the beer spilling over the innocent fans who just happened to be sitting in front of the drunkards.

Lucky for them they were showered in beer.

That is a lucky thing to happen, no?

No?

Jenn said...

What Yankee fans experienced in '04 was more like a week-long stay in a torture chamber manned by methodical Nazi war criminals

And they deserved every bleeping minute of it. Ah, sweet satisfaction my friend. So sweet in fact that I am smiling at every last word of your clear need to fight tears through sarcasm. Can't wait to further -relish in this glory over at Jim's place.

Believe.

Ragtop Day said...

I came here from Suldog and enjoyed your account of the series. I was born a Red Sox fan, so you know where my loyalties lie! It was the most satisfying sports event of my life and it was fun to read about it from the dark side! :)

otin said...

Had to make me re live this huh?? LMAO! I was just thinking about how funny it is that two middle aged Jersey guys have to have a conversation as Otin and Knucklehead! That sounds like a fucking vaudeville act!hahaha!!!

Yankees better not blow it this year!! They gave it away last night.

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