Everyone in New York was well aware that Mariano Rivera was in Panama burying his cousins after a freak accident at his house last Saturday. Some of you might not know but his nickname among his teammates is "Hammer of God". Even Mo Rivera openly admits that God spoke to him on the mound during a game against the Braves in 1999. That must have been an interesting conversation because Mo has racked up over 250 saves since that moment.
I wondered if his teammates would pick up the slack and insure that Mo would not have to pitch in Game 1. Sure everyone had faith that he'd be ready to play... but no one wanted to thrust that responsibility on his shoulders. By the time the game started, he still had yet to arrive in New York City. He was caught in traffic on the George Washington Bridge even with a police escort. When he showed up at the bullpen at 9:53pm, the entire stadium greeted him with a rowdy cheer of "Mariano! Mariano!" One by one his teammates in the bullpen stopped to give him hugs and welcome him back. That was a good thing. The Yankees would need the Hammer of God to seal a game one victory.
The media hype kills me. The ESPN pundits hate the Yankees. Boston and New York fans don't need a cheesy intro from FOX to get everyone fired up for the game. The ad wizards over at FOX were trying to incite all those non-Yankee fans out there in America to waste their time watching the greatest rivalry in all of sports, splicing poorly cut footage of George Lucas' Star Wars films in a parody of Good vs. Evil. The Yankees were depicted as the bad, evil Empire.... while the unkempt Red Sox portrayed as the good guys... the rebels with a cause. They tried to hype up the brawl from earlier this summer. Real baseball fans don't need Darth Vader to tell them that these games are important. Oh, well. The suits over at FOX were drooling over the matchup and I was happy that I didn't have to listen to Joe Morgan poorly announce another Yankees game.
Yogi Berra threw out the first pitch. No other living baseball player has more World Series rings. Yankees starting Mike Mussina struck out the first batter Johnny Damon before retiring the side. The key to any Yankees victory this past season was to get out to a fast start. Sure they have more come from behind wins than any other team in baseball, but against the Sox you have to score first and often. It was evident from the first few pitches that Boston starter Curt Shilling was not looking sharp in his attempt to shut 55,000 Yankees fans up. With two outs the Yankees MVP Gary Sheffield smoked a double to left field. Hideki Matsui followed with an RBI double and Bernie Williams' single knocked home Matsui. Yankees 2, Red Sox 0 after Shilling gave up three consecutive two out hits.
In the bottom of the third, Shilling had to face the top of the order. After giving up singles to Jeter and A Rod, he walked Sheffield, setting up a bases loaded situation for Goji-san... Hideki Matsui. I've noticed that Matsui tends to play well in big games... especially against the Mets and the Red Sox. Unfortunately, he has a better knowledge of baseball history than most American ball players. He understands the significance of Yankees-Red Sox games especially when he smoked a bases clearly double down the right field line. After a Jorge Posada sacrifice fly, the Yankees had a 6-0 lead while loud shouts and taunts of "Who's your Daddy?" rained down from the crowd. Good job, Pedro. Way to give the Hooligans in the Bronx more material to work with!
I hate big leads early in baseball playoff games but Moose was on fire. I had not seen him pitch this well since he took a perfect game into the ninth inning at Fenway in September of 2001. By the middle of the fourth inning, Moose had five strikeouts, including Damon for a second time and striking out every batter Boston sent to the plate that inning.
By the bottom of the sixth, everyone was aware that Moose was pitching a perfect game. All the pundits were hyping up Boston's starters... and the quiet and often aloof Mussina was overlooked. I was still worried. An six run lead on the Sox is nothing with their potent lineup. I was happy to see the Yankees add two insurance runs against Tim Wakefield. Kenny Lofton hit a solo homerun into the short right field porch off. Matsui racked up his fifth RBI of the night when he singled home Sheffield and tied six other players for most RBIs in the ALCS. Matsui came up big at the plate once again. Yankees 8, Red Sox 0.
There's a fine line between perfection and misery in pitching. One second Moose seemed unhittable and the next moment he looked like he was pitching batting practice. He opened the top of the seventh inning with his third strike out of Johnny Damon, who's looking more like some dude I scored hash from at a Phish show than the centerfielder of the Red Sox. Three times? That's an impressive feat since Damon only struck out 74 times in 150 games this year. Then Moose lost his concentration when he gave up a deep double to Mark Belhorn. During the postgame, Ex-Yankee catcher and analyst Joe Giradi said that managers sometime take pitchers out of games right away after they lose a bid for a perfect game or no hitter... because the pitchers suffer from mental exhaustion trying to maintain a hyper level of perfection. The poker term is called tilt. Moose was on tilt right after that double. He got a second out, but then couldn't get anyone else out. Matsui misplayed a ball in left field and two runs scored. Torre called on a hot Tanyon Sturtze to come out of the pen and he quickly served up a chili dog to Jason Varitek who homered into the bleachers. Perfect Game gone. No hitter gone. Eight run lead gone. Yankees 8, Red Sox 5.
How important were those extra runs from Lofton and Matsui? Flash Gordon came out to pitch the Yankees 8th. He had a freak accident in Minnesota when a champagne cork hit him in the eye and was suffering from blurry vision. Not what the Yankees bullpen needed especially after Mo Rivera's recent tragedy. Blurry Flash gave up an infield single and got the next two batters out (including an atrocious fourth strikeout from Johnny Damon... can you say Golden Somberro?) before Manny Ramirez singled. First and third, two out with Ortiz up. I think any other time Torre would have gone with Mo Rivera. He wanted to save him for just the ninth because he really did not know what mindset he's be pitching with. Was it a questionable move? Sure, but not as shaddy as some of the pitching changes Francona had been making. I would have brought out Mo to pitch to Manny. Alas, Flash Gordon served up a shot to deep center and Matsui over ran the ball to let two more runners score. The Red Sox fought back and pulled to within one run. That was enough for Torre. He took Gordon out and Enter Sandman starting playing over the loudspeakers. Even sitting at home I get goosebumps. Behold... the Hammer of God entered the game. He got Cowboy Up Millar to pop up and end the inning. Yankees 8, Red Sox 7.
Jerry called me from Miami all worried. He needed reassurance. "We got the top of the order up with a lead and Mo pitching. We're looking good. Have faith!" I told him. Plus I knew Terry Francona was a subpar manager often making mistakes late in games. "Why did he bring in Timlin to pitch?" is something all of Boston talk radio is bemoaning this morning, even though those extra runs didn't matter. Timlin gave up two hits before Bernie Williams doubled in two more runs. Bernie is slowly racking up monster postseason stats. Before the game started he had 113 postseason hits in 109 games with 20 HRs. You can't argue with those numbers. Granted Mickey Mantle hit 18 HRs in 59 World Series games... but whenever you pass guys like Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ruth on an alltime list... you're doing something right. Yankees 10, Red Sox 8.
The top of the ninth was a gut wrencher. With one out, Mo gave up consecutive hits. I took a deep breath when Bill Meuller hit a comebacker to Mo. He whirled around a fired to second base... just like he did in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in Arizona... this time Jeter picked it out of the air and tossed it over to first base to complete the game ending double play. In a close one, the Yankees pulled out a victory. Mastui and Williams combined for 8 RBIs, Moose flirted with perfection, and the Hammer of God put the Yankees just three wins away from returning to the World Series.
Check out my favorite basbeall blogger Aaron Gleeman's impartial take on of last night's game called The Almost Comeback. Here's a bit:
This postseason has already featured a ton of "interesting" bullpen usage patterns and managerial decisions, and last night was no exception. I can't really fault Joe Torre for leaving Tom Gordon in for a batter too long in the eighth, because Gordon has been exceptional this year, but did anyone else think the way Terry Francona handled things in the late innings was very weird?The Boston Globe has great coverage including a piece called An Opening Night Shortfall. Here's a bit:
With New York leading 8-7 heading into the bottom of the eighth, Francona went with Mike Timlin instead of Keith Foulke, and that didn't turn out too well. I don't really fault him for that decision, but then why would he bring Foulke into the game when the Yankees scored twice against Timlin, making it 10-7? In what scenario is Foulke, the team's best reliever, okay to pitch with a three-run deficit, but not with a one-run deficit?
Tracing the tracks of their tears back to the ballpark in the Bronx where all the horrible things happened last October, the Red Sox returned to the American League Championship Series last night, fell behind, 8-0, then rallied mightily before again succumbing to the Yankees, 10-7. Sox ace Curt Schilling, unbeatable most of the season, appeared to be suffering the effects of an ankle injury and was cuffed around for six hits and six runs in three innings, his shortest outing of the season. Meanwhile, Yankee starter Mike Mussina befuddled the vaunted Boston lineup for six-plus innings, retiring the first 19 batters he faced before giving up three runs on four hits in the seventh.And the NY Daily News has plenty of pro-Yankees articles like Yanks Win on a Wing, Prayer. Here's a bit:
But things are never this simple in Yankees-Red Sox. Can't be. Boston turned an apparent blowout into more tense, more complex baseball, scoring seven times over the seventh and eighth innings. The Bosox put the tying run on third in the eighth, bringing in Rivera, who despite having his lead extended to three runs, faced the tying run in the ninth.It's good to read stories from both sides of the rivalry. And lastly, Larry Mahnken's article in The Hardball Times was solid: A Win Is a Win. Here's some of that:
The Yankee closer, heartbroken over having to leave his family in Panama, ultimately was the difference. He started the long day with tears streaming down his face at the funeral and ended it saving the Yankees in their 10-7 victory in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Coming into this series, the Red Sox have been favored by many because they won the season series, they had time to set their rotation, and their roster was judged as superior to New York's by many, many analysts. Boston may well be the better team, and they well may triumph in this series, but it's easy to oversimplify this series, and forget that for the most part these teams played each other very, very evenly. In a game where lesser teams defeat superior teams in a short series fairly regularly, predicting victory for one of these teams is an exercise in futility.I must admit that "Who's your Daddy?" is pretty catchy. I wondered how loud it will sound tonight when Pedro takes the mound for Game 2?
You have to check out Hollyweird's favorite poker blogger... Chicks Dig Poker Geeks. The Poker Geek posted a picture just for me. Thanks, buddy.