March 26, 2005

ALCS 4: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12)

Sunday, October 17. All I really remember about my mindset before this game: "Do not get swept. Please."

Top of the 1st: Jeter lines the game's first pitch off the back of Lowe's right thigh, but he's okay. The fans are hopeful, chanting "Let's go D-Lo! Let's go D-Lo!"

Top of the 2nd: Matsui on third, one out, no score. Infield in. My heart starts pounding for the first time tonight, even as I look down at my completed scorecard. Posada smacks the ball on one hop to shortstop. Cabrera backhands it, takes a split-second to set himself and fires the ball home. It's to Varitek's left, and at shoulder height, a perfect spot for the catcher to tag Matsui as he comes sliding in. Out.

Bottom of the 2nd: The first Dave Roberts sighting of the night -– in the dugout as Millar bats. Dave, you have no idea how much your life is going to change in about three hours. ... Also, Millar has shaved most of his chin, leaving a normal-looking goatee. Clearly, the brillo pad look was bad luck.

Top of the 3rd: Lowe's cutter is top notch, but Fox's sideline guy says the Yankees tell him that they think they can hit Lowe. With two outs, Jeter lines a ball off Mueller that goes into left for a single. Rodriguez bangs the next pitch over everything in left and New York leads 2-0.

After two pitches to Sheffield, the home run ball comes sailing back from Landsdowne Street and lands in center field. Time is called. Damon walks over, picks up the ball and throws it back over the Monster seats. [Insert joke about that throw being the best Damon's made in weeks.] It doesn't take long before the ball comes flying back into the park, again. This time, one of the umpires gets the ball and puts it in his pocket. It is a nice moment of humor after the home run.

Bottom of the 5th: Millar leads off with a four-pitch walk off Hernandez and the crowd suddenly comes alive. They have been following the game intently and roaring at various points, but for the most part, just watching ... and waiting. Boston has had only one hit so far -– an opposite field single by Mueller in the second. Here, Mueller forces Millar at second, and there is no relay back to first. Bellhorn (batting .077 in the series) takes three balls, then a strike, then ball four. (Ten of Hernandez's 13 pitches so far this inning have been balls.)

The fans are on their feet. Damon (.067) works a full count and hits a double play ball to shortstop. Jeter goes to Cairo, but Damon beats the relay and Boston has runners at first and third. Cabrera quickly falls behind 0-2. Hernandez is throwing sweeping breaking balls outside, hoping to get an anxious Cabrera lunging. On 2-2, Cabrera slaps one of those pitches the other way; the ball skips through into right field and Mueller scores.

Ramirez walks on five pitches and the bases are loaded for Ortiz, who hammers a changeup to center field. Two more runs cross and Boston's up 3-2. Fox tells us that the Red Sox led briefly in Game 3 (seven minutes). Tonight's lead lasted 16 minutes.

Top of the 6th: Lowe gets Sheffield to ground out to third, but after Matsui triples to the triangle, Timlin comes in. The infield is in again and Williams (16-for-47 against Lowe, only 4-for-25 against Timlin) battles for eight pitches, before chopping the ball to the right side. Cabrera tries to bare-hand it, but the ball doesn't bounce high enough on the grass and it's a hit -– and a tie game. 3-3.

Timlin walks Posada. Pitching coach Dave Wallace visits, while Joe Buck wonders if Lowe was pulled too early. Timlin surrenders two infield hits -– one to Bellhorn's right (Sierra) and one to Bellhorn's left (Clark). The Yankees are nickel-and diming the Sox -– and there is a quick chant of "Pokey! Pokey!" -– and New York leads 4-3. Cairo walks, but with the bases loaded, "the clutch Derek Jeter" (in Buck's words) grounds out meekly to second.

It is at this point that Fox begins to read Boston's obituary. Buck calls the sixth a "deflating and demoralizing inning" for Red Sox fans and the cameras begin to show us the long faces around Fenway. One guy has a paper bag over his head, with tears drawn in under the cut-out eyes and "Who's My Daddy?" written across the forehead. Another is holding up a sign that reads: "I Can't Believe We Fell For It ... Again!"

This enrages me. Why did these losers even come to the park tonight? There were thousands of fans who still had faith that could have (and should have) used those tickets. … I wish there was some way to keep those morons out of Fenway forever.

Top of the 7th: Rodriguez walks and Sheffield fouled out to catcher. Timlin is out and Foulke is in (the relievers Francona refused to use in Game 3). Tito, wisely, is treating the seventh as if it's the ninth. Every inning is the ninth inning now. Matsui (8-for-12 with runners on base in this series) grounds out sharply to first. At this point, Buck says that Fenway is "deathly quiet," even though a "Let's go Red Sox!" chant can be easily heard behind him. Foulke needs nine pitches to retire Williams, mixing his fastball (87-88) with his changeup (75-77). It's the fastball that does the trick, finally, getting Bernie swinging and missing up and in.

Bottom of the 7th: Bellhorn strikes out looking, Damon grounds out pitcher-to-first and Cabrera flies out to Williams in right center.

Top of the 8th: Foulke walks Posada, who is forced by Sierra. Clark strikes out and Cairo pops to short.

Bottom of the 8th: Rivera is in. His post-season stats: 0.69 ERA, 32/35 saves. Manny starts off by grounding a single through the shortstop hole into left. Ortiz is 7-for-14 against Rivera lifetime, but he strikes out, getting rung up by the third base ump after a check swing. Varitek and Nixon both ground out to first.

Top of the 9th: Foulke in for his third inning. Jeter walks, Rodriguez pops to second, Sheffield lines to left and Matsui strikes out. Jeter is stranded at first.

Bottom of the 9th: Boston is three outs from being swept and Fox is wrapping up the series. Rivera is on for his second inning. Millar:
93 inside, 1-0
93 over plate, fouled off 3b side, 1-1
93 inside, 2-1
93 inside, 3-1
up and in, ball four
Rivera's cutter usually goes down and away from a right-handed hitter, but almost all of the pitches to Millar are inside.
The crowd roars as Dave Roberts pops out of the dugout, fitting a helmet on his head, bumps fists with Millar coming off the field and stands on first base. It's about 40 degrees. Everyone in the universe knows Roberts will try to steal second base. Roberts immediately takes, as Fox correctly points out, "a huge lead."

Rivera throws over three times. On a replay of the last throw, you can see Roberts saying "Ooooooh" after he slid back in, knowing how close he came to being picked off. In subsequent interviews, Roberts said that after that third throw, he felt totally focused, as though he had been playing the entire game. (Actually, he had not been in a game in ten days -– since ALDS 2).

More inside info: Since the sixth inning, Roberts had been in the clubhouse studying videotape of Rivera and Gordon, trying to memorize their moves to first in case he would be needed to pinch-run.

When Rivera finally pitched to Mueller, he was taking all the way. Roberts was off. Posada's throw was right on the money, but a hair late. Jeter was out in front of the bag, but Roberts slid in just before the tag. SAFE! Rivera's next pitch was right down the middle -– was he thinking Mueller might bunt Roberts to third? –- and Mueller lined it right through the box, knocking Rivera to the ground, and into center field. Roberts scored without a throw and the game was tied at 4-4.

Boston still had a chance to win it. Mientkiewicz moved Mueller to second and Damon reached on an error by Tony Clark, who bobbled his grounder to first. After Cabrera struck out, Damon took second uncontested. Boston had runners on second and third with Manny and Ortiz up. Rivera fell behind Ramirez 3-0, got the count full, then walked him. With the bases loaded, Ortiz popped out to second.

Top of the 11th: Embree in for his second inning. Cairo singled to right, Jeter bunted him over. Rodriguez then lined a ball to the shortstop hole. Cabrera, who had been cheating towards the bag to keep Jeter close, dove to his right, snagging the line drive just as it was about to hit the dirt. Two outs. After falling behind to Sheffield, Embree put him on. Myers came in for Matsui and walked him on four pitches. Damn.

Curtis Leskanic came in to face Williams with the bases loaded. He got a called strike -– and we got a shot of Wakefield warming up in the bullpen, the same Wakefield who had gone 3.1 innings and thrown 64 pitches the night before.

Boston went quietly in the 11th (Wakefield still throwing) and Leskanic came out for the 12th. He allowed a bloop single to Posada, but retired Sierra, Clark and Cairo. If the game went into the 13th, it looked like Wakefield would be in.

Bottom of the 12th: Quantrill took over after two solid innings from Gordon. Manny took a strike, then two balls, then lined a single to left. Ortiz got ahead 2-1 before launching a pitch into the visitors' bullpen in right, winning the game 6-4. In an interview about two minutes after he crossed the plate he said the pitch he hit was one Quantrill had gotten him out with before, so he was looking for it.

There would be no sweep. Lost in the exhilaration was the fact that the top arms in the pen had thrown a lot of pitches: Embree 30, Timlin 37, Foulke 50. And Game 5 would begin in 19 hours.

No comments: