Friday, October 17, 2003

Thursday, October 16, 2003

It's On.

As Rob Neyer shows, taking into account nothing else, the deathmatch between the Red Sox and the Yankees will feature the greatest pitching matchup for a Game 7 in baseball history.

But baseball isn't just numbers. The beauty's in the history and backstory. And Bernard Malamud couldn't have scripted this one any better. The old gunslinger, on his last ride, with one bullet in his six-shooter, coming back with the U.S. Army to take out his old posse, the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Leading that posse is the brash, arrogant, formerly invincible Dominican pitcher, who once boasted that he'd drill the Babe in his behind if the Sultan of Swat were batting today. He now steps to the mound, with the disgrace of his previous start hanging over him, when he pouted and drilled a guy when things didn't go his way and tossed the 72-year-old Yankee bench coach with a metal plate in his head (who was the manager of the Red Sox in the previous Biggest Game in the Most Storied Rivalry in Sports) to the grass. One team is the most successful franchise in American team sports; the heartbreaks suffered by its accursed rival has become part of American lore.

But this year feels different. The teams have played 25 times this year, with the Yankees having taken just one more. It seems fitting that the Sox should even the season score.

This is the biggest sporting event of my adult life. Whatever happens, this game will be talked about for years and years. Step up like you did in Game 5 v. the Indians in 1999, Pedro, strutting out of the bullpen to shut out the Indians for 6 innings while throwing the mid 80s with that frayed shoulder. Write your legend.

On the other side, nobody wanted to see the Marlins in the World Series, and they knew it. But they've just been playing the kind of baseball purists like to see in the playoffs -- clutch hits, solid innings from the bullpen, and excellent, gaffe-free defense. It's a great story to blame the fan and the Cubbies' losing ways, but in the end, the Marlins were the more balanced, athletic, well-rounded team. And they had a better in-game manager. Over the years, nobody has squeezed more out of mediocre teams than Dusty Baker. The Giants last year started four guys who wouldn't make the Yankees playoff roster. Nobody gets more out of his players. But the same "faith in his players" approach doesn't work in big games. Prior should've been taken out after 5 in Game 2. Clement should've pitched yesterday. Zambrano should've pitched yesterday. Gonzalez should've gotten only junk in that at bat in the 7th, with Beckett on deck and nobody warming up for the Fish. And while I hesistate to jump to conclusions, it's hard not to suspect that all those 120+ pitch starts that Prior and Wood made this year didn't take its toll on their young arms.