Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The burden of history

One team's like Dodi, the dude who's got the billionaire dad, the smooth, practiced charm of a man born to wealth and privilege, and the princess as his date. The other is like the awkward guy on the other side of the tracks who's always making the move just when the girl falls in love with someone else.

It's an old story. The Pinstripes against the Dirt Dogs. The clean-cut, buttoned-down pretty boys led by golden boys A-Fraud (to quote Sports Guy, a guy who'd turn over an 'R' in Scrabble and pretend it's a blank letter) and Captain Intangibles vs. the scruffy, unkempt working class types symbolized by unwashed baseball caps and dreadlocks.

Overblown metaphors and superstitions aside, tonight will see the most intense rivalry in sports, with a new script but the same old actors. On one side you have the Yankees, the most decorated franchise in sports, with a $180 million payroll and a couple of the most fearsome hitters in baseball, a team who, in the course of the season, has made miraculous comebacks seem expected -- routine even. On the other, a team synonomous with snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, for teasing fans with hope only to break their hearts in ways nobody can imagine.

Game 6 saw one of the most heroic performances I've ever seen in sports. Curt Schilling had his skin sutured to his bone to prevent his tendon from popping. With his right sock soaked in his own blood (appropriately, Mr. Red Sock), he pitched 7 crafty innings, locating his pitches to keep the Yankees at bay and give the depleted Sox bullpen a needed breather. It saw calls the Yankees always get -- interference, home-runs that never were -- reversed. Correctly. And in the last three games we've seen those damn Yankees, all those legendary "clutch" players, falter in key situations time and again. Even Captain Intangibles himself, Derek Jeter, choked.

To this point, this series has seen a reversal of roles, with the Yankees on the verge of the biggest collapse in baseball history, and the Sox on the brink of an improbable comeback. No team has ever come back from 3-0 to force a 7 game in baseball history. The Red Sox have done it, in three of the most dramatic games anyone has ever seen. Win this last game, and they can wash away that entire dubious history of missed ground balls, people stealing home, and the 8th inning collapses. They would hang on their hated rivals a scarlet "C" -- the title of the biggest chokers in baseball history. If you believe in curses, this is the "reverse the curse" game, the culmination of the entire rivalry all in one game.

But the baseball gods are cruel. Like television writers, they usually manage a way to get to the same ending in new ways. And this might be the cruelest season yet, coming up with the most dramatic scenario imaginable to tease Sox fans only to see the Sox fumble away their best chance to overcome history.

Dear Baseball Gods: We've seen DerekJeter leap out of the dugout with his right arm raised one too many times. It is tiresome. If you do it again, this program will have jumped the shark. Please do something different, like the time when Tom beat Jerry. That one episode was awesome.