This time, the Red Sox really had them worried. The Sox and their fans were certain of it. They finally had the Yankees on the run. The Sox were better. Even thewiseguys in Las Vegas made Boston a favorite in the American League Championship Series.
But the Red Sox have been beaten senseless by those damn Yankees again, and the psychological toll threatens to shake the faith of a long-suffering Nation. How much more can New Englanders take?
The Yankees stripped the Red Sox of all dignity last night, pummeling six Boston pitchers en route to a hideous, 19-8 victory, which gives them a 3-0 lead.
So there. For the 86th consecutive autumn, the Red Sox are not going to win the World Series. No baseball team in history has recovered from a 3-0 deficit and this most-promising Sox season in 18 years could be officially over tonight. Mercy.
Sox manager Terry Francona said, ''I can't bail. I won't bail on these guys. It was disappointing for everybody, but we're not done. I expect us to come out there tomorrow and play our [butts] off."
The first Fenway game of this much-hyped series could not have been more disastrous for Boston. The Sox embarrassed themselves with poor base running, inept pitching, and dubious managerial decisions. By any measure, it was an ignominious defeat as the locals succumbed without much trace of competition or honor. At least the 2003 team, the Grady Bunch, took the Yankees to the limit. That the Sox could play this poorly after the yearlong competition (on and off the field) between the century-old rivals, staggers the New England mind. "We've got to take our medicine like men," said Sox CEO Larry Lucchino.
Asked to comment on the level of disappointment, Lucchino said, "I'll reserve comment on that subject for internal discusion. It's a bitter pill for Red Sox Nation and the Red Sox organization."
Remember, this was really supposed to be the year. From the highest levels of management, a decision was made to fire all the guns at once. The Sox went out and got Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, fired and hired a manager, waived Manny Ramirez, tried to trade for Alex Rodrigurez (who scored five runs for the Yankees last night), and traded the beloved Nomar Garciaparra. They beat the Yankees 11 times in 19 meetings and felt it was time to dethrone their New York nemeses.
It was all good in August, September, and into mid-October when the champagne flowed on the streets around Fenway after the sweep of the Angels in the Division Series. Sox fans had a lot of fun looking at that photo of Jason Varitek stuffing his catcher's mitt into the face of A-Rod in the July 24 brawl at Fenway.
Last night, Varitek stood helplessly while A-Rod kept crossing the plate. He also watched Hideki Matsui hit two homers, two doubles and a single in the rout. Oh, and the game was played on the one-year anniversary of the Game 7 defeat in New York last year in the ALCS.
At least the Sox competed last year. In three games this series, they have led for only one inning -- 4-3 at the end of the second last night. Ever the models of professionalism, the Yankees have pummeled the ragtag Red Sox in every manner possible.
The Yankees struck 22 hits, including eight doubles, breaking all kinds of playoff records. Meanwhile, the Franconamen ran themselves out of a couple of innings, threw to the wrong base, got doubled off first base unnecessarily, dropped a popup, and sent a soft parade of pathetic pitchers to the mound. Fenway fans were booing the hometown team by the fifth inning and mock cheers rained down on the Sox in the late innings. The majority of the 35,126 had gone home by the time Bill Mueller flied to Bernie Williams in center to end it at 12:25 this morning. The game lasted 4 hours 20 minutes, the longest nine-inning postseason contest in big league history.
"These guys played nine innings tonight and they got the most out of every at-bat," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "I'm incredibly proud of them.
"I'm not surprised at the way we are playing, but you can't expect to play the way we are playing against the Boston Red Sox. We knew after last year and the fact that the Red Sox beat us most of the time this year. To be up, 3-0, yeah, we're surprised by that."
The Cowsills, chart-toppers from the 1960s, were reunited for the national anthem, a "Mighty Wind" moment in this ALCS. After "The Star-Spangled Banner," the Rhode Island natives broke into their 1969 hit, "Hair," an obvious tribute to Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Ramirez, Bronson Arroyo, and all the other members of Boston's Hair Club for Men. When the singing stopped, Sox legends Dominic DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky made ceremonial first pitches. The teammates delivered letter-high strikes.
DiMaggio, Doerr, and Pesky should have stayed on the mound for the Red Sox. The 80-something men certainly would have been as effective as the six pitchers who went to the hill. Sam Malone would have been another alternative.
Arroyo's first 30 pitches produced only one out and that was a 410-foot liner to center. A-Rod doubled home Derek Jeter for the game's first run, then Matsui (the emerging series MVP) made it 3-0 with a two-run homer to right.
Ramirez ran the Sox out of a rally in the first, but Trot Nixon's two-run homer kick-started a four-run inning in the second. Damon broke his 0-for-9 series slump with an RBI single to make it 3-3, then the Sox took their only lead of the series when Damon scored on an error by Jeter.
Staked to the 4-3 lead, Arroyo immediately coughed it up, yielding a prodigious homer to A-Rod to start the third. After another walk and another double, Arroyo was yanked and replaced by Ramiro Mendoza, the Jose Offerman of hurlers. Mendoza has been entrusted with nothing but mopup in his Boston tenure. It showed. He gave up an RBI single, then balked home a run. The Yankees led, 6-4.
Making the second relief appearance of his career, Javier Vazquez replaced Brown to start the third (George Steinbrenner paid those two $25 million this year). Orlando Cabrera's bases-loaded double tied the game at 6-6.
The Yankees answered with five in the fourth. Mendoza took the air out of the ballpark by hitting No. 9 batter Miguel Cairo to start the inning. That was all for the embedded reliever. Curtis Leskanic was next. With two on and one out, fans chanted, "Who's your dealer?" as Sheffield walked to the plate. He hit a 1-and-0 pitch over the wall and it was 9-6. Boos rained down on the Red Sox. Yet another Matsui double brought Francona out of the dugout and Tim Wakefield -- today's scheduled starter -- was summoned.
More bleeding. Wakefield surrendered a two-run triple to Ruben Sierra (after a curious intentional walk to hitless Jorge Posada) and it was 11-6 in the fourth. A couple of more doubles by the relentless A-Rod and Sheffield made it 13-6 after five.
Then it got embarrassing. The Yanks poured it on with two in the fifth and four in the seventh and two more in the ninth.
The final score was 19-8. Might as well have been 19-18.